By: Ellen Abrams King, LMSW

Soundtrack: Everywhere, Fleetwood Mac

Summer and the hotter months bring, as we all know, the pressures of the “beach body,” racist standards to remove body hair, and many other pressures society places on our bodies. With the leaves ending their change and the sun setting sooner, we often find ourselves with a different kind of body-awareness at this time of year. It reminds me of an old type of interoceptive wisdom, as though the cold wind taps us on the shoulder as a reminder for the next approaching year. I picture a winterized Paul Revere boldly singing, “winter is coming, winter is coming!” A new season settles its way into our world. Personally, I find myself becoming rigid in my body as the transition takes place. Is it solely the fact that the crisp and sharp cold has snuck it’s way in, making me brace myself for some kind of certain, but unknown, discomfort that awaits?

As I speak to the folks in my community I find that we share this “bracing”, and in this 2021 winter we share it in a specific way. COVID-19 and the range of variants has left so many of us in a state of frozen anticipation. We’re already bracing ourselves for something, we’re already clenching our bodies as a means to make it through the day, how will we be able to brace ourselves further in order to handle the cold? So many folks I’ve recently spoken to are saying that something as “simple” as winter weather is enough to make them doubt their internal strength and sustainable resilience. Many of us are left wondering: If we have all been through so much discomfort and cold isolation, how much more are we going to be able to take?

This question is important and I too have heard myself wondering about it. I’m not sure if I can physically, mentally or spiritually handle a brittle cold winter on top of the other mounting aspects of this time. Personally though, I don’t know if we need to “handle” it. It makes me wonder if perhaps there is another, gentler, way for us to move alongside the tides and setting sun rather than adopting the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality that is so pervasive in our culture.

Instead of demanding more and more from our bodies, is there a space within these feelings to slow down and listen? Rather than speaking back to our clenching bodies in demand of perfection or of that which is not possible, is there a kinder way for us to communicate with them? Can we be our body’s friend in this time of need, rather than it’s commander in chief?

How might we use this conversation with our body to better know its wisdom? If we can harness strength and commitment from this wisdom, maybe we’ll be left with the courage to engage fully in life, rather than sinking deeply into isolating hibernation. Maybe we can build community where we are, in the here and now, and foster a collective and nurturing warmth born from the ebb and flow of life. In this, safety is so important as it allows us to open ourselves and listen to what we need with an embrace of both nurturance and tender self-compassion.

Can we find salvation in the collective, and remind ourselves that we are not alone in these experiences? We are each, in our own personhood and with one another, a being of this earth. Radically opening ourselves to experience our body’s messages, to hear the somatic experiences of being alive, is one way to build and live a full and expansive life.

One simple yet very impactful skill I use is turning to my breath; it is my guide and safety net at all times. I like to close my eyes and feel my body as I breathe in deeply, and then feel my body as I breathe out for a longer exhale. I notice whatever is there until it steadies or softens in my body. My breath then becomes the constant that contains me as I explore the somatic sensations in my body.

I do this practice not only in times of struggle, but I also like to turn to my breath in moments of ease; these moments feel like a practice for a future time when there are more barriers to accessing my breath. This foundation of breathing then becomes accessible in times of discomfort, fear, or any other challenging feeling. With practice there is more ease when turning inward; There is sustainable steadiness.

I believe we each have unique ways of regulating, and no one way will feel or look the same from one person to the next. Is breath a tool in your toolbox? How are you leaning away from the rigid clenching of muscles, or mind, that tends to take over when we feel the discomfort of this time? Our bodies have this wisdom. What are they telling you?