ABOUT THE BOOK
FOLLOW the FEELING is a practical guide full of simple techniques to lead you out of your pain by learning to recognize your body’s instinctual wisdom. At a time in which chronic pain, illness, anxiety, and stress are reaching epidemic proportions, these short meditations, some of which are included as accompanying audio files, are designed to settle your nervous system and steer you through challenging emotions as a way to rewire your brain and body and give you instant access to your own internal feedback system so that you can take back your innate power to heal.
33 meditative practices
6 audio guided meditations included
a discount code towards the complete album of 33 guided practices
“ In well-crafted, beautifully written pages interwoven with experiences from her own life/explorations, Lisa West leads us on a journey to uncover the feelings our culture’s socialization processes have led us to ignore/bury. With gentle exercises, she encourages us to listen inward to the whispers of our unacknowledged feelings and the inner knowings/intuitions we have been taught to override or deny.”
- Robyn L. Posin, PhD, Psychologist, and Author of Choosing Gentleness
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR FOLLOW THE FEELING: A review by Erich Schiffmann
“What a wonderful book! Such a clear, profound message! Follow The Feeling. Of course! Where else could it lead but to the Source of all? And, therefore, to the realization that you and I are quite literally the self-expressions of that Source! That is the healing message here.
“This small book is replete with grounded, practical advice about how to follow the feeling of whatever you are feeling – from grief to joy. None of the exercises are particularly difficult. Many of the techniques involve breathing, something we all do every day. All the techniques can help you follow the feeling of whatever you are experiencing into the truth-essence of who and what you are. You will garner a clearer understanding about what may have been bothering you and what to do as remedy.
“The reluctance many of us experience with regard to doing this revolves around the fear that following an unpleasant feeling could actually be devastating. We could get increasingly enmeshed in the problem more than we already are. We may not be able to find our way out again. It may make things worse. Or that allowing yourself to experience more joy than you are accustomed to will turn you
into some sort of addict and get you into trouble somehow. And sure, you have to risk the chance. It doesn’t always make intuitive sense to “feel the grief” or even “follow your bliss.” Who knows what might happen? There is often tremendous resistance experienced at this point.
“The lure, however, lies in the rumor that there is something marvelous awaiting you in the Now, on the other side of whatever the current feeling happens to be. Add to that the fact that more often than not, whatever you are experiencing now is being experienced as a problem, is painful, and enough is enough. Your deepest knowing declares, “I deserve more satisfaction than I am currently experiencing.”
“The happy discovery is that JOY and SANITY is the underlying, all- embracing, surround sound feeling-tone of conscious being, your being. This is no small insight, and — especially if it’s true — is the worthy prize of such a risk. And as Lisa points out, “Feelings never killed anyone.” This assurance can promote the courage necessary to feel into the scary parts with less fear, and enjoy the pleasurable parts more fully, with less reluctance or reservation.
“The growing realization is we are bigger than whatever we are experiencing. Therefore, we are fundamentally safe . . . and we can experience that as fact. Following the feeling culminates in wisdom, epitomized as the willingness to follow your heart. Following your heart will not only elicit a more harmonious, personally fulfilling experience, but will translate into a kinder and better world.”
- ERICH SCHIFFMANN has gained international recognition for his unique approach to yoga. He studied and taught yoga at the Krishnamurti School in England in the 1970s before studying in India with Iyengar and returning to Southern California. He is the author of the seminal work YOGA: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness.
GET TO KNOW LISA
Lisa West is a licensed physical therapist who has spent over twenty years helping those in chronic pain. She believes that relaxing the nervous system is the gateway to health and that a gentle approach can yield miraculous results. Using methods from PT, MFR, body and energy work, and yoga, her Integrative Bodywork practice addresses pain through mind, body, and spirit. When not traveling to teach, Lisa resides in Ventura, California.
LISA ANSWERS 10 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (and one bonus one)
1. What do you really mean when you say the “nervous system”? When I talk about the nervous system, I am not simply addressing the brain and nerves, though they are definitely a part of the picture. I am referring to the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is our inherent system built in to protect us from predators and to relax once the predator is gone. It includes receptors in our guts and in our fascial system as well as the limbic system of the brain and the vagus nerve.
2. Why is the nervous system so important to address when speaking about pain? Pain is a message that your body gives you that it is threatened in some way. Sometimes the pain is there because there is (or was) and actual physical assault to your body and the myofascial and nervous system are protecting that area. Sometimes the tightness and protection are there because of an emotional assault that you aren’t quite prepared to process, so your body protects that. And sometimes your brain and nervous system act as if a threat that is no longer there is still present, so keeps the body guarded and protected. All of these scenarios involve the nervous system. Do you need to remove the threat? ABSOLUTELY! But you also need to train the brain-body to relax and find a sense of safety so it no longer feels on edge and needing to protect the area once the threat is gone.
3. You are trained to work with the physical body. Why are emotions important to address with your clients? Chronic pain and emotions are entangled. If you have had pain for any length of time, you begin to feel frustrated, helpless, grieve the loss of activities you loved…any number of feelings can emerge and compound your problem. And often, unseen emotions can manifest as physical pain. Pain is pain is pain. If your psyche deems emotional pain too deep to feel, it can create a physical sensation that might be safer for you to contend with than the emotion that is behind it.
4. There is a lot of science around positive neuroplasticity these days. Isn’t it counterintuitive to spend time and effort focusing on painful emotional states? I’m a big proponent for using the new positive neuroplasticity techniques. There is a lot of evidence that we can create new neural pathways based on where we put our attention and how we change our focus (given time and practice). But repressing and denying your pain creates dissociation. These unresolved and untended to traumas can create physical health problems and can end up subconsciously running old patterns or stories that are keeping you from fully embodying those positive new pathways. I encourage spending time with the difficult emotions, removing the mental story that accompanies them, and then following up their release with some of the positive neuroplasticity techniques.
5. There is a big trend in the physical therapy world toward using cognitive behavioral therapy for injury, yet you still treat manually. Why are you still a proponent of hands-on work? Touch, when done in a safe way, is a tried and true way to calm the nervous system. Putting your hands on someone communicates that the area that is held in protection can start to let go. Ideally, your touch adds the needed feeling of support. Now, this doesn’t mean that you treat the patient on the table and give them no other tasks to do: they need to learn to increase their movement and challenge their bodies in a gradual and safe way so that they can get back to more normalized activities. Getting their brain on board while on the table is a great start to facilitating pain-free movement. The current pain theories are valid, and I agree that we may have done more harm than good with diagnosing and limiting movement and scaring patients into guarding. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater by no longer using our skilled hands to help soothe the nervous system and free up restrictions doesn’t seem like the best idea either. Both movement and touch are needed for a really effective treatment plan.
6. What happens when the nervous system calms down? When our body lets go of the hyper-vigilance of the fight-flight-freeze response, chemicals are released to help calm our heart rate and lower our blood pressure. Our digestion and reproductive systems can start to get back to a better functioning state. Our skeletal muscles let go more and our facial and eye muscles can relax. Essentially, our bodies and brains start to feel safer.
7. What can I do right now to calm down my nervous system? Yes. The easiest and most suggested way to start to guide your nervous system toward feeling safe is to deepen your breath, to engage your diaphragm instead of your ribs and neck and chest muscles to do your breathing for you. So whatever you are doing right now, just take a pause. Notice your breath moving in and out of your nostrils, the gentle rise and fall of your belly and chest. Now picture a balloon of light in your low belly and pelvis. As you inhale, feel this balloon swell slightly. As you exhale, feel the balloon contract. Continue breathing slowly into the balloon and gently letting it go. Try not to strain your breath, and if you feel any tension as you start this process, let go of the technique until you feel calm and can begin again. Usually just breathing from your diaphragm for a few minutes can switch you from fight-or-flight into a more relaxed state.
If you are in the middle of some sort of bigger event, like a panic attack, you may not be able to adjust your breathing. If this is the case, I usually suggest trying to ground yourself into the actual present moment. So feel your body touching the ground, or some object. Let your eyes see something in front of you, and your ears hear sounds of the birds or the cars going by--anything that allows you to feel and know where your body is right now. Then, sometimes you can start to address the breathing and bring yourself even more deeply into a state of calm.
8. Everyone is talking about fascia these days, and this is the tissue that you mostly work with in your practice. What exactly is fascia? Fascia is the tissue in the body that connects all of the other parts together. It connects muscle to bone to organs to skin and surrounds every single cell in your body. It’s comprised of a gelatinous liquid called “ground substance” as well as fibers of collagen and elastin. This tissue interpenetrates everything and is thought to be the structural support of the body, as well as the environment for nutrients to flow in and out of cells. There are nervous system and hormonal receptors in this tissue and it’s a full-body communication network. It tells you where your body is in space and adds spring and fluidity to your movements. This is often the tissue that gets bound up and restricted with injury or chronic inflammation.
9. How does myofascial release differ from massage or other types of bodywork in addressing the nervous system? Myofascial release goes gently into and out of the techniques, which allows your nervous system to “let you in”. These techniques are held for at least five minutes, which gives your brain and your body enough time to adapt and get past any subconscious barriers that other techniques weren’t able to address. New research is also showing that given the right amount of pressure over the right amount of time, we are actually able rehydrate the ground substance, allowing the fibers to slide and glide along each other. This causes a lasting change in the tissues. Finally, any emotional or mental barriers that may be holding on and preventing the tissue from feeling safe enough to release can have a chance to let go and express. Essentially, this work creates an environment that helps clients come back in and feel the neglected part of themselves that was resistant to letting go.
10. Why is yoga an effective strategy to deal with physical and emotional pain? Yoga is a great choice for people to start to reconnect their mind, their breath and their body. We hold past hurts and traumas in our bodies. When we allow ourselves to slow down enough to have a relationship with our physical bodies, we allow some of those emotions a chance to move through and be seen and felt. It also offers various meditation, breathing and visualization techniques, as well as an entire branch of yoga (restorative yoga) that specifically is designed to help soothe the emotions and mental chatter.
11. You see clients who have chronic illnesses that don’t generally fall under the category of “pain disorders” even though they have physical symptoms. How does your work help these clients? When you have a chronic illness, such as Lyme’s disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or MCSD, your whole body is in an inflammatory state and in an alarmed nervous system state. Many times these clients have pain, but sometimes they have other symptoms, like brain fog or digestive issues. I have found that working with the nervous and fascial systems actually can help some of these other problems as well—when you are in fight-or-flight, your digestion stops working and your mental faculties aren’t as sharp as they are when you are in a relaxed state. Getting your body used to and directed back towards a calmer state of safety can begin to help. Also, it’s possible to have fascial restrictions around your head that can block some of the blood flow to the brain, and bodily and mental/emotional restrictions can also create chronic fatigue, as the bracing against these feelings is exhausting. When your body is in a more homeostatic place, everything begins to function more effectively. Furthermore, freeing up the fascial system allows for good flow in and out of cells and allows the immune system to do a better job at fighting off any invaders.