It’s fascinating how emotions, narrative and experience can live in your body, long after pre-frontal processing occurs.
You know that feeling you get after eating too much acidic food? The rising of stomach acid, either pooling just below your diaphragm and rising up through your esophagus and then… yeah, you get the point. I began experiencing acid reflex about two months ago, for the first time in my life. I thought this odd as I had not changed my diet, my exercise routine has picked up a bit but has not changed drastically. Aside from noticing some tightness beneath my diaphragm and some unpleasant indigestion, I hadn’t thought much about it.
Rewind to last weekend. I began a five month certification in “Yoga’s integration into Psychotherapy” geared towards therapists who are interested in melding their knowledge of yoga into their clinical work. The first module, “The Embodied Therapist” focused on Interpersonal Neurobiology and Attachment theory as well as Countertransference and Empathetic Receptors. Throughout the module, we were encouraged to track emotions and narrative in our own bodies, while beginning to understand how to assess the somatic experiences of others and how to distinguish what’s ours and what belongs to the person we are working with.
During one exercise, we were assigned a number. The participants who were assigned “1” lined up on the back wall. The participants who were assigned “2”, lined up directly across from the “1’s” in the middle of the room. The 1’s were to slowly approach the 2’s, and the 2’s were asked to lift a hand when they were ready for the 1’s to stop walking. This non-verbal exercise was meant to explore our own boundaries as well as the boundaries of others, as well as what we anticipate others’ boundaries will be, and whether or not that expectation is based on somatic cues or our own “stuff.”
I was assigned a “2.” As a “2”, I was the first to be approached and set limits. After I set my boundary, we were asked to reflect on how we knew that a boundary needed to be set. As my partner approached, I noticed a dull, tight sensation near my diaphragm. When I approached her, I experienced the same sensation milliseconds before she put her hand up.
We went through other exercises last weekend, where we were asked to reflect on our somatic experience, and over and over again, I noticed tightness in my diaphragm, particularly related to exercises that left be feeling vulnerable and destabilized.
Last weekend wasn’t the first time I have noticed the tightness in my diaphragm, nor was it the first time in the recent past that I have felt vulnerable, destabilized, not in control.
Last June I went to the Grand Canyon with friends and family to celebrate my birthday. Being surrounded by the people I love most and the beauty that only nature can create was an incredible way to launch into a new decade. One of my closest friends is an acupuncturist. When I met her in 2007, she shook the very core of my being. She is incredibly warm, intelligent and skilled. As I got to know her better, my perceptions of the world I live in shifted dramatically. She knew things about me that she couldn’t have known, had she not had some kind of gift; the kind of “knowing” that I have always been skeptical of (and still am). But this friendship challenges my rational mind, and I like to be challenged.
This friend joined me at the Grand Canyon and gave me an acupuncture treatment in the cabin we stayed in. This was one of the most intense treatments I have ever had and the first time I became aware of the lack of somatic feeling in my diaphragm. I am typically quite sensitive and can sense subtle changes in my body, but during this treatment I realized that while most of my body was buzzing with sensation and movement, this area felt stagnant, null. During the treatment, imagery of a dark vortex was evoked but the force of the vortex was no match for the stagnation I experienced. It was almost as though there was an energetic pause button that served as a gatekeeper to accessing the junk beneath it.
After returning from the trip, I went to my massage therapist and as she was palpating my abdomen and she commented on how tight I was just below my liver and up into my diaphragm.
It was in November when I first started to experience acid reflux. This coincided with a major life transition. This life transition, while a happy one, kicked up a bunch of my old “stuff”: feeling out of control, voiceless, vulnerable, destabilized. At that point, my somatic experience of my diaphragm transitioned from stagnation to heaviness. As I rode this transition, old emotions began to bubble up. It wasn’t until I became conscious of the pattern that was playing out, that I could begin to reconcile the emotional and somatic experiences that were tapping me on the shoulder, rather peskily.
It all came to a head last Monday. I went to an acupuncture appointment to address something unrelated. As the acupuncturist was palpating my body, she mentioned that I have a knot just below my diaphragm. During the treatment, I fell into a deep relaxation and imagery of knot came up and as soon as the knot popped into my mind’s eye, this knot transformed into the cap of a vault. Underneath the cap, I noticed the same imagery that came up for me when I was in the Grand Canyon, a vortex, except this time it didn’t seem as intense. In this meditative state, I began to play around with the imagery that was before me, and attempted to open the cap that was protecting the vault. I couldn’t will the vault open even in my imagination; the cap just kept spinning, but in the spinning I felt safe/protected.
As the cap to the vault was spinning rapidly, so did my curiosity. What is this all about? Or perhaps is it about nothing and was I just grasping for something to understand my experience, to connect with myself? I wrote a bit about my understanding of the subtle body, including chakras, here. Even with the (perceived) dissonance that exists between my rational mind and my somatic experience, I choose to explore my body within the chakra construct, as doing so has been powerful for me in the past.
When I do chakra meditation, I notice different things on different days. One thing that has been fairly consistent, particularly in the last six months or so, is a feeling of being blocked, in the area just above my solar plexus and below my heart chakra. My root is sometimes muddled and sometimes strong, my sacral and solar plexus tend to be clear (resulting from a lot of work) but then I experience almost a hop of energy moving up towards my heart. It feels as thought a force is both skipping over and also laterally circumventing the area just below my diaphragm.
Interestingly, my digestive issues follow suit. My stomach acid rises and upon leaving my stomach and passing though my diaphragm, the acid stops and feels as though it pools just below my diaphragm.
To counter balance of this inward looking, I took it to Google. Interested in a yogic explanation of all of this, I searched for: “the place between the solar plexus and the heart chakra” and learned about The Knot of Vishnu. A KNOT! I like the way this blog describes it. In essence, having a knot in this area just below the diaphragm represents an obstruction between will power (which I am terming control) and the heart. This obstruction makes perfect sense in the context of my recent life transition. It’s uncanny to me that my indigestion halts at exactly the point that ancient yoga theory postulates the Knot of Vishnu resides, which is atypical for acid reflux, and curious to me that these symptoms as well as the tightness co-occured with a triggering event. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I am choosing to work within this paradigm in order to see what happens.
How does the Knot of Vishnu become untied? I imagine it’s different for everybody. In hopes that the cap on the vault will loosen, even slightly, my plan is to…
- set aside time to breathe diaphragmatically while focusing on the imagery that came up for me.
- use 3 part breath supported with a bolster to ensure that I’m filling my entire core, from the pelvis up into the chest, with breath, in order to work towards clearing obstructions.
- paint in order to externalize the imagery and work with it in a more tangible way.
- uddiyana bandha
- surrender expectation of any particular outcome.
My body is ready to surrender.