Self Care! Self Care! Self Care!

Nov 22 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: meeeeee and my mac

It’s week 5 of The 8-week Inner Critic Inquiry Course. We’re half way through the course! The participants have been working hard, showing up every week to meet their critics and get to know them, through writing, artwork, embodiment and discussion, more about the sorts of things we've been up to here

After so much hard work, it felt like the right time to push the critics to one side for a little bit and bring some loving attention to the parts of us that have been listening to all that criticism.

So we began with a meditation on nourishing your vulnerability, followed by a gentle physical warm up and a bit of self-holding. 

I'm sharing the exercises here for anyone who feels like they could do with a bit of self care. You don't need anything special to do these exercises, just a bit of dedicated time and some willingness.

Meditation: Nourishing Your Vulnerability

-find a comfortable place to sit alone for a while

-turn off your phone, kiss your loved ones goodbye for a little bit and close the door 

-sit down, feel the ground beneath you, feel your breath in your belly, have a little check in with yourself - how is your body, how is your energy, how is your mood right now?

-If at any point you feel overwhelmed, you can come back to the ground or to your breath in your belly to anchor yourself back in the present.

-focus in on the vulnerable part of you, the part that’s had to listen to your inner critic’s incessant ranting all these years, sense where in your body, vulnerability lives.

-breathe into that part of you, send your curious attention there. You can place a hand on that part of your body if you think it might help direct your attention there.

-imagine your vulnerability as a creature that lives inside of you. What’s it like? Does it have feathers, fur, scales? How old is it? How small is it? What’s its face like? What’s its posture like?

-send some more breath to that area of your body, giving your vulnerability your full permission to be there right now.

-with curiosity and compassion, gently investigate what your vulnerability needs. For years it’s been asking the inner critic to protect it and to some extent that’s worked; you’re still alive! But lets see what happens if we come out of the automatic pattern of fierce protection and into something different; compassionate kindness. What does your vulnerability really need to hear from you to help it feel safe?

-For the next bit, you’re going to send thoughts and wishes to your vulnerability, dousing it in whatever it’s asking you for. Keep it simple, making offers like “I'm here for you.” or “I'll hold you.” or simply “I love you.” whatever feels like the right phrase for you. 

-keep noticing what happens to your vulnerability creature when you douse it in love wishes.

-Notice too what’s happening in the rest of your body.

-When your vulnerability has had as much as it needs for now, come back to the ground beneath you, come back to the breath in your body, take a moment to feel into what's changed before you come back to the room you’re in, take a look around at the familiar things, take a short moment to take it in, open your senses to the here and now; look and see, smell, touch, taste. 

Self Care in Action 1- Giving gifts to your body

Our warm up focussed on self care in action. I lined up a playlist of 3 beautiful, gentle tracks. For the first 2 songs, we went into our own spaces and greeted our bodies, bit by bit, starting with the feet and finishing with the head. We felt into each body part and asked it what it needed; perhaps a massage, a stretch, a wiggle or a shake? We offered our bodies the gifts they were asking for. 

This is something we rarely do and might seem a bit weird. But I think weirder still is a culture that actively encourages us to ditch our own bodies in favour of productivity. Our bodies are important. Without them, we’d be a bit stuck. So this exercise is a chance to say thank you to the body that relentlessly and thanklessly serves us. 

You can do this with or without music. I find that gentle music holds me in a deeper experiential space, but it's not necessary. I am currently using a lot of pianist Nils Frahm in my workshops, there's space for all the feelings inside his music.

Self Care in Action 2- Self Holding

For the final song in our 3-song play list, we explored self holding; intuitively finding positions to hold our own bodies in different ways, staying with each position for a while, dropping into the sensations and the emotional plain beneath. This technique is being used within treatment for PTSD. 

I found a beautiful article by Heidi Hanson, explaining the in’s and out’s of Peter Levine’s self holding theory, with illustrations and everything!  In this article, Heidi explains:

“While experiencing PTSD, we may feel scattered, broken, shattered, blown apart, chaotic, fractured, or split.  Our thoughts and nervousness may become overwhelming, out of control, all over the place. We may even forget we have edges.”

These symptoms might seem familiar to those battling with their inner critics, regardless of whether the person has encountered severe trauma in their past or not, daily onslaughts from the inner critic can drive us to suffer severe life-limiting symptoms.

Self holding is simple, through our own touch, we can offer ourselves containment, show ourselves where our edges are and let ourselves know that we are safe enough. These actions activate our parasympathetic nervous system, gently bringing us out of adrenaline saturated fight, flight, freeze, all too familiar states for those who struggle with a noisy critic, and into calmness.

Although simple, self holding can be the last thing you’ll think of doing when you’re under the attack of your inner critic. I recommend practicing self holding daily, so that your body will remember to do it when you’re in panic. It takes practice and discipline to change life-long habits. Up until now, your critic has been keeping you “safe,” but there are other kinder, more gentle ways to experience safety. 

Again, this works with or without gentle music. 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Heidi Hanson

Self Holding Instructions (copied directly from Heidi Hanson’s page):

Place one hand under the opposite arm, and then place the other hand over the upper part of the other arm; you are giving yourself a hug.

Pay attention to your body.

Let yourself settle into the position; allow yourself to feel supported by it. Allow yourself to feel contained.

Watch and see if anything shifts with your breathing, bodily sensations, and how you feel in space. See if you can sit with it a while and let it shift your perceptions of yourself and the world somewhat before coming out of it.

Here are links to Heidi’s pages for more info:

Part one: simple self holding 

Part two: 2 step self holding 

Part three: 5 step self holding 

You can read about week 7 of The Inner Critic Inquiry here. This session was all about establishing boundaries.

Holly Stoppit is a facilitator, director and dramatherapist, find out more about her here.

If you're interested in attending the Inner Critic Inquiry course in the future, sign up to the mailing list at the bottom of this page.

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