Reading Body Signals or What I’m Learning from Pat Ogden, Part 1

I didn’t catch the entire webinar with Pat Ogden because of technical issues. But it was fantastic and interesting to hear Ogden talk as part of the Rethinking Trauma Series ( You can pay for interview transcripts or to get the videos or listen to audios live and/or review my notes for free.

Patient Somatic Narrative / Reading Body Signals

Pat Ogden talked about just being curious about what the body  is saying and maybe observing how someone is moving as they walk in the office. With her patients she might observe if they are:

  • using arms?
  • making little movements?
  • doing little finger movements?
  • showing some tiny prepatory movement about actions that want to happen but aren’t complete?

She was talking as a clinician but I was listening as a woman and mother. file4681275234167-265x150[1]

It makes me think about my daughter who asked me how and why I sleep face down, legs crossed and arms under me. I told her I’ve always been a belly down sleeper. I did not say it’s a habit, a protective posture and something I started in childhood and haven’t stopped yet though that childhood thing of mine ended decades ago. I’m not changing how I sleep, shaming myself for trying to get inside my mattress which I like to keep on the floor (so no one can hide under it) and which I keep against the wall as well (for the same reason). What I am doing is noticing and paying attention to how I approach sleep and bed, and how my body does so as well in ways that are still carrying and “telling” stories. I wonder if I can, before bed, try new postures and experiment with how that feels and if it would have any impact on how I sleep or feel upon waking.

Plus, my girl, adopted from China more than a decade ago has her own sleep stories told through the body. Some children are sleep walkers or sleep talkers, insomniacs or thrashing side-to-side rollers. So many of our sleeping postures are established deeply and early and this Pat Ogden stuff has me thinking of that as well and thinking about it a bit differently, as a woman who sleeps and a mother wanting the most restful peace possible for our family.

Patient Somatic Narrative / Reading Body Signals

All of us have a somatic narrative and once “you get curious about somatic narrative, you can watch people (in a mall, for ex.) all the time as a way of learning to understand the story the body is telling” Ogden said.

As a therapist she how sometimes that sometimes the body is telling a story different than the person is with words. For example, a client might say, “It’s no big deal” about something they are talking about but as they say it their body is pulling in or pulling back.Giraffes

A person might talk about having little, no contact/support from mother when young and Ogden might notice, in the adult, a body that can often be limp and look like it’s giving up and how there’s not a lot of energy and it can often be missing a “make it happen” energy.

Ogden said, a client might speak of aches and pains but is rarely aware of how body is sustaining, maintaining or participating in issues.

The fish will be the last to discover water, she said, quoting Einstein to make the point that we are often the last to know how we move in our own bodies.

What does your body convey? What does your body hold?

I was in yoga class last night and the teacher had us trying new poses and postures and movements. She demonstrated and invited us to move in brand new for her yoga class ways. We did some gentle tapping of our skin and limbs as well as some shaking to music and trying some acupressure points before going into the more traditional yoga class. Every student commented on how wonderful the class was when we left. It was, I’m sure, in part to moving the body in completely new ways.

I slept amazingly well and so did my ten week old puppy. She slept TWO HOURS longer than she has in three weeks and anyone with a “baby” knows how ANY extra sleep is a game-changer. I know my blissed out body had a calming impact. I know she was riding some of my calm yoga wave as she sleeps in a crate right next to my bed and that the same me was a different me after yoga than I was before.

Honestly, I went into yoga stressed and grumpy and not in the mood.

image1My puppy, after being outside came in and pooped in the house. My daughter, who just got a puppy and had a birthday and hasn’t even done thank-you notes yet started sharing her Christmas wish list. This isn’t war or poverty here but I was depleted, sleep deprived and edgy feeling very much that my cup was not only empty but maybe had a hole in it and would never be full again.

Then, in yoga, the teacher has us do an affirmation, “All is well and right in my world” (or something like that) and “thank you” which she says three times in a row and invites us to say out loud or in our minds. It’s so simple a shift but it was profound because I sat in that class thinking, “Yeah, wait a minute, EVERYTHING ACTUALLY IS O.K. IN MY WORLD and I just have a new baby puppy who doesn’t know how to go outside and a daughter who likes stuff and things. And I’m tired. These aren’t actually even problems or issues just how things are at right now. Do I love sleeping through the night better than not? Yes. Is having a puppy a joy and delight? It is. Is my daughter learning about materialism and stuff and am I being triggered because I want her to be grateful for being so lucky because of my own stuff? Yup. Some of that too. But still – EVERYTHING IS O.K. (or more than o.k.) in my world.

I breathe and feel better and breathe those words into my body and FEEL THEM and so when I leave class I’m a cup back to full and more buoyant.

“Yoga tonight was a public service,” I said to the teacher for the way it shaved off the growling and prickly hairs of my raging and that’s actually how it felt. Good for me, my daughter and our puppy.

Preparatory Movements

Ogden mentioned preparatory movements as something all animals have. She said they are the little movements made in our body, not consciously, that are indicative of movements that want to happen.

She also said, when it comes to trauma or trauma recovery, the preparatory movements often speak to animal defenses that didn’t get to happen (and I think this is most of Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger work, which I’ll write more about after his webinar today but here’s a link to his work if you can’t wait –

Back to Ogden. She gave the example of woman with a severe abuse history who came into the office with her body very tight, fingers lifting slightly as she talked.

Photo credit: Margaret Bellafiore

Photo credit: Margaret Bellafiore

Ogden asked her “just for fun” to explore what would happen if she pushed against her fingers.

“She just came to life,” Ogden said.

She said, “I don’t know why this feels good.” Ogden explained, and didn’t understand why that pushing motion, probably wanted since childhood had such an impact.

It made her feel hopeful because it felt good in her body.Bellafiore passiflora

Ogden said that people might not have a trauma narrative, per se, but a memory in the body related to trauma.  She said it’s not all that important if there’s a specific memory being discussed because what the emphasis is on is working with the effects of the memories and the “unresolved responses” to the trauma.

I have a friend (yeah, you again Kathy!) who would just let her body move any way it wanted in yoga  She would talk or write some about this process. She has always listened to her own internal experiences and followed the lead of her own body. Despite how strange she seemed I listened because I loved her. But it sounded so odd to me.

This appreciating and listening to and inhabiting the body still feels brand new to me.

I’ve been afraid of my own body, body sensations and often work to get the hell out of dodge (body) any time ANYTHING – pain or pleasure – starts communicating to or through me. 

However, experientially I feel a shift and appreciate Kathy’s wisdom. Just by getting curious about and listening to my own body I feel more at ease in my skin and the world. 

This, here, in my self is the last place I’ve looked for healing.

This, here, in my self is where the healing happens.

Honestly, I have been on a quest to find books, information and experts to make my body shut the fuck up, be still and knock it off (it being anxiety or discomfort).

I wasn’t curious I was a hammer trying to bang every door on my body shut with the nails of knowledge.

It helped me understand why I was wound so tight but not how to relax or release the grip.

My body is becoming my expert and my guide.  This is rather revolutionary!

Now, I feel like I’m in the world in the way that others describe when talking about tripping on acid. The colors are more vibrant, the wind can be felt raising each hair on my head or arm and I feel my own feelings and sensations.

It’s as though I’ve learned to navigate an open and expansive ocean channel where waterways converge. It used to be too scary but even when the water is over my head I am not without a boat, paddles, life jackets or skill. There are tide charts and weather conditions and I now how to read them and stay aware of ocean traffic too. I can even signal for help if I’m in danger and trust that people will care and come.

This makes life less scary and me more brave. Nothing has changed really – except I’m in relationship with the world – instead of hiding from and fearing it hoping it doesn’t capsize me or kill me in a rip tide.

I’m not tripping on acid I’m just living without fear, anxiety and dread coursing through my body. It’s not a drug. Instead, it’s the absence of danger and the presence of compassion and my own willingness and ability to stay with myself even when I don’t want to or when it’s hard and scary. I can’t do it gracefully or all the time but I can do it and therefore my life has actually changed because I feel deeply inside of it – all of it.

I may be in midlife, but in my body I am home, a newborn, meeting my sensations and breath and self and it’s glorious.

“All is well in my world. Thank you.”

For Part 2, Causing Hopefulness and What I’m Learning from Pat Ogden go here.

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  1. Oh my gosh I love this post so much. Because it affirms everything I have experienced as glorious healing in my life, and because it reminds that we require this body-awareness-loving continually. It is completely okay, and a good and natural thing, that we do whatever we can to feel good in our bodies. It is a reminder that the shift is available to us in every moment. Thank you so much for writing this Cis. And thank you for the gift of sharing your yoga practice with me, others, and my personal favorite yoga teacher, on that exceptionally lovely night.

    • Cissy White says:

      Thank you Kath!!!!!!! That shift – IS available and the more times we KNOW and feel it happens the more the BODY remembers it as possible as well, huh? I’m glad for those sacred Tues. times and sharing about it after!

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