Have you ever heard the buzzword “embodied” and wondered just wft it actually means? Or been told to “listen to your body” and wondered how? We certainly have! Here at Allbodies, we think of ‘embodiment’ as our actions aligning with what we truly think and what our body really feels. We believe that the clearer we understand the signals from our bodies, the easier it is for us to learn what’s true and real for us, and then the easier it is for us to take actions that are aligned with what we need and our ideals and values.
Now of course, it is impossible to live embodied all the time. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do (i.e. adulthood) or it would be totally unsafe to actually do what we want to do in the moment (i.e. punch someone in the face) . But, the more we practice tuning in to our bodies, the easier it is to discern our true wants and needs. The body doesn’t lie! And the more we listen to the body, the easier it becomes to find moments of real embodiment and therefore support our health, and feel fulfilled and powerful.
Great right? But so few of us have actually been taught how to listen to our body!! So, we asked our friends At The Well, a non-profit focusing on the intersection of health for those who identify as women, wellness, and spirituality, to help us with some practices to start listening again.
Focus on your body’s functionality
We’re raised to think about our bodies in terms of what they look like and quickly learn to place judgements on what is “preferred”. Are we skinny? Are we fat? Are we short? Tall? Do we have physical restrictions? Are we good at sports? But what if, instead of focusing on how our bodies appear and placing judgements on them, we shifted our focus to what our bodies can do; to what they are capable of? Think about how your heart pumps for you 24/7 as you sit back and watch TV. How your tummy rumbles to tell you you are hungry. How your body regulates your temperature. How your uterus can expand to support a growing baby. Some bodies may have different capabilities; So what are your superpowers? Is your unique physicality, or your journey with your body what allows you to inspire others or do the work you feel most connected to?
The point here is not to fall in love with your body, as this may be an impossible goal. But, instead, to focus on accepting where we are at and finding appreciation for what it does for us. Research has shown that higher rates of body dissatisfaction is linked with depressive symptoms and psychological distress (1). And when we are depressed or distressed, it’s very hard to live embodied. And, if we are busy hating on our bodies, how can we possibly hear?
Find it tough to start accepting your body? At the Well shares that Jewish wisdom sees the body as a Holy Temple. And when you think about it, it is kinda magical everything our body does for us day in and day out- we are kinda are Holy! And, if we think of our bodies as being Holy, how does that change our interactions with them?
Find times to move slower
Most of us live fast-paced, busy lives. We go from one thing to the next thing, to the next. We’re perpetually on our phones. We work even when we’re not at work. And on top of all that, we are told we need 8 hours of sleep each night and 30 min of exercise each day. It can feel like every second of our lives are scheduled for us, and that’s exhausting! With this never ending go-go-go, it’s not only very hard to stop and smell the roses, but to tune in to your body’s signals.
At the Well introduced us to the Jewish tradition of Shabbat. Every Friday from sundown through Saturday at nightfall, is considered a sacred time of rest (2, 3). No working. No phones. And for the more observant, no electricity at all! Instead, time is spent with community and family, and with oneself for some reflection (2, 3). For At the Well, Shabbat encourages shared meals, participation in outdoor activities, and intimate conversations uninterrupted by phone calls, texts, and notifications.
So much inspiration from this practice! And the cool thing is you can really make it your own, even if you’re not Jewish. When can you carve out some time to just be? Put your phone away? Share a meal? Spend some time with just yourself? The more opportunities for slowing down, the more you can hear!
Having trouble finding the time to slow down? Having trouble with body acceptance? Just breathe, baby! Breath is a tool that can not only help you to slow down (without scheduling it in! You can literally do it any time, any place- even for 30 seconds! Try it!) but, as At The Well tells us, can deepen our spiritual connection and help remind us that we are connected to something bigger than ourselves. In Jewish wisdom, the breath and the soul come from the same place. So when we are having trouble accepting where we are at, it can be a nice reminder that we are connected to something much bigger, from long, long ago.
To focus on your breath, simply close your eyes, and breathe! Bring your attention to how the air comes into your body, the feeling of it on your nostrils, the way your chest and belly expands, and then the way air leaves your body, and how your chest and belly deflate.
Remember, your breath is always there for you. Even in the most stressful and fastest of times.
As you practice body-acceptance, gratitude and slowing down to better hear your body, it is helpful to know the language in which your body talks to you. While emotions can certainly be connected to body sensations, sensations are distinct from emotions. So for example, feeling nervous would be an emotion, whereas butterflies in the stomach is a sensation. Now a sensation can certainly (and typically does) reflect an emotion, but the idea here is to learn what sensations are attached to your emotions- they actually may surprise you! We recommend taking notes in the beginning so you can start to learn your patterns. As you move throughout your day, pay attention to the different sensations that arise.
Below are some sensations or “body language” you can look out for.
- Feeling cold
- Feeling warm
- Heart beating fast
- Butterflies in the stomach
How do your surroundings change your sensations? Do you feel certain sensations when you are in specific places or with specific people? When you think certain thoughts, what sensations arise?
Now that we’ve learned practices to start accepting our bodies, starting slowing down so that we can actually listen, and learned the unique language in which our bodies speak to us, lets move to how we start cultivating our power and living more embodied.
Honor your body with your hands (subtitle: use your hands!)
Don’t quite know what we mean? Don’t worry, we’ll explain. At the Well tells us that in Jewish wisdom, hands are deeply connected to spiritual power. They represent acts of servitude to a higher power, and receptiveness to that which comes to you. They are also seen as an extension of the heart, tools of loving action in the world, a representation of justice, service, and doing good.
And while you might not be Jewish, or even spiritual, here at Allbodies we like the sentiment. We wash, clean, hold, touch and explore with our hands. We can give pleasure with them. Receive pleasure with them. Our hands are sometimes literally, but also, metaphorically, our tools to take action (A very essential ingredient of embodiment!).
Connecting with our hands can be an entry point to beginning to feel our power and reclaim ownership over our bodies. Here’s a little exercise to get you acquainted with your hands.
– Sit or stand comfortably- You can even lie down. Whatever is comfiest for you.
– Close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
– Focus on your hands and the sensations in your palms.
What do you feel?
– Try rubbing your palms together quickly. What do you feel when you rub your hands together? What do you feel right when you move your hands apart again?
– Now use your hands to embrace or touch different parts of your body. Perhaps your heart, belly, uterus, head.
– While you do so, you can send positive thoughts, or just let the sensation travel from your hands to your parts.
We hope this helps you begin tuning in and living more embodied! (And actually understanding WTF that means!) If it seems difficult to focus on your body at the beginning, don’t worry! It takes practice and you don’t need to overthink it. Pressure is off! Simply return your focus to your sensations and breath.
Written By: Martha Michaud
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(1) “Body Image in Adulthood.” Mental Health Foundation, May 13, 2019. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/body-image-report/adults.
(2) Margolin, Madison. “Shabbat Is an Underrated Way to Destress.” Vice, December 8, 2017. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pazp5b/shabbat-mindfulness-stressweek2017.
(3) Mjl. “Shabbat 101.” My Jewish Learning. Accessed November 29, 2019. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shabbat-101/.