Fasting and The Somatic Mindfulness Process

If you have ever done an extended fast or committed to a long-term intermittent fasting program, you will be familiar with your body complaining about change.

Your mind and body love consistency, connection and comfort. Not eating at all, or as often, naturally make your mind, body, and instincts more nervous.

No surprise there.

I am not against fasting at all. In fact, I think it is an essential strategy in a society plagued with illnesses of over-consumption and impatience. In this article, I wanted to bring your attention to a subtle, yet very potent opportunity when fasting. Especially if you are living with unresolved trauma and tend towards addictive behavior.

The Three Minds of Somatic Mindfulness

In the Somatic Mindfulness Process, there are three ‘Minds', or innate orientations to the world.

There is your instinctual animal Central Nervous System (CNS) Mind, there is your bonding and relational ‘Intuition/Instinct' Gut Mind, and there is your Existential/Spiritual ‘Mind‘.

Your CNS makes sure you duck, dodge and run your best when playing sports. Your Gut instincts tell you when people are dangerous or are lying to you. Your existential self spends its time trying to get your deepest personal and karmic needs met through the formation of meaning.

That oversimplifies human life a lot, but it will give us a language to go a little deeper into the subject of fasting.

The Butterflies In Your Stomach

Imagine a child that is raised in an unsafe, addicted, depressed and/or violent home. That was my experience and has been the experience of many of my patients with unresolved trauma and addiction. In that kind of environment, a family meal where nothing bad happens is probably like a Holiday feast to most people. Eating, laughing, teasing and digesting just the way nature intended. A friendly family meal is an exception for many people, and this experience is at the root of many addictive behaviors.

I believe it is the root of most cases of morbid obesity.

One of my Psychiatrist colleagues told me once, that most people need therapy because of what happened or didn't happen at the dinner table.

Have you ever experienced butterflies in your stomach?

I remember as a child, going to the dentist for the first time. I am sure that my butterflies felt more like angry Pterodactyls with machine guns. The feeling in my abdomen was so intense that I remember running to the bathroom, over and over again. Maybe I was hoping to get the butterflies out, one way or the other. That may seem strangely personal but I have asked a lot of people about this sensation and most of them have described the same thing – especially when they were children.

From a clinical perspective, the sensation we call “butterflies in your stomach” is actually the sensation that occurs when a great deal of the blood that normally resides in your abdomen gets forced into your muscles in preparation for the fight or flight response.

When there is insufficient blood around your gastrointestinal system, you cannot absorb nutrients very well, your mucous membrane has a harder time repairing itself and the greater part of your immune system is going to be taxed. Recent research has shown that over 75% of your immune system surrounds your gut, protecting you from any toxins or parasites in your food, as well as the hundreds of naturally occurring microorganisms that live in your gut.

Your mucous membrane is HUGE. If you were to stretch it out with respect to interaction with your food, it is the size of a tennis court. Normally, this entire structure has to be replaced every four days, and without sufficient nutritional support from your blood, it cannot repair itself in time. It is no surprise that two of the most common things adults suffer from in the developed world are Gastric Ulcers and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Hmmm…

Instincts and Adaptation DO NOT Always Work…

Imagine you are going to university; you have tons of projects and exams and you decide it is easier to shove your dirty socks under your bed than wash them. Laundry is time consuming after all. If you find that image intolerable, imagine that one of your friends has made the same sock storing decision.

Over time, whoever is sleeping over a pile of smelly socks can no longer smell them. An adaptation that goes back a few million years; if it seems dangerous but never causes your harm – IGNORE IT!

After all, as far as evolution is concerned, there are all kinds of new dangers to face every day.

Now imagine that your parents come over for a visit. Mom and Dad come into the room and try to smile as the tears of revulsion begin to drip from their eyes. Hands come to mouths, grunts of disgust ensue and they bolt from the room.

The tricky part about the symptoms of gradual and chronic distress, dysfunction, and disease is that we can learn to not feel them.

The most dangerous thing about stress, low-grade food allergies, physical tension, poor sleep, the volume of worry, depth of sadness, dissatisfaction with life, and boredom is that they start to feel normal.

As they try and get our attention with more intensity, we shove them under the bed of our busy, busy lives.
Stress has been shown to contribute up to 80% of the processes involved in all chronic, degenerative and autoimmune disease. And 80% is almost an A in most schools.

If you are suffering from chronic stress, any diagnosable disease, or feelings that what I have written about in this blog post, then this applies to you and it is time to do some laundry.

Your Three Minds, Fasting, and Your Somatic Experience

I love fasting because it keeps me in touch with the conversation/argument of my three Minds.

The first 3 – 4 days are all about the grumbling of my Gut Mind. I usually avoid strangers and people that are challenging because my Gut Mind is already yelling at me for some comfort. This yelling happens on a lot of levels, especially hormonally, which tends to encourage my CNS Mind to get more twitchy and impatient.

It is like having butterflies in your stomach and in your spine. This is the first way that fasting elicits an embodied memory of how you instinctually respond to threat or abandonment.

It is like having butterflies in your stomach and in your spine. This is the first way that fasting elicits an embodied memory of how you instinctually respond to threat or abandonment.

Around day 5 – 6, my gut and nervous system adapt, and the stress and ‘starvation' hormones prepare for a long wait. This is when most people go through an emotional freak-out, or said another way, become familiar with the emotional and somatic tension that they have been stuffing under their proverbial bed.

Personally, I LOVE this part. It is like a traditional Plant Medicine Ceremony, minus the hallucinations.

The freedom you can feel from this kind of humility and acceptance is beyond my vocabulary…

People say the truth hurts, I like to say the truth heals.

Throughout this whole process, the Existential/Spiritual Self or Mind keeps whispering, ‘Wait and see who you really. Wait and see what you can actually accomplish through patience and presence.'

If there was a basket of dirty laundry in the human body, it would be in your Solar plexus and Gut. When we don't like the smell, we stuff it down with food, booze, or all too often Prescription drugs. Fasting gives you a chance to see what has been stuffed under your bed or stuffed down your throat.

In my experience, it takes a patient and conscious relationship with each of your three Somatic Minds to be able to relax and trust into the distress and instinctual discomfort of fasting. The more trauma you carry, the more shame you feel about your past, or about using a substance to get through your version of hell, the more fasting will teach you about where you are still in a battle with your life.

When it feels appropriate, I recommend my patients with trauma and/or addiction use fasting to get in touch with their Somatic Awareness and Emotional Intelligence.

  • Do you feel inspired to have a conversation with your Butterflies?
  • Do you have a sense of what you may have stuffed under the bed of your consciousness?
  • Are you ready to feel it all? You are feeling it all anyway, right?

If your intuition says, ‘Don't do this alone.' Fasting with friends is always better!

About Michael Smith

Michael Smith of Integrative Health SolutionsAs a clinician at Integrative Health Solutions, I combine the leading-edge sciences of Functional Medicine and Ancestral Nutrition, with the wisdom and vast experience of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This combination of healing traditions helps me understand and respond to some of today’s most complex health challenges in a very comprehensive and effective way. Each of these healing modalities focuses on treating the ‘why’ more than the ‘what’.

I also encourage my patients to include stress reduction and/or trauma release practices like Somatic Mindfulness and Neuro Somatic Therapy to promote healing on the deepest levels possible.


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