Body Awareness Therapy

A little while ago, I took a class dubbed “Body Mindfulness”, which was a light exercise and meditation class employing elements from Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and mindfulness meditation. It turned out to be an exercise therapy called Body Awareness Therapy (BAT) developed sometime in the 70’s and used by physiotherapists to alleviate symptoms both in physical ailments such as chronic pain like from whiplash and mental illnesses like schizophrenia and the like.

This class caught my attention because I’ve had problems with feeling disconnected from my own body, feeling as if one or more bodyparts or in some instances my whole body isn’t really mine or fully under my control. I had an inkling that it was a problem that could be removed or alleviated by actually using my body, exercising and the like. But it’s incredibly difficult to get motivated and I detest the pains and aches and exhaustion that comes from exercising. So, a light exercise class that seems to focus on connecting body and mind by focusing one’s attention on the body and movements more than the movements themselves seemed like just the thing.

I often struggled with actually showing up for class, but once I was there, my experience was very positive. The exercises did indeed help not only with loosening up on some muscle-tension, but helped making me feel more connected to my body as well.

The exercises were very simple and fairly easy to do at home. Most of them only required a yogamat and enough room on the floor to stretch out. We’d start the class by taking note of how we’re feeling in the moment, our mood, various bodily sensations we might be feeling at the moment. I’d often feel a tension in my neck and shoulders, maybe some strain in my thighs, ankles and feet from the kneeling position. Sometimes I’d feel mostly happy and content, other times I’d not want to talk at all, and whether it was good or bad feelings and sensations, they were all valid and perfectly acceptable. There was always a relaxed atmosphere in the room, no one ever asked any more than you were willing to share and you were free to participate as much or as little as you were able.

Next, we’d do a lying down or sitting meditation exercise where we’d slowly move our attention first to breathing, then to various body parts one at a time. I’d often find my thoughts wander and might have fallen asleep once or twice during this exercise. It wasn’t uncommon to hear someone else snoring softly somewhere either. The point, I think, was to gently coax your mind and attention to focus on your body, let go of wandering thoughts without judgement and just be in the moment. The mindfulness part of the therapy.

Next, we’d do various standing exercises. The main focus was to visualize this center-line going through our bodies and slowly move it and our bodies back and forth, side to side, up and down, twisting around. If you’ve ever taken a lesson in drawing the human body, you might be familiar with the helping line often drawn straight down through the center of the face and follows the spine all the way down the body. That’s what I’d visualize – just more like a rigid thread or rod going through my body that I can move around and my body sort of just follows.

Then we’d do various exercises lying down, often times with a big sausage-pillow, filled with something like sand to give them weight and firmness. We’d use the weight, hugging it on top of our chests, use the firmness to lay our back or legs on it and relax into a stretch over it. Some of my favorite exercises were just lying down and moving the arms. One started lying on our backs, eyes closed, with the arms laying straight down our sides. Then we’d slowly, very slowly lift them up and sloooowly raise them up and then down to rest above our heads. It was always something of a surprise to note just how heavy my arms are. Sometimes we’d open our eyes when it felt like our arms were at their highest point above, to give some visual feedback on our physical sensations.

Another one we’d lie on our sides with one arm straight up into the air. Then we’d slowly swing it around in the shoulder-socket, first in tiny circles, then slowly widen the circles until the circle stretched as wide around as possible, practically dragging the hand on the floor at the front and back. Those exercises could really loosen up some muscles in the shoulders and back.

Finally, we’d finish up the class by repeating the starting exercise, noting how we’re feeling in the moment compared to at the beginning of the class. More often than not, I’d feel a definite improvement, if not in my mood, then in how my body felt overall. Sometimes, I’d note a tension in new muscles, sometimes I’d have more or less of a headache. More often than not, I’d feel much more relaxed and at ease compared to the beginning of the class.

It’s a bit of a challenge to actually keep up with the exercises, but I’m happy to say that I feel much more connected to my body these days and haven’t had any episodes of being unable to recognize it as my own. It doesn’t do much for the face in the mirror, but I don’t spend much time staring into mirrors anyways.

Symptom: Paranoid Thinking

When asked whether I suffer from paranoid thinking, I’d say no. I don’t really think the people around me want to deliberately hurt me. I don’t automatically think the worst of other people or assume anything about their speech or behavior without good evidence. Not that I’m aware of, anyways.

I do have this sense that I mustn’t show weakness, or show if I’m nervous/afraid/uncomfortable, that if I show other people that they can hurt me, they probably will. It doesn’t register to me as an actual fear. I simply quietly avoid it, let it pass me by without a conscious thought. And so, when people inevitably hurt or disappointment me, I know it wasn’t on purpose, because if they’d known, then surely they wouldn’t have said or done what they did. Maybe I’m afraid to find out that if I did give others the opportunity, that they would want to hurt me deliberately? So it’s better to hide and forgive any accidental toe-stepping.

I’ve heard that sometimes people suffering from schizotypal disorder can have small, momentary paranoid delusions, or maybe paranoid stray thoughts. They might be very self-conscious about it and feel that the thought is silly, that “of course my friend isn’t a government spy” or “bodysnatchers isn’t real and mrs. Jensen down the hall isn’t actually an alien in disguise” but… Often, such thoughts are fairly quickly and easily dismissed.

Sometimes, the idea might feel all too real and even if they sound silly to others, they make perfect sense to the person experiencing them. Those tend to enter the realm of full-blown paranoid delusions. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced this myself, that I can remember. I’ve enough in worrying that my subjective reality isn’t quite the same as objective reality, or the reality experienced by everyone else, so that there’s no chance I’ll ever be able to truly understand what others are talking about, or make myself understood. Could that be considered a paranoia?

Paranoid thinking could also be things such as, if a friend takes a little longer to reply to a text, “it’s because she’s angry or doesn’t like me”, or “everyone at work hates me,” even though there’s no real evidence for it. It could also be the immediate assumption that if someone says something hurtful, it’s deliberate, or interpreting general comments as referring to you personally. I heard a story of a man once, who, while suffering from paranoid delusions, became convinced that the happy smiley faces staff members left on whiteboard messages for general use were in fact caricatures of him, which the staff drew purely to mock him. It might sound like a silly, little thing, but it’s truly deeply disturbing and hurtful for the one experiencing it.

Mostly, my own fears are never so concrete or focused, although I’ll admit I’m absolutely terrified of ghosts (even though I don’t really believe they exist, I can’t say they definitely don’t exist either). It’s usually just a vague sense of “I’m not safe”, “I’m alone, but it feels like there’s someone else here” or “I’m completely, utterly alone in a cold and uncaring world”. I’m aware the latter is an incredibly ungrateful thought, that I have people close to me who care a great deal about me. But well, they have their own problems. They have their own lives to worry about. They don’t and can’t possibly understand what I’m going through. Although in truth, I’m sure they understand and recognize a great deal more than I’d think.

I hate this part of me, who thinks this way. Like an overly dramatic teenager. But I can’t quite get rid of her. It’s silly and stupid, but it’s the way I feel, and feelings aren’t so simple to change. The fact I feel ashamed for feeling this way in the first place makes it all the harder to admit to and discuss, even just with myself.

I don’t know what to do about the vague feeling of being unsafe. Mostly, I just try to ignore it, distract myself, turn on the lights so I can see around the room, play some music, read a book. But this often ensures I won’t get much sleep that night and I’ll be tired and cranky the next day.

Sometimes, if I catch myself thinking or feeling something negative, I use techniques from CBT (That’s Cognitive Behavior Therapy, not the… kinky one) and try to challenge the thought or feeling using reason. I’ll ask myself things like: Where am I? Have I ever experienced something bad here? How likely is it, that this thought/feeling is true and reasonable? If I’m feeling alone, maybe I’ll challenge the feeling by texting a friend. She usually texts back. Maybe I’ll line up examples in my head where my bad expectations were justified versus where they were proved wrong and usually I’ll find just enough examples to put my mind at ease. I can use this technique to determine the likelihood of a thought being true as well. Like, “if Mrs. Jensen down the hall were an alien, what’s the evidence for it? Could there be other, more likely explanations? Maybe she just had a bad day and goes back to normal soon enough?”


I’d love to hear if anyone else experience anything like what I’ve described and how you deal/cope with them.