Psychedelics and the physical dimension of emotional discharge are deeply intertwined. In this episode, our hosts will examine the ways in which emotions can show up as physical sensations and experiences.
By acknowledging the somatic component of emotional processing, psychedelic journeys can help release much of the physical tension that accompanies mental health issues. Jimmy and Nicholas offer tangible examples of how stress and anxiety can be stored in the body.
They explore common ways in which psychedelic medicine catalyzes emotional purging through bodily processes. What does it mean to heal from the inside out? What happens when we disregard the physical cues of our emotional body?
Our hosts explain the important role of taking personal, physical-emotional inventory during the preparation stages of a psychedelic experience. How can we facilitate a more rapid process of emotional discharge?
Episode 26 – Psychedelics & The Physical Dimension of Emotional Discharge
Jimmy: Welcome to The Psychedelic Passage Podcast. My name is Jimmy Nguyen, I’m joined here by my co-host Nick Levich. With the new year starting off, we decided we wanted to go back to basics a little bit and have a few episodes over preparation and ceremony and just some useful components for folks who are engaging in any type of intentional psychedelic work.
Today, we’re going to be talking about the body, physical components of the body, and then how that plays into preparation and ceremony. I think a good place to start this conversation is, as you heard me allude to in the last episode, that this process is beyond the mind meaning that you can’t think your way through.
Nor is the mind the only tool that you have for preparing for a psychedelic experience and preparing for exploring your own consciousness in any type of way. I talk a lot to my clients about the connection between the mind, the body, the emotions that are arising, and so that will be a big crux of our conversation today.
As always, we hope to add some tangibility, some actionable information here as well that we hope all listeners find helpful. Where do you want to start with this Nick, as far as talking about the importance, how the body plays into psychedelic experiences?
Nick: Well, I think before we even get into that, it’s important to acknowledge how most people that we see approach this work cognitively. The irony is that it’s called mental health.
You’d think like, okay, it’s all due to the mind to my brain, but there’s actually way way more going on than that because we’ve got this body that’s inextricably linked to our mind. Some of you may be familiar with this concept if you read The Body Keeps the Score or any of those books that start to highlight this connection between mind and body.
I think the most common challenge that we see around this is that folks come into this work thinking that they’re going to think their way through it, or intellectualize their way through it, or conceptualize their way through it and it just doesn’t work that way.
Jimmy: Yeah, I find the most common ways that this shows up are people who are saying, I’ve read the research, I’ve looked at the clinical studies, I’m looking for that neuroplasticity, I’m looking to lower my default mode network, I’m looking for ego dissolution, I’m looking to build new synapses in the brain.
Although all of those things are very promisingly showing up in psychedelic research, if you only focus on that, you’re negating a really big part of the process, which is your body. We’ve had episodes about somatic experiences and trauma and a lot of different content around the body.
To your point, very simply, there’s just some telling science nowadays, knowing that the vast majority of serotonin that our brain uses is actually built in the gut, knowing that there’s a relationship between what they call the gut-brain axis or the microbiome of the gut.
There’s now some research out there that’s linking certain mental health diagnoses as actually being related just as much to our bodies and our stomachs as it is to any type of neurochemical deficiency or imbalance as well.
Nick: The same goes with something as external as back pain.
Jimmy: Sure. Yeah.
Nick: How many of you have experienced neck or back pain that increases with stress? We think about stress as this more mental thing, but it also has a bodily component here. I think what I want to stress on this episode is that there is a very physical component to the healing process, especially in an altered state to work with plant medicines.
What is The Physical Dimension of Emotion?
Jimmy: Yeah, we’ll talk later in this episode about what may come up during ceremony, in prep, even in integration, but I want to pause a little bit on what you were just talking about there, almost like the location of emotions or things that arise. We started off by prefacing this conversation about connecting the mind to the body.
I also think that there is a conversation to be had around what I call the emotional body, stress being an emotion that we feel in addition to cortisol and spike neurotransmitters [laughs] things like that, and then how it shows up in the body. Can you talk to people about this concept of the emotion body and how that’s stored?
Nick: The way that I think about it is that there is a direct relationship between thoughts and emotions. If you think the thought, I’m grateful for my health today, it can just exist as a thought, or with enough true visualization, we can actually start to feed ourselves the emotion of gratitude.
The emotion of gratitude is exactly what you talk about. It’s a certain mix of chemical cocktail of serotonin and norepinephrine and dopamine and whatever else. And it’s got all the right ratios. The point is that we’re highlighting this connection between the brain and the body. These emotions are quite literally energy in motion moving through our body.
We may experience things like anxiety in our gut or tension in our chest. What you can start to pick out is the qualities of these emotions. Is it persistent? Is it acute? Is it a thumping? Does it have a color, a texture, a feel? We can really start to look into how we’re experiencing these emotions in our body.
Jimmy: So, this is part physical body. Also, what comes up for me is the nervous system. As you were talking, I was thinking about just times where the hair stands up on my arm or times where my Spidey senses tingling. I’m like, okay, something’s not right here in this situation.
Now as you’re talking, I’m thinking about, okay, there’s a chemical process there. Maybe my adrenaline starts to pop up a little bit. My body gets a little bit more alert. Also, there’s a little fear, a little nervousness, a little anxiety.
In a real life-threatening situation, all of those things are useful. All of those things are really helpful. I’m just using that almost as an analogy or a metaphor for what you’re describing, that there’s a lot more going on besides the thought and the synapse that’s creating the thought.
Nick: The important piece as it relates to the work that we do is if you ignore all of that because you’re so busy reading about the default network or trying to conceptualize how your journey is going to go, you’re missing out on this whole bodily component.
It is part of yours, mine, all of our responsibility if we’re choosing to journey, to honor this process as being just as much physical as it is cognitive because we live in a society that places an incredible amount of importance and value on intelligence, on thinking, on smarts.
When in reality, it’s possible to be smart to a fault where you’re totally disconnected to your body. Only through this very intentional process do you start to discover what’s actually going on beneath your neck.
Jimmy: Well, I’m grateful that our society here in America is now starting to value, like EQ, emotional intelligence, empathy for sure the Gen Z population are more attuned to that than boomers and predecessors even before that.
One thing that I find with this concept of how emotions show up in our bodies and in our nervous system is that I find that there’s a locational component to this as well, knowing that nature loves patterns and it loves efficiency and it loves to conserve energy.
What I find is that when there are certain emotions or things that people are feeling, usually that just shows up in our body in pretty standard ways, like feeling back pain when you’re stressed. That’s a great example, or having anxiety on your chest. Like, a lot of people feel like there’s this crushing feeling on their chest when they sometimes feel anxiety and things like that.
What I share with folks, in addition to acknowledging their emotion, feeling it, is also trying to identify, okay, how is it showing up in my body? Where is it showing up? What does it feel like? Is it dull? Is it tingly? Is it uncomfortable? Is it hot? Is it what not?
Does it actually show up as some type of physical ailment? Whether it’s a muscle problem or a skin problem or a foot problem or whatnot? How does it affect your energy levels, your fatigue, your mental acuity? All of these things are connected into the body as well.
The more that you can get some eyes on that, like your awareness that you can map that, the more helpful that you can start to build some patterns and trends so that if something comes up in the future and you’re like, I can’t identify what this is, but I know it’s kind of giving me that same feeling in my stomach as when I’m feeling unsafe as an example.
That data almost is really useful when folks are in preparation, in a ceremony, in integration. To sum it up, if you don’t already have a relationship with your body, it’s time to start cultivating one.
Jimmy: Yeah, well, something that you were saying before we started recording the episode is that the same way that we share with folks in prep that the pot gets stirred. We mean that spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and bodily. The body just starts doing weird stuff I find when folks are in prep and leading into any type of exploration of the self or consciousness.
Nick: Let’s talk about what that looks like for people, like actual examples of what we see. This can happen in prep, it can happen during the ceremony itself, it can happen in integration, but what are some of these themes that show up as physical experiences, physical sensations?
Themes Within Physical-Emotional Experiences
Jimmy: The number one thing that comes up for me is when people start to feel aches and pains that they weren’t aware of before. They’ll go through whether you pop an Advil or a Tylenol every day, hopefully not or whether you’re just in a place where you’re somewhat disconnected to your body.
I have a lot of folks just identifying like, “Oh, there is something going on with my foot, there is something going on with my back, there is this tension that I feel.” “Oh, my muscles are tight here or I’m feeling something in my neck.”
That is pretty unrelated to a lot of the traditional conversation that we have around prep and intentional psychedelic use. I find that that is pre tty accurate signal when you start to just notice aches, pains, things that aren’t working right within your body.
Nick: Yeah, we’ve talked about it in this in the past, but stomachaches can show up a lot, and a lot of times they’re actually like emotional stomachaches is what I call them. It’s really easy to think you ate something that you shouldn’t have eaten when in reality it’s your anxiety manifesting in your gut.
Other things that I see a lot, especially in prep, is fatigue. Just like this extreme fatigue because we don’t tend to slow down unless we get laid down. When we’ve got work and kids and family and obligations and dinner events and whatever, it can be hard to slow down.
What’s asked of us in prep is to slow down. If we don’t take the initiative to do it ourself, I see a lot of times the body kind of takes over and just lays us down and basically forces us to go horizontal.
Jimmy: Yeah, then that’s when people get sick with illnesses and flu and whatnot and fatigue, tiredness, difficulty focusing, mental clarity is also related to the body, headaches, stomachaches like you said. And then something that you touched on that I find with some folks is that appetite and food preferences sometimes change with folks going into preparation as well.
Especially for those who are putting some mindfulness and awareness just around their own self-inventory where they just start to notice how certain foods make them feel or noticing “Oh when I have this emotion, I go to that or I hit the candy cabinet or whatnot.”
I find that for a lot of folks, for sure after ceremony having quite a change to their preferences. I had a client who would traditionally only drink flavored water Propel and then when they came out, they had a real taste for non-sugar herbal tea.
We’ve seen folks who are vegetarians who come out and eat red meat. Like there are a lot of dietary things that can pop up for folks through the body as well in preparation for ceremony, which is almost never talked about.
Like no research papers, no studies, very few if any, are actually talking about this physical bodily component. That’s why I felt very called to make an episode on this because it’s very rarely addressed, but it’s an essential part of this process all the way from prep through integration.
Jimmy: Yeah, for me, when I find or come across real audaciously difficult content in psychedelic experiences or leading up to it, I noticed my body wanting to binge eat or eat that deep heavy fried stuff or just eat that bad stuff.
Because I know now that’s a way of my body trying to check out. That’s a way of me trying to distract from the work at hand as well. It’s pretty interesting, this connection that we’re talking about here.
Nick: Well, a lot of what we’ve talked about is the stuff that will come up in prep, but then there’s also a whole host of physical sensations that will arise during the actual ceremony itself. For those of you that listen to our episode on trauma, you may have heard some of these before. Everything from shaking, convulsing, spitting, [crosstalk] yelling.
Jimmy: [crosstalk] tremors, there’re parts of your body that get really tense, there’re parts of your body that start to loosen up a little bit.
Nick: I think sweating-
Nick: -temperature fluctuations. I mean, basically what I tell people is if you’re experiencing something weird during the journey, that’s normal.
Jimmy: [laughs] I think there’s a huge piece on validating the normalcy of somebody’s experience. That doesn’t mean that it’s not meaningful and unique to whatever that journeyer is going through. I find a lot of folks just find comfort of being like, “Oh, I’m not the only one who’s oscillating from extreme cold to extreme heat.”
“Oh, I’m not the only one that feels like XYZ” and that allows folks to have permission to be in their body. It allows folks to give themselves permission to move through the psychedelic experience in whatever way makes sense for them in the moment and at the time.
I think the biggest piece of this bodily discomfort conversation that we’re having, especially with psilocybin is nausea and vomiting. And there’re layers to this. A lot of folks point to the conversion of psilocybin into psilocin and then other active psychedelic compounds that are creating this nausea.
I also find a lot of folks who have some barriers or resistance to certain content and things that can sometimes show up as nausea. There are also certain people who just have sensitive GI systems and it can just purely be like a physiological thing.
I acknowledge that too, but 90% of the time when somebody is experiencing nausea, there’s something emotional or energetic about that as well, which we can’t necessarily quantify in science. We’ve seen that to be true, especially in ayahuasca experiences where purging is accepted as part of that process just as an example.
Nick: To the point where they call it purging and not vomiting because it is an energetic and physical purge. I think what’s interesting is almost all of the physical sensations that we talked about are not that pleasurable.
Nick: This to me is a byproduct of living in a society where, first of all, very few of us actually live in our bodies. On top of that, we treat our bodies like amusement parks. We go chocking full of caffeine in the morning, suck down our e-cig, maybe take something to focus, then we move into the evening, and we have a couple of drinks to wind down.
What we’re basically talking about here is a form of societally accepted numbing out. We finally actually do get in touch with our bodies, lo and behold, there’s like some pretty uncomfortable sensations in there.
Jimmy: Nick, I feel attacked with what you just said there.
Jimmy: I’m just kidding. I’ve moved from taking my body from an amusement park to a recreational vehicle and it’s a lot more directed in that sense. But I think you’re right. It’s not just about the body in itself, but also what we put in our bodies, the way that we manage feelings and emotions through food, drink, substances, activities, dopamine hits, all of that plays into it.
The more that you can tune into where your baseline of your body is at, the better you can look at, okay, what’s this process mean? What does this mean for me? That’s why we always recommend for folks at least five to seven days before ceremony.
If you can go for longer to try to limit your caffeine consumption, to try to be mindful of your diet and what you put into your body, to try to be mindful of unnecessary medications, whether you take two Aleve a day for migraines or whether you’re taking a couple of Advil a day because of this consistent back pain.
The more that you can remove some of those variables, the more that you could feel into like, “Okay, this is where my body is at. Ah, Interesting. Okay, so there’s some stuff going on here that I probably need to look at.”
Nick: Once again, it’s probably not going to be that comfortable. I want to emphasize that we don’t do this process for comfort or for fun or pleasure or for joy. It’s literally because it’s rewarding and we want to heal, we want something to shift in our life and unless we’re prepared to sit in some temporary discomfort for this much longer-term gain, it just usually doesn’t go that well.
Jimmy: Yeah, here’s the X factor too is that you can feel a wide range of emotions all at once. I’ve had a couple of my past clients feeling discomfort and sorrow, despair, hopelessness, and then also feeling joy and support and connectivity and love.
If you’re feeling all of those things all at once and that’s all stirring around in your body, that can be a lot that can be quite overwhelming. A part of this is what I call nervous system regulation and there’re ways that you can do that in preparation.
There’s certainly a lot of tools and skills that you can use in ceremony but your nervous system plays a part in the loading of all of those emotions and feelings. If you are a person who walks through life and only feels five main feelings and then you move into a psychedelic experience and then, by the way, they all live in the body somewhere, somehow.
And then you move into a psychedelic experience and there’s a wide range, maybe there’s 15, 20, I don’t know, 100, 200, there’s like thousands of words for different types of emotions that can overload you quite a bit. I think that there’s a tangible, again, strategic component around tuning into your body so that it can really be your ally in ceremony and in integration as well.
Acknowledging Conflict in The Body
Nick: Yeah, I always call the body the bridge to the subconscious. The subconscious speaks to us through our body and so I have this experience all the time where my brain is telling me that I need to be productive and I need to work and I got things to do today and my body is tired, like really tired. And we have a choice to make.
We’ve all probably experienced this, right? A conflict between the head and the heart is what I call it. Or you can think about it as between the head and the body. There’s a conflict happening here and the question is, do we take that opportunity to mentally override and force ourselves to do the things that we’re telling ourself we need to do?
Or do we give ourselves permission to just like take a break for an hour and feel into this fatigue in our body and maybe with some curiosity about what is underlying it. I recognize that, yes, we have things to do and you can’t do that every day.
If you’re in an intentional preparation process for an upcoming ceremony, it is in your best interest to start to honor those bodily sensations because that’s what actually allows you to get the most out of your journey.
Jimmy: Yeah, and I think for some listeners who are hearing this part of what you’re sharing, I acknowledge that not everybody feels like they have the time. Not everybody feels like they have the bandwidth too.
Maybe some folks are listening, being like, “Wow, that’s a nice luxury to be able to take a break in the middle of the workday and whatnot. I acknowledge that that is true to a degree. That there are some folks who do have to punch in, punch out, they do got kids, maybe they’re working two jobs.
There are folks who are like, “I truly don’t have a lot of time here.” My first question for those folks who are thinking about a psychedelic experience is how much time do you have to prioritize your own healing and growth moving into a psychedelic ceremony anyways? The other side of it is going back to, I think this internal choice that people are making that is a precursor to all of this.
Meaning that if you are really serious about aligning all of these parts of yourself, your spirit, your mind, your body, your emotions, and you’re serious about moving into an intentional psychedelic process in some way, shape, or form, it requires effort, it requires commitment, it requires making time, it requires carving out. For some folks that looks like five to ten minutes a day.
Nick: Which is still better than ignoring all together.
Jimmy: 100%, for some folks, at least for me, my shower time is usually the time where I’m checked out thinking about nothing. When I’m moving towards a psychedelic ceremony or an experience, I’m using that time, I’m using my drive time, my commute time, whatever time to be like, “Okay, I’m going to do a little two-minute meditation.
I’m going to do a little bit of a check-in. I’m just going to do a little scan of my body and my emotions just to check in really quickly.” This looks different for each person, I think, but fundamentally it’s still all the same. You have to prioritize this. You have to make time for it. You have to honor this process of connecting your mind to your body, to your spirit, to your emotions.
Nick: Yeah, I appreciate what you said because it doesn’t have to be dedicated time spent just to sitting with your body, but you can bring that bodily awareness into everything you do. I think that that’s where you can start to cultivate that connection in real time as opposed to in like dedicated chunks of time.
But it’s definitely possible. You’re like, “Oh, I haven’t checked in on my body for a while because I’ve been writing this paper.” Pause, take a deep breath, and just see what’s going on in your body. It’s the awareness that starts everything in this process.
Jimmy: Yeah, and that can be a couple of seconds. I like this concept of net time or like no extra time. I find that it’s when I’m doing my dishes, any time of doing my dishes. I’m just using that as an opportunity to just check in and see where I’m at.
I hope that everybody has at least 5, 10,15 minutes of the day to themselves and I think that choice ultimately is a big factor here. What else do you want to talk about around this topic? What’s important for listeners and folks to be aware of?
Nick: I think the main thing that I want to stress is just to not ignore what’s going on in your body. You don’t need to fully understand it, you don’t need to dissect every single thing, but ignoring it doesn’t help.
Use this as an opportunity to step into the observer that Jimmy talks about and go, “Oh, interesting, there’s that shoulder tightness again. Oh, interesting, there’s this weight on my chest. Oh, interesting, I’m feeling like I need to clear my throat a lot today.” Those are all very important aspects to be aware of when you’re moving through a process like this.
Jimmy: Yeah, especially with a lot of female clients that I have there’s a lot of stomach womb area things that sometimes come up, especially with women stepping into their power and agency, and sovereignty.
Throat chakra stuff tends to come up in our work together and so there are some patterns and things that arise. I think the other thing that I want to express to folks is that this is a completely normal and accepted part of this process.
That stuff is going to come up with the body. It is going to be a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s very uncomfortable. If it’s any comfort for people to know, “Okay, this is somewhat integrated into the process.”
I’m not the only one that’s this biological weirdo that’s feeling all this stuff coming up in our body and just knowing that likely anybody who’s gone through some type of meaningful transformation with psychedelics has had some factor or component of this coming up for them.
Nick: Just so everybody knows, regardless if it’s in prep ceremony or integration, literally any time, however, you feel in your body is not permanent, it will always shift.
I think that understanding allows us to sink deeper into however we’re feeling, knowing that’s not going to extend its duration. In actuality, I find the opposite is true when we sink deeply into the emotion that we’re feeling, it often passes more quickly than wanting to feel some type of other way.
Jimmy: Oh, for sure, that’s so tangible. When folks are dealing with nausea in psilocybin experiences, the more that folks want it to go away and the more that they focus on it, and then they bring all of their attention to it, that’s what makes it stay.
When folks are acknowledging of it, aware of it, breathing through it, that’s oftentimes when it fades or maybe it comes and goes, or maybe it’s related to some somatic process that’s going on. I think that’s really great tangible advice for folks. Well, that does it for our episode today. We hope that you found some value in listening to our dialogue and conversation.
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