Back In Touch with You

Until I was about nine years old, I moved through the world floating above my body, feeling like I was an observer of this thing that was moving around. One day, I had a moment in the middle of the school day where I was pulled back inside of myself. That strong disassociation has happened twice more in my life. My nine year old self felt that it was a choice to come back, and fully experience life. The older versions of me did it, as I now understand, to protect. I had never felt like my body was particularly my friend, or even mine, until I was forced to confront this body of mine in acting conservatory, subsequently venturing into the healing practices of yoga and somatic experiencing.

I look back now and see the incredible mass of knowledge embedded in my body. It saved my heart and mind from processing experiences that were too damaging. It let me know before I could intellectualize and verbalize, that there was a threat.  Most of us refer to this experience as our intuition or our “gut feeling”. We hardly give our bodies the opportunity to speak. But the body is so smart. Why don’t we listen harder? In a world that increasingly disconnects us from our body, sitting in chairs for more hours of the day than we move, staring into computer screens endlessly, emphasizing extreme instead of holistic exercise, it’s no wonder this thing, this body, feels foreign.

So, how do we come back to a compassionate relationship between body and mind, gut and brain?

Encounter the demons. I wish I had discovered earlier that a positive relationship with my body could exist. Perhaps I wasn’t ready for that knowledge. Perhaps I discovered it at exactly the right moment. Every inch of me has a story to tell. It is the story of how I came to be me. It is one of strength and weakness. It is one of heartbreaking trauma and overwhelming joy. It is a story just like yours. Living means encountering some hard experiences along the way. When we let the demons hide, they bury themselves deep in our muscles and bones. They change the way our DNA is expressed. Encountering the demons means unveiling the moments that made us shut down. Sometimes we discover it through movement practices. Particularly in the yoga practice, students will suddenly remember an incident as we work on hips or shoulders or heart or back. The body stores memories and experiences in a physical way. When we work to undo the tension built up as a way to protect, those suppressed memories can surface. Until we encounter the demons, I highly recommend any form of therapy traditional or non, there will be parts of the body that remain strangers to us.

 Practice movement blindfolded, in the dark, or with your eyes closed. I teach mainly in a dark room. I have observed hundreds of people reconnect to their bodies through the yoga practice. Particularly because the room is candlelit and there are no mirrors, it forces students to let the feelings I’m describing guide them. It’s incredibly hard to bring your elbow to your knee if you can’t see either body part and you’ve disconnected with the ability to map the body out in space in your mind. This concept is called proprioception. Once I felt safe enough, trusted myself and my environment enough, to practice without being able to see, it became one of the most educational tools I had.  When I took away sight, I felt every sensation more vividly: every wobble in my ankle and foot, every time I went too deep too quickly in a stretch, every time my shoulders rolled forward to protect my heart instead back to create opening. It also forced me to slow down.  The hyper-analytical mind will try to hijack full body experiences because very rarely do we let ourselves feel everything that is going on. Moving fast, barreling through an experience, is one way the mind can hijack. Without sight, we have to listen hard to what body is saying instead of what eyes are seeing.

 Unplug to reconnect. There is an app for everything. While quantifying metrics can help to discover trends, we live in an age of being overly concerned with data: how many minutes I hit REM sleep, how many step I took, how many minutes I exercised, how many calories I burned, how many calories I consumed.  This dependency on numbers can create a disconnect between mind and body.  What if you decided if you slept enough based on how energized you felt through the day? What if you decided if your workout was hard enough based on the level of fatigue in your muscles? What if you decided that you had eaten enough based on the feeling of satiety? What if you decided you need more steps because your muscles felt stiff after sitting in the same position for eight hours with minimal movement? One of the simplest things we can do to get back into the rhythm of conversation with our bodies is to let the body speak. Let the over analytical mind that loves data and graphs and crossing things off the to-do list chill.

Getting back in touch with you is an act of great courage. It means committing to feeling more and feeling deeply. It's a choice you have to make continuously. Commit and live a more present and ultimately joyful life.