“The body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.” — Bessel van der Kolk
Years ago, I realized I had to engage in somatic work for unhealthy patterns to dissipate and healthier ones to emerge. I could accurately describe and identify my dysfunctional ways of silently seething in resentment, fake smiling, and being a firecracker of anger followed by intense shamefear. I had not yet interrupted these repetitive cycles. Intellectual self-awareness happened to be only one of several essential steps. Becoming acutely aware of my inner body sensations, I learned about interoception, awareness of stimuli from inside the body (example: one’s heartbeat and muscle tautness), and viceroception, internal body cues like hunger, thirst, and the need for a bio break.
In a world that tends to get wrapped up in excessive mental activity, I found a different path and began to discern body discomforts of blocked past trauma. I was not familiar with the term “embodiment” at that juncture yet learning about and experiencing my body sensations became one of the most profound pathways to my healing and the continued transformations in how I experience being alive.
I now continually feel the sensations of my body. I feel tingles of excitement, the press of lungs expanding, contracting inside my 3D chest, hot and sweaty skin from another inside out post-menopausal power surge, and warm saliva pooling in my mouth when I smell coffee or think about eating a macaroon.
I hold awareness of my body while practicing yoga and during my morning runs around the lake. I feel my muscles on bicycle rides on the curvy mountain roads and while swimming laps in an outdoor pool on a warm summer day. I now know I can flow through uncomfortable emotional sensations in my body. I feel waves of grieflove with a squeezing heart, a choked-up voice, and hot tears trickling down the skin on my face.
I know the empowerment of living embodied. I get quiet enough to observe and describe what sensations are taking place in my body and this awareness informs my mind. Becoming aware of my body, I notice meaningful thoughts emerge from a strong, expansive core. I’m grateful every day for this magnificent body that keeps me present and with a greater ability to trust my whole self, my true nature.
Embodiment remains essential to healing trauma.
You and I live in bodies. Even though thoughts can seem overwhelming and extremely loud in our minds, at times, every moment of each day, our bodies talk to us. The wisdom contained in our bodies often speaks louder than words.
We human beings often tense up and block our hearts when difficult situations happen rather than noticing the contraction or armoring. Often, we resist the sensations and impressions of experiences flowing through the body and psyche. Resistance or denial can create layers of emotional body detritus which can hinder our ability to respond to a current situation with deep breathing, presence, clarity, and/or curiosity. Often, we can repeat unhealthy patterns rather than repair and mourn. Our bodies can get stiffer and more intractable.
What we resist persists.
In recent years many wise people and trauma-informed experts encourage us to feel our feelings throughout our bodies and point out the benefits of finding safe rhythmic body movements to regulate the nervous system. Participating in improvisation classes, acting classes, and dancing to music we love can also support the healing of past traumas.
Prentis Hemphill defines embodiment as “the awareness of our body’s sensations, habits, and beliefs that inform them. Embodiment requires the ability to feel and allow the body’s emotions. This embodied awareness is necessary to realign what we do with what we believe.” Disembodiment is “an unawareness, repression or denial of our sensations or emotions, and/or privileging our thinking over our feeling. Disembodiment often leads to incongruence between the actions we take in the world and the beliefs we hold.” (Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown Ph.D.)
As I approach four years of living on the side of a mountain surrounded by the beauty of the natural world, I am inspired by visits from black bears, deer, butterflies, rabbits, cardinals, and turtles. My body feels calmer than it ever has. Quiet days and nights on a mountainside allow me to sleep peacefully more consistently than any other time of my life. My mind and body now realize danger has passed. I live safe enough to be present to the gift of life, love, and a profound wholeness of being.
If you have lived through traumas, I hope you find your way to embrace embodiment that heals you and creates a transformation in your experience of being alive. I hope you can live the richness of a multi-sensory dynamic peacefulness as your amazing body remains a beautiful place for the birth of fresh, creative thoughts and the flourishing of your soul.
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately supports people thriving by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, and life. Laura is the published author of four books including Live Inspired which reveals the brave and deep work of self-discovery and her new book of short writings and poetry Abundant Heart: Thoughts on Healing, Loving, and Living Free where with her characteristic grace and candor, Laura shares thoughtful-sometimes comical reflections on healing, loving and living free as inspirational pathways for experiencing a soul-centered, fulfilled life.