Hello and welcome. I am so excited to introduce you to my dear friend. Susan McCulley has been a mindful movement teacher, artist, writer and enCOURAGEer since 2000. She is the creator of The Age of Becoming online community which offers movement practices, interviews, connection, and community for women roughly over 50. Her 30-Lesson audio course, Building Balance in Your Body & Life was published on the Insight Timer meditation app in early 2022. A Nia Black Belt Instructor, she particularly loves teaching embodied awareness to people of all abilities and experiences, in groups of all sizes (both in person and on-line).
passionate about supporting people as they connect with the inherent wisdom of the body and take that practice into their lives and this has led to some really fruitful discussions between two of us around the overlap in the work that we do, because we both obsess about a lot of the same things even though we come at it from very different perspectives!
So welcome, Susan, thank you so much for being here.
Thank you. Nathalie,
So Susan, I was wondering if you had something you wanted to add to that intro and anything that you do right now or that you're working on right now it's really lighting you up?
Well, I'm recovering from a broken foot that happened during the summer and I am very aware of both the resilience of the body, the sort of inherent genius of the body and the impact of changes in our bodies and in our lives on our mental and emotional health as well. So I've really been investigating these overlaps of the physical, the emotional, mental, and how we maintain some equilibrium, some balance and also energy and passion at the same time.
Yes, I love that. And I think one of the things I love about your messaging and your community is the way that you invite people to really consider new ways of thinking and being that really frees them up to enjoy more of what they want in life, no matter what the circumstances are. That's so, so powerful.
One of the things that we talk about a lot and that we want to bring to this conversation today, was around the idea of overwhelm.
As we were just saying before we started to record this conversation, being in the world today is overwhelming and so overwhelm is not just around parenting or just around career. It's really something that so many of us are struggling with right now. And so, I want to ask you, what does that look like in terms of our bodies and our nervous systems?
I think that you're absolutely right, that whoever you are, wherever you are, you are likely to have some issues with overwhelm! The sheer speed of the world and the amount of information that we have pouring on us all the time is not the way our bodies and minds were designed to process. And, I've read that our bodies and minds are designed to be able to take in the comings and goings of approximately 100 people. That's your family and the people closest to you, your closest friends, but then your neighborhood and, you know, maybe outside of town a little bit and that's it.
And yet we are in an information culture that is pouring information about literally billions of people all the time. And so what happens is that our circuits get overloaded. And our sympathetic nervous system turns on. That's the fight or flight system that narrows down our ability to see possibilities. I can only see the problems, I can only see what's hurting me, I can only see what's upsetting. And I don't have the ability to open it up into my peripheral vision to relax and allow my prefrontal cortex to come on and help with reasoning. That kind of creative thinking, which we need when we are in times of stress gets shut down.
So having a conversation about what overwhelm does in our bodies and minds and how we can navigate it, is really important. For everybody. I mean, in addition to what's happening in the nervous system and your brain, the body will hold stress. And you know, it's very individual, but there are some common places that people tend to hold tension in your shoulders, jaws, hands, in your gut and your belly, in your hips—so that what can happen is a whole cascade of physical manifestations of the stress and the overwhelm. That can range anywhere from digestive issues to sleep issues to just discomfort and pain or body. Lack of mobility.
So all kinds of things can cascade from these overwhelming situations. So it makes it even more important in this culture that we live in, to have ways of kind of downshifting and getting our whole brains and bodies online in a way that we can be responsive. rather than reactive.
Yes, yes. And interestingly enough, you know, with my clients who are all you know, high achieving, driven, you know, very successful in their field. Even when we start to dig into their big blocks, the stress and overwhelm are actually the top two most common problems that we need to address. Because everyone is dealing with too much information and we're just trying to filter far, far too much on a day to day.
And personally, I also, you know, dealt with it. I think everyone's dealing with it right now. And I have found that reconnecting to my body through movement and creating that somatic awareness is the most powerful and effective way to expand back into the body and connect back to that sense of confidence and be ready to step into growth.
So for me, this feels really not just personal, but also really relevant to the kind of clients that I work with as well because I feel like these are actually crucial practices, which is why I'm inviting you today to tell your your story.
I love what you're saying. It's exactly on point and, and connecting with our bodies somatic practice, and a body centered practice can look a million different ways. And, and it can be anything as simple as just connecting to your senses.
What do I see right now? What do I hear? What can I touch? Smell, Taste? Even though it sounds like it, it's sort of a narrowing, what happens is that that brings us into the present moment, instead of into this expansive sea of stress, right. And you know, it can be any kind of breathing practice or movement practice. It can be walking around your neighborhood or turning on your favorite song and dancing around in your kitchen and whatever that whatever it looks like for you.
And I invite people who've worked with me is to find a way to not make movement, another stress! Another, another place where I have to be achieving, yes. It starts to become something that we dread or that is just a matter of checking off the box. If it’s another thing to do, it's not going to have the same impact as if we find something that brings us joy, brings us pleasure, and connects us to other people.
Another important aspect of dealing with overwhelm is to think beyond, way beyond exercise, to think about movement and sensation as much as fitness and then all of the attending kind of cultural things that go along with that.
So, so powerful and I think this last thing that you said about reconnecting to pleasure, about finding that joy, finding a way to to connect to that higher level energy and decision to show up in that way is actually really a brave thing to do in the face of all of the negativity and really traumatic world news that we're surrounded by all the time.
So I think that it's amazing to have a practice that supports you in doing that.
So tell us a bit more about how we can use that body that we have, that we’ve been given, with all it’s amazing-ness and limitation in this practice of curing overwhelm.
Well, I think that we can learn a lot from the natural world and, and so looking at, for example, the way animals move is a fascinating exploration.
One of the things that I often recommend to people, if they're feeling overwhelmed if you have that narrowing, feeling like your circuits are chock full, is to shake your body. To literally shake your body! And so you can shake your hands and you can get up and just shake your whole body. It's fascinating to me that when animals have been in a stressful situation, say they've been chased by a predator or they have escaped some kind of scary situation, what animals do is shake. What humans do is hold contract. We squeeze, we try to control, we try to ram down the feelings that come up and this is what I just love Shaking.
Shaking is like the simplest thing to do. You do it for just a few seconds. It dissipates the energy that's gathered in your body and lets it go rather than carrying it around with you. This is part of the process of getting outside of chronically held stress. Find ways of releasing that energy - you can go for a run, you can go for a nice walk in the woods or a bike ride but you can just shake your body. Its radical right because it's so countercultural.
Yeah. That contraction just limits our joy righ because we're just still frozen. We haven't released the stressful event, the stressful thing that just got triggered in the body.
Yeah, absolutely. It narrows our joy. It narrows our physical capacity, our mental capacity and capacity. And so it's one of my favorite things to do. It's like if you feel stuck, unstick yourself by shaking. And so that's one of my favorites!
If you ever watch pets will do this, they will absolutely give themselves a good shake after they've come across a grumpy neighbor dog or something right and you know, they will shake.
The other thing that I love to learn from from animals into the natural world is rest and I'm making a distinction between sleep and rest. Sleep is absolutely essential and saying that this is something that's different. That is a way of resting the body, a non sleeping rest.
What we tend to do is when we have time for that kind of stress is, we tend to put ourselves onto screens. And you know, and there's nothing wrong with getting that foot bench for sure. And it's not really letting your body and mind rest in the way that it needs. So, just closing your eyes, finding a comfortable position. I like to just lie down on the floor. But I'm giving yourself a pause. A way of resetting with stillness is incredibly powerful and rejuvenating. And again, it doesn't take a lot of time. You can do it for just a couple of minutes. It has a similar impact of letting your body reset itself and then even just five minutes of that kind of dress and really be rejuvenating.
I tried that recently, I couldn't believe it- I felt like I had a cup of coffee. You know, I was like okay, I'm ready to go again. It was amazing.
Another side of overwhelm that I deal with a lot is my clients and for myself, is the fact that we have so many things on our plates, so things that we're all trying to do every day. And one of the things that we really struggle with is something that's called decision fatigue. And one of the things that contributes to that is that we have roughly about 35,000 decisions to make every day in order to function in the modern world. And so, one of the things that can be hard is if you're not prioritizing what you're spending your time on, what your goals are, what your way how you want to spend your time, it's so easy to get to that stage of decision fatigue, because you've just put on way too many things on your plate and you're trying to do way too much.
One of the ways of gaining clarity around that is acknowledging that there's that much that we're trying to do and learning how to use our resources more effectively to our bodies, but also our mental capacity and using it in much more intentional ways.
One of the tools that I help my clients with is finding different ways to filter out this overload of information so that you can start to identify what are the most important things, the things are actually going to move the needle and move me towards the things I really want in my life, as opposed to just taking things on it because I you know, out of obligation or thinking, well, I should I should be doing this. This is very important.
And the truth is there are way too many important things that we can be spending our time on so and an endless supply of unimportant things. I know that for myself, my inbox is overflowing, yes, I can just sort of dive in and just start I don't know, just doing whatever is in front of me to actually have some idea of like, well, maybe I can just clear it off and then I'll have some open space but it's it it often will just sap me of all my energy and I haven't really spent the time on the things that matter to me personally to matter to the people who I care about and then the world is all I'm doing is clearing out my end.
We could spend all day dealing with messages on our phones! I mean, it's relentless. So finding ways to live more in alignment with the things that matter to us really helps us prioritize things and gives us a lens from which to zoom out a little bit and reset. It makes it easy to say no to something that isn't going to help you move towards the person you want to be, you know, can really help you address some of these bigger questions.
Yeah, I love that. I love what you're saying. And again, you and I have discovered over and over again there's so much overlap in our work and I absolutely agree. It's getting very clear on the values that we hold is so important and coming back into the body is what I call embodiment practices, which is for example, imagine that one of your values is honesty or kindness.
Start asking yourself How does kindness sit? How does kindness stand? How does kindness move through the world, walk through space, interact with people? It’s allowing ourselves to use not just our mental facilities to identify the things that we think matter to us and letting it come into our very selves.
And when we do that, what happens with that kind of practice? Is that if you come to me with a project, and I, I can feel my whole body when you propose it, and I can feel if something feels like No, even if it feels like it's an important thing. This isn't the one for me. Because I have a connection with the sensation in my body.
Yes, yes. So with my clients you know if someone is like beating themselves up because they haven’t started writing the book that they promised themselves they’d write, we connect back to which values are being prioritized. And then that allows you to actually get your power back because then you can say, actually, no, this really doesn't align with my values so I need to reset everything else.
Having this way of filtering out. what we want to be spending our time and energy on actually allows us to build that sense of safety in the body as well. If we can start to see what choices we're making.
Yeah. I love the word building capacity. And what happens when we come at our competing demands for our time and attention and money and energy is to come at it with this holistic approach, which can really allow us not just to filter and say yes and no to things, but also be able to regulate ourselves, regulate our bodies or our nervous system.
So then it takes more to overwhelm us - we are able to navigate with more capacity. And, that also takes practice. As we've been talking about, it is so essential for everybody to be able to find ways of calming ourselves, of re-engaging with our priorities and what matters and listening to the wisdom not just of our brains. That's super important, but also the wisdom of the body.
So, Susan, and I really want to help women step into these new levels of confidence and internal success. And so we would love to invite you to come to our webinar where we can dive in a little bit deeper into these questions. And we'll look at how overwhelm manifests in our lives and our bodies. And we want to give you a couple of tools that you can walk away with to start building that sense of ease in the body and create a clear direction for the new year based on that and see if that brings about some ease and relief from their overwhelm.
And to build the resources to address overwhelm. I'm so excited to to let our our practices meld together!
Thank you so much, Susan. I'm so happy that you were able to join me for this conversation today. Tell our listeners how they can find you online if they would like to.
You can find just about everything about me and my work my website which is www.susanmcculley.com. and Natalie mentioned the building balance course on Insight Timer, you can find information about that, my classes and so
Lots of wonderful stuff to check out and encourage you to do that. So thank you and we'll send out information about that webinar as well with this recording. Thank you, Susan.
Such a pleasure. Thanks, Natalie.