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In my mid-teens I took my first yoga class and discovered the power of mind over matter. Working in pairs, I was told to take the stance of Warrior 2 with my right arm stretched out in front of me and my left arm behind me. When the other person was instructed to push down on my right arm, I lost my posture. Then I was told to imagine a stream of energy coming up from within my core, along my arm and flowing out through my fingertips. Again, my right arm was pushed down only this time my posture was rock solid. I was hooked into the power of my mind over matter. But did this really matter?
In hindsight, it seemed it did. Within the year, I suddenly developed migraines. Massive headaches and sparkly vision became part of my everyday life. At first, I attributed my migraines to a family condition and comforted myself with the thought that I wasn’t suffering alone. By the time I reached my 20s my migraines had increased in frequency, disrupting my life. Seeking a reason and cure, I read that chocolate, dairy, citrus and red wine were triggers. I controlled my diet. I lost weight. I still suffered. Ironically, I seemed to be suffering the power of matter over mind.
By the time I started therapy in my 40s, I began to grasp that my migraines might be a non-verbal communication from my body. I was interested to read about the ‘Chicago Seven’ in Joyce McDougall’s book, Theatres of the body. A psychoanalytical approach to psychosomatic illness. Although migraines were not part of the seven, it made me wonder if they meant something other than causing me frustration and pain. Then my therapist asked me: ‘’Where have you put your anger?’ I was astounded with my reply: ‘In my migraines’. I gathered I seemed to be attacking myself but had no idea how to stop.
As part of my psychotherapy training, I took a module in body psychotherapy. Reading deeply about the work of Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, gave me a better understanding about energy flow in my body. However, it was Ken Dychtwald’s book BodyMind that made me pause. He wrote about ways people stop energy flow in their body by causing splits. Ken noted that people who suffered migraines often appeared to have a ‘torso/limbs split’. This split helped to keep the energy of the core out of the limbs. I felt I had come full circle and I was back in my first yoga class.
These days I very rarely have a migraine. It is not that I have found some fast magic solution for healing myself. But I have found a way of listening to my body and realising that both matter and mind are equally important. I also realised there is another aspect, one that hid my anger in my migraines. A soul perhaps, or what Jung called the ‘self’. But that is a story for another time.
Evelyn Shackley is a registered Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapist working in Bristol. She is interested in repairing developmental trauma.