Counseling Services of Portland
                      Help for depression, anxiety and stress.    503-342-2510 call or text us

                Video about Counseling Services of Portland

Your Subtitle text

Find a way to lighten your load . . . naturally

The other day, I was driving to work, running a little bit late, and that's the morning I-5 turned into a parking lot. I was tense, feeling irritated at the driver in front of me talking on his cell phone, too distracted to scoot his car forward like the rest of us. Being late was one more rock in my backpack.

So I decided to take the opportunity to focus inward a bit while parked on the freeway.

My tight shoulders carried an invisible load. My breathing was shallow. I was leaning slightly forward in the seat ready to burst out of the starting gate, jaw was tight, eyes fixed and focused forward . . . not the energy I wanted to bring to the office with me.  


Wanting to practice what I teach, I didn't try to force my body to relax. I did something very different. I just observed and let my body do what IT needed to do. The first thing that changed was my breathing. Without any direction, it deepened on its own. My shoulders dropped a tiny millimeter.


Rather than being hyper focused on the driver in front of me, I noticed my visual field open up. My tense leg wanted to floor the gas pedal to "get going," but as I simply observed, the tension started to soften. My breath deepened a little more. I noticed the trees dancing in the breeze, as if they had magically appeared on the side of the freeway. And then to my amazement the traffic started to move. Ahhhh. I felt lighter.


Just by observing my body rather than directing it, its organic wisdom blossomed. I arrived on time to work  and in the "flow." I even had a little smile on my face, noticing the pink rhododendron blooming and the cutest little micro maple seeds decorating the bench in the atrium.

Feeling Overwhelmed?  Tense?

Take a few rocks out of your backpack.
by Suzie Wolfer LCSW, SEP


Here are some steps you can use to get back in the flow, and let overwhelm and tension find their way out of your body. You can do this in just a few minutes, even at a stop light! Just keep your eyes open!   

Connecting with the Here and Now - Orientation 

  • Let your gaze leave this article.   And let your eyes look around wherever, and at whatever, they want – just 20 seconds or so.
  • As you LET this happen, you may notice that your eyes get interested in something.  Your inner and outer attention starts to shift to the here and now, connecting with something that interests your eyes. 
  • When you notice this subtle shift, notice what it is your eyes are interested in.  Really look as if you're never seen this before and you'd like to take it in so that you could tell someone about it.
  • This is orientation as “connecting to the environment through the senses”, literally, coming back to our senses.
  • Next, tune into body sensation.

Listening to your body's language - sensation  

  • Let your attention softly go inward. Let the awareness come to you, rather than searching.
  • As sensations arise, simply name them. Notice your mind wanting to interpret or analyze and return to sensing. "Yes, there's that tightness, that heat, that numbness . . ."
  • If you have a lot of energy, notice how that shows up in your body, and book mark the storeis and thoughts for a moment.
  • If you have little sensation, notice that.  And simply be curious.
  • Then notice what other sensations come next. Simply wait for them to be revealed. Once your body knows you are listening, it will respond.
  • Your attention will initiate a sequence that the mind cannot anticipate.  And this is golden.  Something new can happen.

New Pleasing Sensations 

  • When you notice there is a little lull in new sensations, switch over to exploring and noticing what feels good. Many people find this a little more challenging since our brains are 80% oriented to detecting problems, rather than detecting pleasure!  Wait and watch with curiosity.  It will come to you. 
  • Name and describe the neutral or pleasing sensations in your body. Imagine telling a friend how it feels: a sense of stillness, a pleasant warmth, feeling of flow, strength or relaxation, a sense of power or elation.
  • Practice keeping company with these pleasant sensations, like you would attend good friend.  Notice how it feels from the sensations point of view.

Alternate Noticing Pleasing and Other sensations 

  • Once that has settled, let your awareness alternate between the pleasant impressions and the tight, tense, numb or uncomfortable sensations.
  • And then be curious to see what happens next.

Look Around 

  • When you sense a shift or feel complete, move your awareness outward and look around. Notice how things look. Notice what pleases your eyes. This takes you back out into the world, into the here and now. And like saving a document on your computer, it anchors and completes the experience in your nervous system.


Taking it inside with words.  Here's a lovely version of this process  in first person written by Ann Weiser Cornell Ph.D. and Barbara McGavin


  • I'm bringing my awareness into my body
  • I'm sensing for what wants my attention now 
  • I'm waiting until something comes into my awareness
  • I'm taking some time to feel it in my body
  • I'm starting to describe what's here
  • I'm acknowledging what's here just as it is
  • I'm settling down with It
  • I'm keeping It company with interested curiosity
  • I'm sensing how It feels from its point of view
  • I'm letting It know I hear it
  • I'm taking some time to sense any changes


The science behind this is fascinating. When we are stuck, blocked or frustrated, or overly energized, the sympathetic nervous system provides us with the energy to change things . . . except when we can't.  And then all the energy gets stuck in the nervous system.


When we observe the body, it's like sending a document to the printer. Instead of it being stuck in the printer cue and taking up space, the colorful documents pour out of the printer. Over a life time, we have 100s of documents stuck in the printer cue, waiting. We feel overwhelmed and all jammed up. But the good news: when we observe what's happening in the body, stuck energy starts moving again. Then you and your body can focus on life's pleasures.


That's when the parasympathetic nervous system comes alive:

  • Helping muscles relax, 
  • Eye sight softens and broadens,
  • Heart slows down,
  • Digestion starts working again,
  • And a long delicious exhale settles the body.  


The "rest and digest" functions of the parasympathetic nervous system support the body to return to Relaxed Readiness, or some people call this Easeful Readiness.  And we don't have to do anything more than just observe and be curious to see what will happen next.  It feels more alive and calm at the same time, and quite different then the excited / vigilant state so valued by our culture. And very different than feeling checked our or numb.


The only side effect is well-being! . . . And a few more rocks out of your backpack.

Give us a call if you'd like a little gentle help removing some of the rocks from your backpack.