The Body-Mind Connection
Healing the Mind, Body, and Spirit Together

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. Psychotherapy, Consultation, & Workshops
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Language of the Body

Your body knows

Freud discovered that "dreams are the royal road to the unconscious." Recently depth psychologists have discovered that the body is another road to the unconscious or one's deeper truth. Like dreams, body symptoms present information of which we're unaware. In a dream, this information comes as symbols. In the body, it comes as symptoms. Many of you have heard the statement, "the body doesn't lie." The body is the direct expression of the psyche and it's difficult for the body to hide the truth of our internal experiences. This is both a blessing and a curse. The shape, aches, movement, twitches, diseases and symptoms are the words the body uses to convey our authentic feelings and what's going on inside. I have witnessed this phenomenon in counseling people in the last ten years.

What are your symptoms saying?

Author, Gregg Levoy has gleaned several examples from medical research where people's symptoms reveal what is missing in their lives.

     A man suffering from lower-back pain whenever he sits down experiences a complete reprieve of his symptom when he realizes that, "I hate where I'm sitting" and quits his desk job to start his own company.

     An adoptee, searching for his biological mother, is suddenly stricken with an inability to blink, and he says to the doctor, "If I blink, I might miss my mother."

     A woman whose doctor says he can find no physiological reason for her internal bleeding says she can't help feeling that "I'm crying from the inside out."

     A man suffers a heart attack after having stomach cancer, which necessitated the removal of half his stomach, and concludes: "Eat less, love more."

     A woman miscarries and says afterward that she really had "no room" for a baby in her life.

In my work as a psychotherapist and health educator, I've discovered symptomatic patterns that patients themselves have revealed during insightful moments. A woman who would often injure her knees, declared in a moment of anger and defeat: "I cannot stand being pushed around by my boss anymore." A teenager who kept vomiting every week shared that she "couldn't stomach the verbal abuse in her family." Children often get sick before an exam or when they are stuck with a teacher they don't like. A man suffering from anxiety attacks while driving on the freeway because he didn't know where the exits were, became aware that he felt trapped when his father would angrily discipline him and he had no way to "exit" out of the house to protect himself. A CEO with severe headaches realized she was "under constant pressure to make her company a Fortune 500." Many men with lower back pain have felt better when they have directly and appropriately spoken their anger.

Of course, nausea, head or back aches have physical causes that must be addressed by other health practitioners as well. But ignoring the symbolic or psychological cause results in attacking the symptom, rather than learning from it to heal our whole self.

Illness as metaphor

Physician and author, Bernie Siegel explains, "When you start looking for the message in disease, you realize that there always is one." What is your body trying to tell you? Are you taking time to listen?

In many families it isn't O.K. or safe to communicate your emotional needs, concerns, or pain. These unspoken and unheard issues remain in the body and are consciously or unconsciously "spoken" through symptoms. Levoy suggests that following the modern commandment of-Get well!-we try to eradicate the symptom without their having a chance to deliver their messages to us. He continues:

Symptoms mean something. They have wisdom, metaphoric power, method in their madness. They are one of the languages the soul uses to get across something about it self. The word pathology, in fact means the speech of suffering, the logic of pain, and in order to understand that logic, in order to speak to the wild imagination at work in symptoms, we must bring it a certain supple and symbolic imagination.

Asking the right questions

What is the most helpful and healing attitude to meet our illnesses with? Stephen Levine, author of One Year to Live, clarifies that: "We are responsible to our illness, not for our illness." Rather than using sickness to beat yourself up, it's better to use illness and pain for what they were designed for-to get your attention. The question is not so much what to do about our suffering, but what to do with it. Being responsible, Levine says, means asking not "Why am I ill?" but "What is illness?" Not"Why am I in pain?" but "What is pain?" It is seeking the what rather than the why (Levoy 1998).

How can therapy help?

In therapy I use a variety of modalities to access the underlying issues or messages beneath your physical symptoms. By creating a safe space, observing your body, helping you relax, asking you relevant questions and other methods, we begin to reveal your unspoken experiences. Thus, your symbolic body connects with your insightful mind. This body-mind communication is the first step in the healing. Feelings associated with your symptoms begin to arise. You might get sad, angry, tense, relaxed, anxious, powerful, weak, fearful, feel grief, and/or loss. By allowing those feelings to surface and being present to them within a therapeutic relationship, helps release tension and pain in the body. I then teach you to directly express the underlying issue through words, not symptoms. This congruency creates confidence, strength and well-being in the body-mind.


Questions & Answers

Start-ups, Stocks, and Strokes

Q: I just moved to Silicon Valley, California a year ago to work for a start-up company with stock options. I had a satisfying, well paying, and relaxed job while living closely with my entire family. Now I am living with room mates and I work all the time. I have recently developed high blood pressure and migraines. My doctor has suggested my high-pressured, fast-paced lifestyle has much to do with my illness. What do you think?

A: Your doctor is wise to counsel you to re-evaluate and change the way you are living rather than just prescribe medication. Health professionals are discovering that many illnesses and physical problems are stress related. Do you think your body is telling you something? You have at least three major stressors in your life at present: 1) recent migration - leaving your satisfying job and close family; 2) adjusting to a very different culture by yourself; 3) working compulsively without taking care of your body, social, and spiritual needs.

You are following a "chained to the desk and computer" syndrome that has now become common among young men who want to make their million fast. This is very tempting, but comes at a big price. Indian wisdom says we live in a dual world-meaning, everything has an opposite, or shadow side. In your case, it means you have to cut off from many other essential and meaningful aspects of life such as family, recreation, rest, spirituality, and good friendships. Although financially successful, this is a lonely, sick, and impoverished life. Your body is starting to pay the price. You need to balance your life by replacing restorative activities and time in place of work. Find other riches in and around you that have nothing to do with acquiring more money, rather to make you a happier, healthier person now.


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Language of the Body
  Meaning of Symptoms
  Illness as Metaphor
  How can Therapy Help?
Questions & Answers
  Start-ups, Stocks,
and Strokes