Somatically Learning from My Best Friend

Marissa MartinoBehavior & Training Resources

A few months ago I decided to try a somatic therapist.  I had been going to regular “talk” therapy for many years and wanted to try something new.  A somatic therapist is one that encourages communication between the mind and the body.  Just as the mind holds wonderful messaging for us, so does the body.  

During my first session with the therapist I sat down and told her that I was all “talked out.”  I knew why I operated the way I did.  I knew how I developed these patterns.  I knew what to do moving forward and where I wanted to go; however, something was holding me back.  I believed it to be my body, more specifically my nervous system.  I am an anxious person.  I always have been.  I operate on high and then crash. I worry I cannot get it all done.  I run off achievement and goals and leave very little time for rest, relaxation and play.  It was time to change that.  It was not a sustainable way to live!  

During our session we practiced a lot of stillness, paying attention to what was coming up in my body.  For example some of my observations were:

My chest feels tight.

My arms feel heavy.

The sensation in my chest is getting more intense.

I see the color blue.

This went on and on – such an uncomfortable exercise for a “doer” like me.  I had such a hard time staying in the present and just being.  Even though it was tough, I committed to her assigned homework:  Moving forward, I was to notice when I was getting anxious, STOP and then state my internal bodily observations out loud to myself.

The next day I took Sully on a hike.  He seemed a bit anxious since there were a lot of dogs on the trail.  He started displaying coping behaviors to reduce his stress, such as yawning and shaking off.  I clicked and treated him for all the coping behaviors he displayed, encouraging these behaviors to continue.

By the time we finished the hike, Sully seemed a lot more relaxed and less concerned with his surroundings.  I believe the physical exercise as well as his ability to cope with his environment really supported his mind and body’s recovery process.

On the way home from the hike, something stressful popped into my head.  I started worrying about the situation.  I quickly remembered my “homework”, STOPPED myself, got present and then listed off my bodily observations.  As I scanned my body and stated out loud what I was noticing, I began to YAWN!!  I almost jumped out of my seat when I realized…I am like Sully!  The yawning continued the whole way home and I felt lighter and more relieved!!  It was awesome.  

In that moment, I realized that I was not that far off from my dog.  Sully and I could remind one another to use the tools we already have to help ourselves feel safe and confident in this world. I click and treat him for his coping behaviors and he reminds me to stop, get present so my anxiety can somatically dissipate.