When we were babies, we were intimately connected with our body. We didn’t know how to explain what was going on in our body – all we could do was cry or giggle or use any of the expressions of emotion in between those two. The adults around us generally paid attention to these expressions, interpreted them the best they could, and responded.
As toddlers learning the craft of language we were still in touch with our bodies and we were learning to name our emotions and sensations. If you have ever hung out with a toddler or young child for any period of time, you’ll know that we come up with some pretty creative ways to describe sensations and emotions in an attempt to communicate what we are feeling like, “My feet feel watery” or, “I’m angry funny.” Then somewhere along the line, to a greater or lesser degree, we learned that every sensation and emotion had a distinct name. I say “greater and lesser degree” because somewhere in there, many of us started to divorce from our body and to cease to be able to creatively describe what was going on for it. This may have happened quite young if we were not in a safe environment and it didn’t serve us to be too connected to our body because we didn’t have the skills at that tender age to handle what was going on. But it tended to happen to every child at some point – our body was no longer the focus of attention for all the adults around us as it was when we were babies, so describing what was going on for it became less and less important. Maybe the only time we were invited to explain how we felt was if we were sick and needed to go to the doctor.
Fast forward to us as adults. Many of us start to wonder, “What’s going on down there?” We start to yearn to get back in touch with our bodies. We take up yoga or dance or we get massages. Or we start a mindfulness or self-compassion practice to learn to tap into what we are feeling. Many of us have to go through the process of re-experiencing some of the emotions and feelings of those events from our childhood that we did not have the tools to handle at the time (see Christopher Germer’s concept of backdraft or Paul Gilbert’s concept of fears of compassion), so it turns out to be a real labor of love and commitment to start to acknowledge, validate and tend to our dear body. But it is so worth it. In fact it is necessary if we are going to live our lives fully. Until we can get in touch with our bodies we can’t hope to give it what it needs and we can’t take the steps toward a fulfilling life.
So, this notion of getting in touch with our bodies on a regular basis can be a tricky one to approach. It sounds so simple, but describing what is going on for us often needs to be re-learned. We might look to a movement therapy like Dancing Freedom that invites our body to express itself so that we can start to explore how it feels and what it needs. Or we might look to a therapist who offers Somatic Experiencing work that encourages us to describe our feelings and sensations in service of healing trauma. Focusing is another practice that is helpful for getting in touch with our bodies and Focusing can be done at home outside of the therapy environment.
One very simple practice for starting to get in touch with our bodies is to simply set up a regular practice of journaling about our sensations. It might feel a bit awkward to start with, but it’s a great way to start to fall in love with your body again. We’ve forgotten how to describe “watery feet” or “angry happy.” Here’s how to do that again as a practice:
- If you don’t already have a journal, purchase one. Make sure this is a book that you really like the appearance of, with a cover that invites you to pick it up. Make sure the pages are set up the way you need them to be – lined, graphed, or blank – and that the paper is a texture that interests and invites you. This is a book you want to develop a relationship with, so it helps to choose something that is delightful to see and touch and even smell in the first place.
- Either set up a particular time in the day (you might schedule it into your calendar) or simply leave your journal out where you can see it each day, reminding you to write in it each day.
- As Pema Chodron says, “Start where you are.” You are only writing for yourself. You words needn’t be poetic or pretty or sophisticated. Simply start making entries in your journal that describe how you’re feeling.
- You might choose a particular body part and describe how it is feeling in the moment. You might describe a part of your body that is in pain. You might explore a particular sensation in your torso. Approach your writing exploration with an open mind. Be curious about what’s going on. If there are thoughts associated with a physical sensation, write about those. If there are emotions associated with a particular sensation, write about those. Right now I’m sitting on the deck of the treehouse with my feet up and my heels uncomfortably and heavily weighted on a wooden table. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to get up and find a more comfortable posture for my heels, another part of me that tells me to grin and bear it, and another part that asks, “How lovely would it be if you made your sweet body more comfortable right now?” The invitation is so inviting I can’t resist it and I get up and put a cushion under my heels! Ah, what a relief to tend to my body in that simple way!
- The more you consciously think about and write about your bodily sensations, the better able you will be to identify what’s going on with it in any given moment, identify what it needs, and tend to it. This is self-compassion, and as Chris Germer says, “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
I’m curious to hear about your experience of this journaling practice, if you decide to take this up. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me about your practice. I love to hear about the adventures of fellow travelers.