What Thailand taught me
What Thailand taught me
This year for me has been about bringing things into the now. Why do things I’ve always wanted to experience need to always be in the future? Answer: They don’t, so let’s start ticking them off that bucket list! So when I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to visit an elephant sanctuary in Thailand with my best friend who lives the other side of the world and who I see so rarely, I jumped at the chance. Who could turn down the time and space to just be me for a week and soak up and experience what Thailand has to offer.
And what a truly magical experience it was. From the crazy buzz of Bangkok streets with the amazing aroma of fresh street food and the drone of Tuk Tuk’s to the contrasting serenity of ornate temples inviting you to tune into the present moment, be still and meditate; to the stunning flowers, trees and mountainous backdrop in Chiang Mai; to the unforgettable experience hand-feeding and bonding with 69 elephants at an animal sanctuary who had all been rescued from horrendous, abusive situations. Observing and connecting with each of their individual sad stories, unique personalities and gentle souls certainly far exceeded any expectations I may have had.
But probably the most significant impact Thailand had on me was the positivity and kindness that permeated the whole country. Everyone we met, from hotel managers to street beggars selling hand-made jasmine flower necklaces were, without exception, authentically kind, honest and positive, apparently so completely at peace with themselves whatever their life situation. And what a contagious state that is, which shouldn’t be a surprise given that the body is an energetic system in constant interaction energetically with it’s environment. The energy in our bodies is in contact and interacts with the energy around us and an individual gets excited or charged by contact with positive forces. No wonder that being surrounded by people who rescued and nurture 69 elephants, 520 dogs and an uncountable number of cats created such a powerful, energetic charge in me. A feeling of being truly alive.
So what enables this sense of inner peace? A possible answer for me is contained in this Bio-Energetic model developed by Alexander Lowen.
Our heart is the most sensitive organ in the body. It’s steady, rhythmical activity allows us to exist. When someone has experienced anxiety early in life or doesn’t feel free to express their innermost thoughts and feelings, lest they be judged as not worthy of belonging (to belong to something bigger than ourselves is a fundamental human need) they will develop defences to protect their heart; they won’t allow their heart to be touched and will not respond to the world from the heart. These ego defences show up as denial, distrust, blame, projection, rationalisation and intellectualisation. Talking therapies need to break through these ego defences to help the person understand and accept the reason the defences were developed.
The next layer to be negotiated before the true heart or “self” can be accessed is made up of muscle tension that supports and justifies the ego defences and protects the person from layers of suppressed feelings that they dare not express – these suppressed feelings may be anger, fear, despair, sadness and pain. Therapeutic interventions cannot, therefore, be limited to just working with the first layer of ego defenses. If “work” is done directly with the muscular tension in layer 2 shown in the model, you are more likely to be able to explore and release the ego defences in layer 1 or the suppressed feelings in layer 3 and help the individual understand how their psychological attitude is conditioned by armouring or muscle tension in their body. This in turn can free up the suppressed feelings to be expressed by mobilizing the contracted muscles that restrain and block expression.
In my opinion it is no coincidence that every road I walked along in Thailand was lined with massage parlours offering the most ridiculously cheap and wonderful Thai massages to relieve muscle tension, encourage free expression and increase capacity for pleasure. If an individual is prevented from expressing their ideas or feelings they are denied the opportunity for pleasure. Equally if a person’s ability to express themselves is limited by internal inhibitions and muscular tensions, their capacity for pleasure is reduced and they will reduce their energy intake. Deeper breathing opens the throat, charges the body and activates suppressed emotions.
“The natural state of the human being is to be fully expressed uninhibited without doubt or fear to perform, learn and to enjoy” Myles Downey
So is it, therefore, true that through a combination of meditation, with it’s emphasis on the breath and staying in the present moment (rather than identifying with the past or worrying or hoping for something better in the future), together with regular work to reduce muscle tension allows an individual to express themselves fully and truly love and be loved?
Back at home in my little village in the UK it’s unfortunate that I’m not managing to fit in my daily £2 Thai massage, or my moments of complete stillness of body and mind in the beautiful temples. But it’s fortunate that there are other ways to learn to reset our physiology to stop it working against us.
Wilheim Reich referred to body armouring as a reference to where we hold tension in our bodies – a muscle contraction responding to a fearful situation is healthy, however, if the muscle stays contracted and gets stuck there, this becomes unhealthy (the body loses some of its natural, or core, wisdom). Blocks/contractions in the body prevent the free flow of energy. It appeared to Reich that these blocks appear as rings at a number of points in the body, as shown on the diagram below.
Where do you hold tension in your body? Notice where the armour bands are strongest in your body and practice releasing the tension. How a person perceives themselves socially is revealed by their body. For example, locked knees transform the leg into a rigid support and indicate the individual feels the need for extra support. To step into your innate power with gravitas and dignity you need to be present and resilient to life’s pressures and it takes practice; 300 repetitions to get something into muscle memory and 3000 to embody the change! So practice unlocking those knees, practice un-tensing those buttocks, practice softening that jaw. Words can deceive but the body can’t!