What does it really mean to come home to your body?
This question has guided much of my work over the last twenty years.
I was a child of trauma, and learned at an early age that my body was not always a safe place to be. I developed coping strategies that allowed me to survive and eventually thrive, but at a cost. The cost was the presence,wisdom, pleasure, and ease that come from full embodiment. I learned the art of full embodiment as an adult. I learned through dance, and meditation, through art, through birthing and raising my daughter, through love and through simple mindful attention to daily life.
Not all of us have had to survive childhood trauma. But all of us as women in this culture have had to learn survival skills that rob us of full embodiment. Even the rare few most privileged of us who have never experienced trauma to our bodies and psyches, even those rare few have absorbed a level of self-hatred about our female bodies, and have had to learn to cope with the occasional physical fear, the hyper-vigilence that are part and parcel of being female in a culture where violence against women is commonplace.
The costs of disembodiment are not immediately visible, but they are profound. If we are not fully at home in our bodies, we may find ourselves in damaging situations of all kinds. Our ability to say no (in sexual, emotional, and social situations) is compromised because we don’t have a clear idea where we leave off and other people begin. Our health is compromised because we are cut off from the subtle signals our body sends us when things begin to go wrong. Our pleasure is compromised, both because it is hard for us to relax, and because we are numb. We are more vulnerable to addictions of all kinds, because we find ourselves bouncing between the extremes of seeking pleasure (because we are cut off from our natural sources of pleasure) and seeking numbness (because we are a little afraid of sensation.)
All of this can come to feel pretty normal. Most of us live to some degree in this disembodied state. We live as refugees, unable to find our way back to the motherland of our bodies. We live in lack, camped out at the boundaries of ourselves.
But there is always a way home. Your body is calling you home all the time. And sometimes it takes half a lifetime to begin to hear and heed that call.
Sometimes it takes exactly half a lifetime. Again and again in my work with menopausal women, I hear the story of the call. The voice of the body grows loud at menopause. If you have succeeded in ignoring her until now, she will grow loud.
What does this voice sound like, this voice of your body calling you home? Often this voice takes the form of new and alarming symptoms – bleeding that leaves you exhausted and forced to rest and nourish yourself – hot flashes that bring you to attention, exquisitely aware of your skin – your edges – your burning boundaries – or pain and discomfort at your very core, that brings you into painful dialogue with your most intimate places.
It is as if the body is saying, alright, now do I have your attention? Grudgingly we give her our attention, and we start to discover something. We discover that we want to come home to our bodies. We want to begin to feel more fully and more intimately. We want to build better boundaries and be able to say yes and say no to others with resonance and deep self-love.
We may also discover that we want to move and explore in new ways – we want to dance, we want to explore our sexuality in new ways, we want to travel to foreign places and swim in warm seas, we want to learn to sail, or fly. We want to feel the world more intimately. We want to feel our feet on the ground and really truly feel our heart beating in our chest.
It may be sad for us when we first realize all that we have denied ourselves by hiding from embodiment. This deep sadness may be one of the first things we truly feel with our whole selves. Sometimes I think the long period of sadness that many women sink into when their children fly from the nest is not only about missing our children. The void we feel is not only the void our children have left. It is the void we have left by abandoning ourselves.
So what practices support re-embodiment? How can we encourage ourselves home? Of course creative movement practices like yoga and dance are very powerful. Equally powerful are practices of physical and sensual delight, practices like sexual play, deep contact with nature, cultivating a palette for beautiful and wholesome foods, getting regular massage, practicing self-massage with beautiful aromatherapy oils, or giving yourself a simple and delicious foot bath every night. There are so many possibilities for simple sensual delight, if you will allow yourself to discover them.
How will you know when you have started to come home to your body? You will feel less anxiety. You will wake with a feeling of well-being on most days, you will find yourself noticing the colours, fragrances, and textures around you and delighting in them. You will begin to feel very clear about what you want and what is good for you, and a self-protective “no” will become a strong part of your vocabulary. You will think fewer self-critical thoughts, and smile at yourself more often in the mirror. Your intuition will grow stronger, and your health will improve. Your addictions will hold less allure, and the opinions of others will become less important to your decision making. You’ll have fewer aches and pains. You’ll be happy more often.
You deserve to live a fully embodied life.