“When things happen emotionally, they happen physiologically. In fact, it can’t be any other way.” Gabor Mate
Who could argue that facial expressions and physical reactions don’t represent emotions? We cry when we are angry, sad or full of joy. We frown and smile. We sweat when we’re anxious, some of us stutter and feel light headed too! We get “butterflies” in our stomachs. There is an undeniable sensation of love in our open hearts. I could go on but the point is, our bodies are wonderfully complex organs that express so much beyond words. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically in much of science and western medicine the body and emotions are rarely considered as a connected phenomenon.
Gabor Maté forges a non-dual perspective; a mind-body as one and even more, is able to look at the effects of society and families on an individual rather than the individual as an unaffected entity. Gabor was initially a family doctor and his book When the Body Says No looks at common chronic diseases of our time such as cancer, diabetes and immune disorders experienced by his patients and relates the all too familiar stories of his patient’s life circumstances that he believes pre-empt and trigger their illness. This book illuminates how childhood experience ranging in severity of abuse, neglect and quite simply just not being able to support a child in their emotional experiences will affect the kinds of relationships they have as they grow into adults. In the worst of cases the coping mechanisms we learned as children to keep us safe yet unable to be authentic to our true needs manifest as the body simply saying no through chronic illness.
I can recall many times when my body has said no. In the form of shingles (at 25!), panic attacks, heart palpitations and depression, unusual fatigue and aches. I used to work in the corporate world and whenever I would take holidays and travel and it was so obvious to me that there was something in me that didn’t want to be in those jobs because every time I went away the stress and aches and pains completely disappeared. The more I took time off and felt great the more my body would scream at me as soon as I sat back at my desk. It’s fair to say that holidays weren’t just solace from my work-life but from whatever was happening in all of my life at the time. Besides the call for another holiday escape I would often crave the smell of lavender, take a salt bath or get a massage (the body asking for care and rejuvenation). The body speaks to us what we supress in our thinking minds about the experiences we’ve had and the circumstances we find ourselves in. The body calls for change, for relocation, for nutrients and self-care. Panic attacks and heart palpitations were the strongest message and a turning point for me. It’s when I realised for myself that illness is unaddressed stress.
I‘m in awe that our bodies work so hard for us. Every single day. Until they can’t. They have one job, each cell – to do its part to keep us alive and functional. For many of us our bodies will work overtime for us for a good 30 or 40 years before they just can’t. Modern lifestyle typically burdens that system and either we don’t find out until we hit the 40s and 50s with diabetes diagnosis and all sorts of diseases, or unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately it hits some of us much harder when we are younger. The beautiful take away from this book is that illness caused by stress and trauma can be either reversed or lessened by transforming trauma and stress through greater body awareness and compassion for whatever we have been through.
This is a fantastic read if you’re curious about how our relationship attachments and forms of physical and psychological stress can manifest into disease and illness. It just might be the motivation to make changes in your life. The parent child relationship that forms habits and coping mechanisms to save us mentally but eventually take their toll on us emotionally and physically.
This talk here is one of many fantastic talks/ interviews with Gabor Maté on YouTube relating to The Body Says No. I am almost finished reading another of his books In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and his latest book on parenting is queued up on my audible playlist ready for the end of the current book!
If this article resonates with you and you’d like to know more about practices and techniques for stress relieve and cultivating awareness I’d love to hear from you. You can learn more about group or private yoga and qigong sessions and Body Therapy through my website.