A paradigm change in training in Psychology: The need for looking at Mind- Body modalities in therapeutic approaches- Suhani Sharma

Suhani Sharma

Psychologist

Creative Movement Facilitator

As a psychologist and training for many years in the field , I was often told about what constitutes abnormal behaviour, what were the theories behind the lifespan development of a person, what were the neurological connections in my brain. But I was never taught about the role of my body in processing emotions. Why do we get a heartache when we are in grief? Why does my breath changes when I feel nervous or anxious? .All of this seemed fairly involuntary and out of my control when situations triggered my stress response. Years into the field of first studying the mind through psychology, then being introduced to the body through Dance movement therapy and finally doing my PhD research on spiritual practices, I came a full circle with the mind-body-spirit connection.

It all started with a keen curiosity to look at human beings and understanding why they do what they do. The role of the body in exploring self-has been a critical journey for me. I realised that I had a strange elusive relationship with my body as if it was there but I didn’t notice it or acknowledge to its needs. DMT enabled me to look at my body as an intelligent being, with a basket of emotions, stories and memories living in it. Through dance movement therapy I was able to open this basket and let go off inhibitions of being witnessed as I am. The practice of authentic movement enabled a sense of self-acceptance and freedom in me which was very different from cognitive enquiry as a training as a psychologist. Looking back I now realise how comfortable I became with my body thanks to Dance Movement therapy. Moving further, I wanted to learn how could I find a way to break my behaviour patterns. Dancing or movement was a release, but how do I bring a closure? I saw systemic patterns in my behaviour that need to be addressed if I really wanted to authentically work with my clients. With exploration in the body came the breath and my PhD research in the area of spirituality breath work and personal practice in Sudarshan kriya enabled me to look at how subtle the breath can be in creating a mental, emotional and physical changes through increasing the supply of oxygen in the system. Surprised to know that this very oxygen is responsible to eliminate 90 per cent of toxins in my body and not crash diets and rigorous exercises, I decided to give the practice a practical shot along with my theoretical research enquiry. Gradual practice enabled me to notice that mental patterns of worrying, incessant mental chatter, and unhealthy eating habits with relationship to my body significantly reduced.I noticed that the yogic breathing practices work very subtly and covertly on the system without needing any psychological analysis. It was literally like “breath of fresh air” from my trying to cognitively sift through my client’s issues almost like the breath was Doctor and it inherently knew where to go and fix blockages in my system. While DMT was an overt practice, this was a dance of the breath. Further studies in to the Indian system of addressing health I learnt that Systematic changes begin to happen when you work on your energy body out of the 5 bodies that the yoga sutras describe, namely annamaya kosha(physical body), pranamaya kosha (energy body) , manomaya kosha (mental body), vijnanamaya kosha(wisdom body), anandamaya kosha (bliss body). Working with the energy body or prana leads to a heightened sense of mental alertness and builds intuition which is the gift of the wisdom body. All five layers of self are interconnected and dependent on one another. If the body is tense, the breath is shallow, the mind is irritated, and wisdom and joy become absent. That is why building body awareness through DMT practices help us tap into our emotional states of fear, sadness or any emotion that we consciously suppress because these do not occur in isolation. Moreover, If there’s disconnect from spirit, indicating a weak bliss body, there’s disharmony on all layers. On the other hand, when you’re perfectly in tune with your bliss body, joy and peace permeate all aspects of your being. Hence, completing this journey through self-inquiry and practice helped me reach a confident conclusion on the efficacy of these practices.

Subsequently, in my personal therapeutic practice, I started looking at my client from all three standpoints. I often asked my clients to see what kind of relationship they hold with their bodies and noticed their breathing patterns. That reveals a lot of information into their emotional states and creating a change in one leads to a change in the other. Deep therapy begins when the mind settles down and allows the unconscious material to the surface and the breathing can be a powerful tool to equate the mind. Material from the unconscious then can begin working through with the client with the sympathetic nervous system ( responsible for fight and flight response) becomes relaxed and the parasympathetic nervous system ( responsible for slowing the heart, dilating blood vessels, increasing digestive juices, and relaxing muscles in the gastrointestinal tract) gets activated. Intriguingly, the role of the body and the mind as co-partners becomes apparent as the two start collaborating to work through psychological issues. Muscular armouries that develops as a result of fear and anxiety being held in the muscles loosens up. Thus, yogic breathing can be powerful tools for working with clients in therapy. Prana is a subtle life force that we can regulate at will through breath and movement. When the breath is shallow and sporadic, your prana is also erratic. Unstable pranic energy causes the mind to become agitated and the body’s various systems irregular. Smooth out the breath, and prana becomes more stable, the mind gets calmer, and all the body’s living systems function more optimally.

Thus, concluding, understanding and studying these modalities for years I aim to create more holistic models in therapy and practice as I feel the field of psychological training is very western thought oriented in India which leaves out the merits of what Indian traditional and alternative therapies can offer. Modern medicine needs to recognise that a human being is the substratum of all 5 systems and not just the physical body. Thus, approaches like creative movement therapy, breathing practices and therapeutic counselling can be a three-way approach to addressing mental and physical illnesses which are at an all-time high. As the founder of FLOW, being an eco-spiritual enterprise that aims to bring holistic methods in therapeutic practice in mental health treatment for adults and children, we seek to empower individuals with tools to work with their mind and body and inherent capacities to self-heal. The message is clear, the mind and body holds infinite intelligence and the breath is the key to unlock this magic.

 

 

 

 

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