Living in your body
I recently read a very interesting book on trauma, called “Your body keeps the score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D., a well-known psychiatrist. This work describes how traumatic experiences and early life trauma, in particular, are registered in our minds, our brains, and in our bodies. These challenging memories get stored in our guts—our muscles and our viscera. But they become disconnected from the story of what happened.
It reminded me of why so many people struggle to inhabit their bodies more fully.
Modern life has become so cerebral. If our bodies reflected how we live in the 21st century, we would have enormous heads, a tiny torso, and huge rear ends. Our big heads would help us with all the thinking we do. Who needs a strong torso anymore? We don’t have to chop wood or till the soil. And we need big rear ends to help us sit comfortably all day long.
Our bodies are better suited to our “hunter-gatherer” heritage, which is not even a distant memory in modern life. The only gathering we do is at the supermarket, and few of us have ever hunted, except for sport.
Today’s lifestyle leaves us disconnected from our body, which lives in the here and now. Our heads are either in the future or the past, thinking about what’s coming around the bend or what happened yesterday. We have a constant inner dialogue of judgments, of ourselves and others. Our minds are always contrasting and comparing this moment, with the moments in the past or how we want to feel in the future. With all of this though, it can be difficult to reside in our bodies! We lose the sensory awareness of our muscles and only notice them when they hurt. We aren’t aware of tension in our head until we get a headache. Weak abdominal muscles and a stressful life can bring on lower back pain, one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor. And then when we do have to lift something heavy, our muscles react. The outcome isn’t always pretty.
Indeed, our bodies do keep score—of the constant motion and stress of our super-heated lives.
Our constant stream of thinking can cut us off from simple sensory awareness. We are not in touch with how our skin feels, what we smell or taste, or what we see or hear. When we rush through meals, we barely notice the taste of the food we eat. Walking quickly to our car, we can’t smell the pine scent of Douglas Firs on an autumn day. Going from one place to another, we don’t hear the birds sing, or notice the landscape around us.
Our experience of sexual pleasure can be muted too. Human sexuality requires that we be in our bodies, which will naturally respond to the sensations of sexual intimacy and arousal. But when we are in heads, thinking about tomorrow, evaluating our performance, or composing the next text, our sensory world is dulled and diminished.
How can we recapture our sensory world?
Nurture body awareness.
Some practices like yoga, tai chi, martial arts, sports, and mindfulness meditation help us connect with our bodies. Even taking time to lie still and notice the sensations in our feet, legs, hips, belly, back, shoulders, neck, and head can help us develop greater sensory awareness.
Notice what you are doing and where you are.
Take a moment to taste your food, eat slowly, feel the water rushing over your body when you’re in the shower, smell the flowers, listen to the birds, watch the clouds move across the sky, and the feel the air against your skin and in your lungs.
In other words, slow down and smell the roses.