What's the body got to do with it?

May 10, 2021

The body is our home. But what happens when we become disconnected from this home, unable to feel it, or to notice when it needs a break or nourishment? What happens when we tune out from it, turn away and ignore the vital messages it is sharing with us? See below as we explore the role of being aware of, and connecting with the body and its sensations for embodied health and wellbeing - for yourself and the wellbeing of those in your care.

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In the face of stress or pain, our default is to leave our bodies... the more intense our discomfort, the more we leave or dissociate.

With the fast pace of our modern lives, we in Western culture, have become increasingly disconnected from our feelings, bodies, relationships and the natural world. We only need to look at the increased statistics in chronic illness, mental illness, loneliness and the poor state of the environment for confirmation. Arguably, many of these issues are driven by our inability to stop and be present with our feelings, our relationships, our lifestyle choices and the natural world around us.

Inherent in this disconnection is our diminished capacity to be present, particularly within ourselves.

We avoid discomfort, painful feelings and memories, hiding from ourselves and others, often without even realising it.

Many of us learn to put our feelings aside and mask our experience... thereby denying an integrated, meaningful understanding of ourselves.

Whilst the act of turning away from one’s self can certainly involve a significant moment, or traumatic experience, for many it is a result of every day, unconscious patterns of turning away from ourselves, often played out over many years.

This involves many repetitions of relinquishing the needs of the self in order to

  • avoid emotional or physical pain
  • prioritise certain parts of the self or the needs of others
  • keep peace at a family event
  • get the job done
  • be diplomatic at work or
  • save a difficult conversation for another time or place.

This often occurs when we shut down, due to conscious or unconscious attempts to

  • avoid overwhelm
  • keep on going in the face of grief, fear or the unknown
  • protect ourselves when we're feeling vulnerable or attacked
  • just get the job done - no nurse, teacher, doctor or counsellor could do their job if they let themselves break down!

For many of us this becomes a habit. We avoid discomfort without realising that we are detaching from feelings and disconnecting from sensations in the body.

How can we re-connect to ourselves through the body?

Over the last few decades, understandings in interpersonal neurobiology have confirmed what many ancient traditions have known all along: that our mind and our body are connected.

Our wellbeing is dependent on our capacity to connect with

  • our physicality
  • our emotions
  • our thoughts
  • and the people around us.

At the heart of health then, is the integration of these systems.

Embodiment refers to the healthy balance of these systems: an ability to be present with the body in its diverse emotional, physical and social states, in an ‘embodied self awareness’.

A healthy embodied presence allows us to be open to connection with others without turning away from ourselves.

When we feel safe in our bodies, we are able to relate with openness and engagement in the present moment.

Awareness of the body is the first step.

Healthy embodiment: awareness & connection

We are all familiar with the five senses:

  • smell
  • taste
  • touch
  • sight
  • hearing

However, it also involves many other aspects, including an ability to:

  • sense and perceive outside of the body (exteroception) and internal sensations (interoception);
  • detect the body’s position in space and know how much force may be required to move or act (proprioception);
  • balance and orient ourselves (vestibular sense) and
  • knowing when the body is moving (kinaesthesia)

Long term patterns of disembodiment make it difficult to be aware of these states.

Healing practices such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi and qigong seek unity of mind and body through engaging in embodied presence via practices such as breathing, grounding techniques and simple movement.

Attending these sorts of classes are a great start to connecting with your body.

However, beginning to attend to your own senses are useful.

How can you do this?

Exteroception:

  • notice the feeling of your clothes / shoes on your skin
  • notice the air against your skin
  • pay attention to the feel of the warm coffee in your hands

Interoception:

  • can you sense your food going down as you eat?
  • you may be familiar with the sense of butterflies in your stomach - what do you notice inside yourself when you feel excited? or sad? is there a lightness? a heaviness? a surge of warmth?

Proprioception:

  • stretch your arms out and notice the tightness at the back of your arms
  • give yourself a foot massage and pay attention to the squeezes
  • rub the tops of your thighs with your hands
  • rub your hands together

Vestibular sense:

  • try balancing on leg
  • go for a swing in the park

Kinaesthesia:

  • what does your body feel like when your are walking? Do you have a sense of the movement?
  • practice noticing the difference in sensation between being still and walking, jumping or running

Having more awareness in these ways will help you to pay attention to the signals your body is sending you - and will assist you to create building blocks to connection with your embodied self.

The full story can only be told ... after no body becomes some body.

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