I don’t watch TV, per se. I don’t have a TV with cable set up in my house, but over the past few years, courtesy of the cable of friends, DVDs and the Internet, I have consistently watched three TV shows: How I Met Your Mother (because it’s awesome and makes me laugh), Battlestar Galactica (because I enjoy geeking out with friends over the philosophical questions posed by its narrative), and Grey’s Anatomy (because the deeply developed characters invoke a sense of connection and inspire personal reflection).
Generally, I have been shying away from watching anything fictional, film or TV, that makes me feel intensely scared or sad. I simply find there is enough to be scared and sad about in the real world; I don’t need to indulge in these emotions in response to fiction.
Thus, I was unexpectedly (and somewhat unpleasantly) caught off guard this year by the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, which saw the show shift from a character drama to a two-hour suspense thriller! The suspense of the show kept me completely on edge, and throughout the entire episode, my body was rigid and tense, almost frozen. My breath was shallow and constricted. Imagine the kind of tension that draws your fingers to a claw-like formation, and imagine holding that tension for two hours. That was me.
After the episode was finished, I could feel that my body was still affected – and my emotional state was reflecting it. I even found myself still feeling on edge the next day, so I decided to practice meditation in an effort to bring stillness into my body. But, what I found, when I took the time to sit in stillness and listen to my body, was that my body wanted to move. It wanted to move fast and a lot. It wanted to shake, release and flow. Convulse and pulse, shiver and shudder, quiver and quake and still more shake.
And, as I stood in the middle of the room, moving my body with complete inhibition, my thoughts wandered to a powerful and insightful book I read three or four years ago. The book was Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine, and in this book, Levine looks at how animals respond to threat – by fleeing, fighting or freezing. And, he then explains how humans have evolved to a place where their conscious mind overrides the natural response to threat. He is basically saying I don’t get up and run away from the Grey’s Anatomy series finale because my conscious mind tells me that I am okay – even though my body is communicating that I am not.
What then gets missed, when the mind overrides the body’s impulse, are the movement patterns that bring the body back into balance. Levine explains, that after an animal escapes danger by freezing, “it will literally shake off the residual effects of the immobility response and gain full control of its body” (16).
We often live very much in our minds, and from this place, it is difficult to connect with the needs of our body, the natural coping responses and inherently animalistic nature. And, thus, we remain detached and unaware of the residual effects of the immobility response in our bodies. One of the gifts of yoga and meditation, of stillness, is that it allows us to slow down enough to listen, to develop a body-literacy, and respond in a way that often offers a great sense of healing and release – and I received this gift shaking that morning.