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Lessons from the ER: Navigating Pain, Presence, and the Power of Somatic Healing

How mindfulness, breathwork, compassion and self-compassion saved me at the ER


It’s funny how the body is. It gives us little hints here and there about how our mind is doing. And, a lot of the times, we don’t take the hints, or at least we don’t understand them, or appreciate that our bodies are giving us really important information.


That’s what happened for me a week or so ago. Well, really, my body had been giving me little hints for awhile. Tiredness even after a good night’s sleep. Which I noticed but ignored. A frustrating lack of energy to do the things I really like to do like run, walk, bike, do sweaty yoga--which I also noticed and just shrugged off.


And then, last Thursday, an all-over body sunburn without the sunburn. And pain. So much pain in my shoulders, but no injury. First I tried to push it away. And then I tried to treat it, with self-massage. And then I tried popping some Advil and going to sleep.


None of it worked.


So, I woke up my husband at midnight, told our 16 year old we were headed to the ER, and off we went.


There was so much pain, I could hardly breathe, and it felt like a circle of darkness enshrouded my vision. I kind of remembered similar feelings when I was in labor 16 years ago. Everything just got dark and I went deep, inward.


And while I was set up on an ER bed in the kids’ section—which I appreciated because of the bright colors and emogi pain scale in lieu of drab, hospital white walls—there was not anything to do. Nothing to distract me. Nothing to do, except be.


My husband made me as comfortable as he could, propping me up with pillows and blankets, holding my hand. Softly checking in.


And all I could do was just sit there. Breathing. Noticing, Being. Loving.


And that is what I did. I wouldn’t say I leaned into the pain, but I noticed it. I let it….be. I watched it pulse and move and vibrate. And I breathed. Breath in for 4, out for 5 or 6—nothing strict or miliataristic.  But it gave me something to focus on, and it soothed my jacked-up vagus nerve by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Yes. That is a thing. A longer breath out will activate the PNS and calm us. And it did.


And I repeated phrases to myself like, “it’s going to be ok.” “You are here. You are now. You are alive. You are breathing.”


And as the nurses and techs and doctor came and went—blood tests, EKG, and finally, pain medicine—I remained present for it all. The darkness subsided a bit, and I could see my husband, first with worried lines on his brow, and then nodding off, uncomfortably in the horrible ER guest chair, and I felt his love for me, and mine for him in the comfort of his presence. I could hear the quiet stillness in the ER, as its visitors drifted off to sleep or rest, or breath, like me, the occasional soft comfort of the nurses quietly chatting about their day, a tasty muffin they just had, a funny show they’d just seen.


And I could be present for it all. With this breath, this moment, this aliveness. Yes, even this aliveness.


Eventually, the pain meds dulled the pain, and I drifted off a little until the doctor returned. Some sort of medical mystery. Maybe a weird virus. Maybe something else. Follow up with my doctor, she said kindly, and patted my knee.


And we were off.


Home, I drifted off to sleep again, only to be awakened by more pain. And so I breathed, and so I put a hand on my heart and reassured myself.


Eventually, this passed, and what remained was weakness in my arms. It is still there, stuck between my shoulders and chest. And as I listened to Peter A Levine on the 10 Percent Happier Podcast, he said something that struck me—that most pain, whether or emotional or physical, comes from bracing. And this image came to me of bracing against a fall or of something or someone coming toward me and putting my arms straight out to brace against it or them. And that it is where this weakness is exactly—as if I am bracing against something or someone, whether now or in the past, I don’t yet know.


But what I do know is that my breath, my awareness, my self-compassion and the compassion of my husband and the providers in the ER, allowed me to be present for what was happening, to not resist, to not brace even more, and to move through into whatever is next for me to know.


And I know through the somatic work I do—breathwork, mindfulness, somatic experiencing—that the body, my body, knows. I have all that I need to heal. I do not need even to know what needs attention and healing. I just need to know that I have all that I need.


Working Together

If you’d like to explore with me all that you have inside, and would like to engage in healing whatever needs to heal so that you can you give yourself and the ones you love –and even the ones you don’t—the gift of your presence and purpose, reach out. Whether you come t a transformational breathwork session, or you work with me in 1:1 or a small and mighty coaching circle to explore mindfulness, positive intelligence, and your work for yourself and the world, we can do this together.

What is Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine that focuses on the body's innate ability to heal from trauma. Unlike traditional talk therapy, SE acknowledges that trauma is stored not only in the mind but also in the body, and it seeks to address the physical sensations and responses associated with traumatic experiences. Through gentle, guided exercises and techniques, SE helps individuals gradually release the trapped energy and tension held in the body, allowing them to process and integrate the trauma in a safe and supportive environment. By reconnecting with their bodily sensations and learning to regulate their nervous system responses, individuals can experience profound healing and restore a sense of safety and well-being in their lives.

Check out more here, including free resources: Somatic Experiencing


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