We all become dysregulated and disconnected from ourselves at times. But if someone asks how you’re feeling at a given moment, are you able to tune into your inner bodily sensations? Do you know how to listen to what your body truly needs throughout the day? Most people move through life focusing on their cognition- their thoughts, analyses, and logic. Cognition absolutely matters, but embodiment practices emphasize the mind-body connection. Research continues to show that what lives in the body influences the mind. Even though you might not realize it, your thoughts and behaviors are largely influenced by your sensory and motor systems.
Understanding the Concept of Embodiment
Someone who genuinely feels grounded in themselves may feel embodied. Embodiment practices emphasize using the body as a way to increase self-exploration, self-awareness, and self-acceptance. Embodiment fosters connecting your physical body to your emotional self, and it closely pays attention to the mind-body intersection. Embodiment also assumes that everything we experience affects both our minds and bodies. Our sensory systems are affected by everything we do, and even our thoughts and memories are stored within the body. Exteroception: Exteroception refers to the five senses of sound, smell, taste, touch, and sight. It refers to how the external environment impacts the body’s sensory neurons. Proprioception: Proprioception refers to how the body relates to gravity. This gives you feedback as to whether you’re losing balance while walking, slouching while sitting, or knowing if you might fall from jumping the wrong way. Interoception: Interoception refers to the internal body’s cues and includes hunger and thirst signals, fatigue, body warmth, chronic pain, or other physical sensations.
Somatic Therapy and Embodiment Practices
Somatic psychology pays attention to the intersection between the mind and body. In therapy, somatic techniques help clients increase their body awareness, which allows them to focus more on the present moment within their physical being. This is also known as a “bottom-up” approach, which can help support trauma work. Embodiment therapy allows you to harness a deeper connection with your physical body, which ultimately supports your emotional health. For example, in our work together, we might stop and pay attention to a specific physical sensation happening in your body. Or we might draw upon the somatic connections between certain thoughts, tension in the body, and emotions. We’ll also note different facial expressions, specific postures, and changing sensations as we talk about certain parts of your life. Somatic therapy can support traditional talk therapy in many ways. It’s known that trauma and stress are stored in the body (even if the memories have long dissipated). Working through these physical responses and being aware of sensations allows you to integrate your body into your mental health treatment. The goal is that, over time, you feel safer to land in your own body.
Positive Embodiment Vs Negative Embodiment
Just like you can have positive or negative self-esteem or positive or negative body image, embodiment also comes in different forms. Someone with a positive sense of embodiment generally feels more flexible in how they live in the world. They can take up space without apologizing. They care for their body and their emotional needs. They recognize the societal messages of how they’re “supposed” to look or behave, but they don’t default to them. They pay close attention to their intuition, and they feel respected in their relationships. These people may also be known for being “intuitive.” They can listen to themselves and trust that they will make the right choice. Someone with a negative sense of embodiment often feels rigid and disconnected from themselves. They feel disempowered and guilty for taking space. They don’t feel in sync with their own sensory awareness or emotional needs. They may rely on others to reassure them about what they need. Their relationships may feel inequitable or unfulfilling. They struggle with their intuition- at times, it can seem like their feelings and thoughts contradict each other. Of course, these experiences lie on a large spectrum. People may ebb and flow with their embodiment throughout their lifetime. But if you notice yourself agreeing with many of the statements from the ‘negative embodiment’ category, you might be deeply struggling with:
- low self-esteem
- poor body image
- weak or nonexistent boundaries with others
- difficulties recognizing your own needs
- heightened anxiety or depression
- compulsive behavior or an eating disorder
Embodiment Practices and Body Image
Embodiment practices can significantly improve the relationship you have with your body. Body image refers to how people perceive their physical bodies, and embodiment refers to someone’s internal experience within their own body. From this perspective, your body is not an object or accessory. When you feel attuned and connected within your body, there’s a desire to inherently take care of yourself. However, the opposite is also true. People who experience negative embodiment may struggle with poor body image, disordered eating, compulsive exercise, or other forms of self-harm. Somatic practices can help you embrace embodiment in daily life. This can help you feel more connected both internally and externally to the world around you. Embodiment is not a specific destination. Instead, it’s a lifelong journey full of curiosity and self-discovery. Some embodiment practices may include: Joyful movement: Joyful body movement focuses on physically nourishing your body. Some people find this joy in a yoga practice, and others find it in walking, lifting weights, or dancing. The important thing is that joyful movement is a radically different approach from traditional, punitive exercise. That’s because this movement comes from a place of deep love and appreciation. Meditation: Many people can achieve positive embodiment through more mindfulness or meditation. Being still with your breath encourages you to slow down and connect to your body’s physical sensations. This is also known as sitting with your feelings! You can meditate by closing your eyes and breathing, or you can follow a scripted prompt. Gratitude: Although it isn’t necessarily a somatic technique, listing and reflecting gratitude, particularly to your own body, can help you grow a deeper appreciation for all that your body does. Furthermore, considering all your gratitude in daily life helps you maintain a more positive perspective. Sensory awareness: Sensory awareness is a significant part of somatic therapies, and it allows you to notice various sensations or physical movements within your body. Building this insight can help you recognize how certain situations affect you in daily life. HAES-informed principles: Embodiment can also mean breaking up with diet culture, working through fatphobia, and embracing that all people are worthy of respect. HAES is rooted in social justice and recognizes the unfair and unsafe weight stigmas existing in present society. As a HAES-aligned provider, I recognize these problems and advocate weight inclusivity in my practice.
Building Body Trust
In a world that encourages you to change, loathe, or hide your body, building body trust is both courageous and liberating. Learning how to trust your body takes time (and the work can feel vulnerable), but it’s one of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself. Body trust comes down to recognizing that all people are both inherently able to trust their bodies. You were born able to listen to what your body needed, whether it was the need for rest, food, or comfort. All babies are born sensing their physical needs. That said, body trust is disrupted over time through oppression, trauma, social constructs, and internalized family messages. We are conditioned to turn away from ourselves and rely on external messages to tell us how to feel or think. Embracing body trust allows you to return to yourself, in the most natural and gentle way. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but being completely disconnected has far greater consequences. Body trust is about reclaiming and coming back to what was always yours. With that, it is not about becoming a certain size, shape, or weight- such trust doesn’t focus on what’s physical. Instead, it is about developing the deepest sense of self-compassion and grounding yourself in the truth that your body is deserving of care, love, and respect.
Somatic Therapy and HAES-Informed Treatment in Washington State
Your body is only yours, but you are also much more than your physical human body. Embracing an embodiment practice can help you feel more aligned and connected with your physical self. In my practice, I integrate talk therapy with embodiment therapy to support my clients heal from trauma, disordered eating, depression, and other mental health issues. I am here to support you on your journey toward wellness and greater self-esteem. Contact me today to schedule your initial consultation.