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The Feeling Body: Mindfulness for Chronic Illness & Autoimmune Disease

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

The body is intelligent, and it is alive - not just in the sense that the heart is beating - but that it also experiences the world, separate to our thinking mind. It has a language all it's own; it speaks to us in gut feelings, tensions, intuitions, pains, and symptoms. It also stores our history; any trauma, emotions, and positive experiences.


We can think of the Body as a kind of home for us. The problem is, the mind doesn't tend to listen to the language or experience of the body because we rarely check in with this Home.


When you leave your physical home to go to work or on holiday, you check you've turned the oven off, that all the doors and windows are locked, and venture away for a time... Then, when you return home, whether after a day at work or a week long holiday, you take a look around, checking that everything is ok and still works - if we didn't do this, our home would fall into disrepair.


How often do check in with our Body? How often do we take a moment and stop to sense inward? Only you know the answer to this question.


But what happens if we don't practice this regularly, and why should we prioritise this exercise daily?



The Body's Intelligence

Checking in with the body looks like this:

  • Taking away all distractions and sensing inward

  • Feeling the body from the inside-out

  • Experiencing the felt senses about the world, people, our intuition and our lives

The body is intelligent, and it is alive - not just in the sense that the heart is beating - but that it also experiences the world, separate to our thinking mind.


The body has a language all it's own; it speaks to us in gut feelings, tensions, intuitions, pains, and symptoms. It also stores our history; any trauma, emotions, and positive experiences.


The problem is, the mind doesn't tend to listen to the language or experience of the body because we rarely check in with this Home.


But what a shame this is, because our body-Home is the only place we can be at peace - away from the thinking, Egoic mind that tells us we need to do better, do more, change this or that, achieve such and such goal, before we can feel happy or content.


Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a tool we all have access to. Through this, we can notice what takes us away from being aware and mindful, and being at Home in the body. With practice, we will see clearly that thoughts take us away, so our practice is to notice when thought takes us away from the body.


Sometimes, especially significant for individuals with autoimmune disease and chronic illness, we will feel pain. In such times, we can notice how we are relating to the pain. Quite often we don't just feel pain, we feel our opinions and judgements about the pain.


Especially when we have a history with pain, like with conditions such as endometriosis and rheumatoid arthritis; we can have pain memories - triggering thoughts about how things have been before; this can trigger feelings of panic and anxiety, which in turn increases our sensitivity to pain (due to the Gate Control Theory of Pain).


Noticing when this has happened, and coming back to what is present in this moment, along with practicing self-soothing is a more helpful way to support pain. I have an entire blog post on how to deal with pain if you'd like to read more.


What We Feel, We Heal

If we don't process feelings and emotions as they arise, they get held in the body as tension and / or pain, and may eventually manifest as illness over many years of suppression (see Gabor Maté's When The Body Says No).


However, if we feel our tension regularly, multiple times daily ideally, by holding it in awareness, not actively trying to change it or heal it - we may find it start to dissolve. And in this way, we can flow with our emotions, experiences, and ourselves with greater ease.


What the body wants is to be felt - to be experienced, not to be thought about.


Quite often we 'feel' the body from the mind - we think about our feelings. But what we can learn to do is learn to feel in the body, e.g. feel our hands, in our hands, our tummy in our tummy and so on. The can be challenging to begin with, as we are so used to thinking by default.


Final Thoughts

Often what prevents us from just living in the body is that there is no drama, no "me", no story, no obsessions, it's not interesting! It's not about you - the ego - it's simple, feeling. So during your mindfulness practice, when you notice a thought, we label it "thinking" and bring ourselves back to the breath / the feet / the room around us.


NB: If you have experienced trauma and find mindfulness difficult, there is a trauma-informed approach to mindfulness that uses techniques like grounding and anchoring, which use the five senses to connect to the present. Learn more here



Next Steps

Hi I'm Molly, I'm a UK-based Nutritional Therapist (DipION, mBANT, CNHC) and Self-Compassion Coach (MSc) serving my community in Harpenden and online. Here in my little online home, you'll discover the benefits of nutritional therapy and complementary therapies for autoimmune disease and chronic illness.


Want to understand more about nutrition for autoimmune diseases? Download my free recipe book and discover 12 Nutritionist-Certified Recipes to Help Alleviate the Symptoms of Autoimmunity & Chronic Illness.




If you’re ready to take the next step with Nutritional Therapy and get back to feeling amazing again, please book a FREE 1:1 call, in which I’d love to talk to you about your own individual diet, lifestyle, and self-care practices, share with you some personalised advice, and answer any questions you might have.

I work with clients face-to-face in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, and in my online clinic via Zoom.



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