Befriending the Brilliant Body (Part 1)

Photo from Unsplash

What do you notice in your body right now? I notice a small urge to pee and then an immediate pushing away of the sensation because I’m “doing something.” How often do you do this in your daily life? I often ignore or push away the body’s signals prioritizing what the mind is doing instead.

Since this blog is about befriending the brilliant body I have taken care of my body’s needs and I am now sitting more comfortably and able to focus my attention on writing since my body doesn’t have to talk or yell at me. 

When you look at your body what do you see? Something too big or too small? Something too hairy or not hairy enough? I generally notice what I don’t like about my body first and tend to take for granted the incredible resilience of it. My teacher, Dr. Kavitha Chinnaiyan, often reminds me to acknowledge the sheer amazement of having a body. Notice the body is being breathed without you thinking about it at all. Reflect on the digestive system that is dutifully processing your food into energy right now. Contemplate your pineal gland emitting melatonin tonight to help you go to sleep and the adrenals releasing cortisol to wake you up tomorrow morning. When I take a step back and look at the body in this way I am struck with awe. 

As my yoga therapy teacher, Molly Lannon Kenny, taught me, “the body is the gateway.” The body is a vehicle we can see, move and manipulate in ways we don’t have access to other parts of ourselves. It is what holds our energy, minds, emotions, thoughts, spirit and consciousness. Everything comes from the body and it is how we experience life. What a gift it is to have a body! 

At the same time bodies experience trauma, media that demonizes, fetishizes, creates unrealistic images of what bodies “should” like, and the head is oftentimes more valued than the feeling body. If the body has been hurt, terrorized by ableism, sizeism, racism, ignored and it is safer to be in the mind why befriend the body at all? 

Since everything happens in the body I have found, personally and professionally, that the only way to heal is through the body. If there was a need to disconnect from the body the healing comes through reconnection. If you have learned to hate your body the healing comes from returning to the love you were born with. No one is born hating their bodies or being dissociated from it. It is learned through the pain and trauma of surviving things that may not have been survivable if they were truly felt at the time. 

The tool of resorting to the mind and intellect is a wonderful survival skill, and can be effective in cultivating logic and practicality. This can also can come with the consequences of not knowing what the body is feeling, physically or emotionally, being caught off guard by the body’s needs or not being able to connect as easily to yourself or others. We can lose the opportunity to experience the full range of a human experience when we lose connection to the body, and it can feel like living in a monotone world rather than one with the full spectrum of colors. 

Photo from Unsplash

Here are some ways to begin the process of befriending the brilliant body.  

  1. Start with gratitude: The intellect can be an easier doorway to begin with for some people. Contemplate how incredible it is that you can see the colors in front of you or hear the sounds in your environment. When you move from one room to the next have gratitude for the body’s ability to take you from one place to another. Start a daily gratitude practice for your body.
  2. Explore the periphery: If the thought of moving towards and in the body is scary start at the periphery, which can be easier to connect with than the core. Bring your hands together and feel your palms touching each other. Are they warm or cool? Soft or calloused? Do the fingers feel different from the palms?
  3. Discover pleasure: If you brought your hands together, notice how they want to be touched. Do you want to rub your hands together vigorously or have light touch exploring the surface? Do your hands want to be massaged or do they want to rest in stillness? If you haven’t explored pleasure through self touch, not knowing what you like is normal. You might find it easier to know what you don’t like. As you explore pleasure when you find something is a “no” stop and inquire why you didn’t like that, which will give you clues into what you do like. 
  4. Joyful movement: Do you run because you should? Do you dance because you want to? Do you walk because it is “good” for you? Do you go to the gym because it is fun? Reflect on the movement activities you do and how you approach them. There are movements your body may love and there are movements you might be forcing on the body in the name of “health.” What if you moved because there was desire vs. moving from a place of “should”?
  5. Tune into the breath:  Bring your awareness to your nostrils. Can you feel the breath moving in and out? Can you feel the breath moving the chest? Can you feel the sides of the torso moving with the breath? Is the belly moving with the breath? By bringing the breath into the abdomen you can invite more space for your experience, both physically and emotionally, while activating the rest and digest part of your parasympathetic nervous system. If you want to try a guided practice you can explore diaphragmatic breathing here
  6. Body scan. A body scan can support you become aware of your body from a compassionate and mindful perspective, where the purpose is to objectively notice what is happening in the body without trying to fix or change anything. There is nothing wrong with what you find. If you can’t feel some areas, notice that. If other areas are loud, notice that. If a body scan feels too intimidating you can always start with your hands, which are amazing parts of your body to bring into your awareness!

Befriending your body means going at the body’s pace. If something feels overwhelming or too intense back off and do a little at a time. Sometimes going slow is the fastest way to healing, and if we override the body’s pace it can make the process more painful for the body, mind and heart. The body is wise in its capacity to take care of you, just like the nervous system, and you can learn how to honor it, listen, give it what it needs and take care of it as a small gesture of gratitude for the ways it takes care of you everyday.

If you are looking for additional support in healing the body-mind sign up for a free 20-minute yoga therapy consultation to see if working together may be a useful addition for your healing journey. In yoga therapy the embodiment practices are tailored specifically to you while listening and honoring the pace of your unique body and nervous system so you can feel at home within yourself.

In the next blog I will share more resources for befriending the brilliant body for those who have established embodiment practices or are kinesthetic learners who take in information through the body because empowered embodiment is a lifelong process.