Dr Karin Lindgard is an author, philosopher and biodynamic craniosacral therapist who I really respect, and someone whose work has influenced me over the years. Her unique perspective on consciousness draws on 20 years of research, including a PhD in philosophy.

When I chatted to her for the Body College podcast I was really struck by some of her thinking around the edges of cranial work and embodiment, and I enjoyed unpacking the themes of her 2022 book, Talking Heart and Making Sense: a New View of Nature, Feeling and the Body

(You can listen here: Taking Heart and Making Sense – Dr Karin Lindgaard). 

Throughout the conversation my aim was to take big, philosophical ideas and questions and look at them through the lens of our actual work with clients. Questions such as:

• What if our minds emerge from our bodies?

• Do we all feel the same things, in the same way? 

• Why is being able to name our felt experiences so important? 

ONE: What if our minds emerge from our bodies?

In her book, Karin explores feeling as the foundational level of consciousness, one that arises at the level of the whole body. She argues against the view that consciousness is a phenomenon of the brain, by exploring theories of the natural world including how consciousness evolved through animal behaviour and the principles behind the functioning of complex systems.

As I work with people experiencing pain, anxiety and trauma, one of the big problems is that most of us believe our minds are separate from bodies. That can become a huge limitation as often the body is seen as a machine that is broken and needs to be fixed.

As Karin argues, you can only really make sense of it when you look at it as a complex system that develops over its whole lifetime. When we do this, new, creative responses to pain and challenging experiences can emerge. 

I’ve experienced this with the people I work with as a biodynamic craniosacral therapist: when we look at them as whole people, with bodies that exist within a complex world, people can experience more connection to their bodies, an enhanced state of feeling, less fear about the processes going on inside them, more detachment as well as the possibility of relating differently to sensations in their bodies. 

If we think minds are separate from bodies, then it’s much harder to say things like: “tuning into your belly is a meaningful way to change how you think and feel”. If we understand that our felt experience is born from how we perceive and engage with the world, we can find immensely supportive resources within and around us that can help us meet pain, anxiety and trauma in fresh ways. 

TWO: Do we all feel the same things, in the same way?

When we say we’re feeling ‘under pressure’, are we all experiencing the same thing? In our conversation, Karin explored the structures of understanding that govern our felt experience, through the lens of ‘pressure’.

As children, we learn about the feeling of pressure in lots of ways; trying to squeeze something out of a tube, being held too tight, experiencing degrees of force which are sometimes optimal, and sometimes not. This gives us a generalised structure of understanding about pressure and how to use our body.

However, there are other experiences which impact our felt sense of pressure, for example, how it feels to be left to cry and experience a build up of pressure in your own body. These experiences are unique to you, and the dynamics between you and your primary caregivers. These individualised ways of relating to inner forces are just as important as your physical interactions with the world.

So when you describe the feeling of being under pressure, it actually might feel very different to someone else’s experience of feeling under pressure, and although your words may be similar, the feeling experience may be very much unique to each of us.

For me, being a trauma-informed bodyworker is key, and grounds me in an understanding that safety is of fundamental importance for all humans. Our early experience is fundamental to our experience of safety. Right from our journey through the birth canal, our nervous system offers innate gestures of moving quickly or disappearing in order to feel safe. We build our felt sense of the world on top of these gestures, which again, will impact our embodied understanding of ‘pressure’.

The good news is that our structures of understanding can be negotiated, especially when there is a safe “other” alongside us. Instead of doing the short, simple, rigid, historical way of responding, can we support change by bringing a new response?

THREE: Why is being able to name our felt experiences so important? 

Emotions are something that are often given to us from our culture, or from those close to us.  For example, if you’re consistently told that you’re an “anxious person”, whenever you feel there’s a sense of something wrong, you might be more likely to simply tell yourself that you’re an anxious person. In that short, quick response you can lose a huge amount of nuance and subtlety around your felt experience.

On the other hand, there can be a great power in being able to name felt experiences such as anxiety. Learning that you have choice is often key to moving towards power.

Asking questions to develop curiosity around your experience of anxiety is important, for example; are you experiencing Monday morning anxiety at 7am, and how is that different to tired anxiety on a Friday night? How can you bring in more nuance into your felt experience, buy more fully examining your feeling states?

A good place to start is, is this helping me or harming me?

In our conversation, Karin adds that learning to differentiate between different feelings in the body is key here, and, although it seems simple, it’s not something that we are necessarily skilled at. But the more we can learn to identify our felt sensations and name them, the more we can be a bit more open or curious about them.

You can listen here: Talking heart and making sense with Dr Karin Lindgard – together, we explore how to bring big philosophical ideas about feeling and perception to the table as practitioners, and to ourselves as humans.

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