Whether you are aware of your body or not, you are (obviously) living your life in and through it. Our bodies are our vehicles, our vessels, and although we can work on maintenance, we can’t replace them. There is great potential to feel our aliveness (and love) when we cultivate a relationship with our bodies that is based on compassion and presence. Learning to get in touch with the experience of being in a body is one way to deepen our love toward ourselves. Many individuals are living from the neck up. They are more focused on their mental world and out of touch with the communication from their bodies.
As we shift from the section exploring how our relationship with our mind intersects with our capacity to love ourselves, let’s travel within the physical realm from our own minds to our bodies, now.
Practice: Inhabit Your Body
Try exhaling and softening your shoulders. Let your belly release, and feel your feet on the ground below you. What about your jaw? And your neck? Practice letting the muscles release and soften. Allow your entire awareness to land in your hands, and then invite them to soften as well. Feel yourself being breathed. No effort.
Bring in a quality of curiosity about the current sensations in your body.
Notice in this small embodiment practice, the difference between being focused fully on your thoughts and awakening to the present-moment experience of your sensations. Welcome back to your body.
We can go and return to being aware of our bodies again and again throughout an hour, a day, and a lifetime. The thing is, we can’t actually escape the experience of being in a body. Learning to stay and tolerate the full spectrum of one’s sensations is an aspect of learning how to love the felt experience of being human.
The Connection of Mind and Body
“Agency is the technical term for the feeling of being in charge of your life: knowing where you stand, knowing that you have a say in what happens to you, knowing that you have some ability to shape your circumstances…. Agency starts with what scientists call interoception, our awareness of our subtle sensory, body-based feelings: the greater the awareness, the greater our potential to control our lives. Knowing what we feel is the first step to knowing why we feel that way. If we are aware of the constant changes in our inner and outer environment, we can mobilize to manage them.” – Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
Donald Winnicott, father of modern studies of attunement, proposes that the way a mother holds her child underlies the “ability to feel the body as the place where the psyche lives.” The visceral and kinesthetic sensation of how our bodies are met lays the foundation for what we experience as “real.”
Our experience of our psyche and our bodies are deeply interconnected. Van Der Kolk thoroughly explains the impact of trauma on the body and therefore on the perception of self in his book The Body Keeps the Score.
“People are terrified of being in a body, and they forget it’s actually all they have, all they’re ever going to own, all they’re ever going to experience.” – Kate Shela, Embodiment Teacher.
You can see more of her perspective in the video.
Accepting Your Body
Tara Brach in her book Radical Acceptance shares the very relatable experience of the practice of consciously inhabiting our bodies.
“So, let’s say you start to get into your body with the intention to cultivate more attention and love for yourself, and you don’t like what you find and you decide to stay out of there… this is very common- sometimes unconscious- other times individuals are very aware of what they like/ don’t like about the way they look or feel inside their own skin. And here they are, trapped in it. What a nightmare!”
|I hate that I have zits||Disgusted||Wearing extra makeup to cover up the skin, picking at skin, not wanting to make eye contact or be seen.|
|I don’t like the way I look in my clothes||Insecure||Social anxiety, struggling to get dressed, aversion to spending time at social events or in public.|
|My muscles aren’t big enough||Envious||Comparing self to others/ exercise addiction/ aversion to exercising in public due to fear of others judgement.|
|I don’t like the size of my breasts||Longing||Surgery/insecurities within sexual intimacy.|
|I hate that I am losing my hair||Self-conscious||Wanting to wear a hat at all times, trying to overcompensate or boast to counter feelings of insecurity/not able to relax in social situations when head is fully exposed.|
|I don’t like my height||Uneasy||Shrinking or changing posture to make self “small” or creating unhealthy personality structures to make self feel “big,” struggling to feel comfortable with meeting new people.|
Practice: Body Check-In
Tara Brach offers the following questions as a check-in about where you may be in relation to your body.
Do I accept my body as it is?
Do I blame myself when I get sick?
Do I feel I am not attractive enough?
Am I dissatisfied with how my hair looks?
Am I embarrassed about how my face and body are aging?
Do I judge myself for being too heavy? Underweight? Not physically fit?
If you can, answer these questions mindfully, with as little attachment as possible. Simply observe.
Gay Hendricks validates the tendency to not love our bodies, as we are often swimming in a sea of reasons not to.
“I’ll never be as thin as I want to be.”
“I’ll never have the shape I want to have.”
“I will never be as attractive as them.”
“I’ve been hurt by other people and I feel it in my body.”
“ It’s normal to not like how you look.”
“I could be in better shape.”
This simple little story shows the human condition of comparing ourselves to others and the mess this pattern leads us to!
-you’ve been taught that being sexual is dirty/ bad/ wrong.
-you had sexual experiences in the past in which your boundaries were crossed, and that was never repaired.
-you were never taught how to embody your sexuality and sensuality and you feel numb to these aspects of yourself
-being sexual brings up grief that is hard to process
-being sexual connects you deeply to the other person, which creates attachment and intensity that is hard to navigate
-you live in a world where the media uses sex as a marketing technique, stripping away the scared qualities of physical union
Many of us have been fed messaging that loving the sexual aspects of ourselves is not safe. If you fall into the category of people who struggle to love their bodies and/or their sexuality, we understand. You only have to start where you are, which may look like simply acknowledging with love, that expressing your sexuality is complex for you.
Stories of Inspiration
It is understandable why many individuals unconsciously (or consciously) choose to keep their awareness off of their bodies.
Rupi Kaur is an Indian-born Canadian poet, performer, and illustrator. Her poems plant seeds of transformation, and her drawings deliver messages of healing and hope to her readers worldwide. Her first best-selling book, Milk and Honey has been translated into nearly one dozen languages.
Listen to her share her poetry and more of her musings about her journey in and out of loving her body here. ***A gentle warning that there are descriptions of sexual violence in this poem, which may be triggering.
“This feeling of homeliness within the body isn’t restricted to only sexual violence; domestic violence can make you feel just as far away from yourself…navigating this world with a physical or mental disability… that first treatment of chemotherapy will make you feel like your body has turned on you and you’re living somewhere foreign. The sensation of being trapped, being born into the wrong body all together is terrifying. The boy or girl mercilessly bullied at school and battered at home, the refugee, unwanted on the old shore and deemed a scavenging vulture in the new. So many of us are trying to reclaim our bodies from something.
At my lowest point, this was right before I began to take writing seriously and make it into an everyday practice- thoughts of ending my life were constant. I could not stand myself. I’d walk into the bathroom and I would seriously turn the lights off; I would shower in complete darkness so I wouldn’t have to look down and see my body. Cause’ this thing had brought me so much pain that seeing it filled me with disgust. I honestly avoided mirrors like one would avoid an ex at a party. I refused to acknowledge it , look at it, appreciate it…. I refused to nurture it…”
The power in which Rupi Kaur speaks of “taking her body back”, points to the dynamic experience of reinhabiting one’s self, as an important part of loving oneself. If you have experienced trauma, it is important to note this website’s exploration of Self-Love is not a substitute for seeking treatment. While self-healing modalities, such as reading and doing the exercises on this website may assist you in your process,we encourage you to seek further support with a professional counselor. See our resource section for books which focus on the correlation of trauma and the body. Please seek the community and professional support you feel is appropriate for you.
Here is a ted talk by Dani Bostick that gives more information about childhood trauma.
Not everyone experiences trauma that leads to a mistrust and dissociation from the body. However, many individuals find challenges with being in their own skin.
In the following video, a model speaks about her experience of having her body be her livelihood and the insecurity even she feels.
These Australian teenagers speak to the experience of navigating the pressure of social media in regard to their body image and sense of self worth. This video of their performance piece was created in hopes to spread a new message about developing love and respect for themselves outside of the concepts that are spread in mainstream culture.
Here is a song by Maggie Rogers, called Back in My Body. Maggie is a young artist who grew up in rural Maryland.She made her big break in music school when Pharrel Williams came to their classroom to mentor the students. She combines her rural background with her love for dance music. She shares that she wrote this song to acknowledge her relationship with her body as an essential part of her personhood.
Body Image / Trauma Resources
PTSD, Breaking the Silence about Childhood Trauma
Learning through loss: cultivating a meaningful relationship with yourself
“How to love your body” Ted Talk. Feeling gratitude & appreciation for your body. While this talk is geared toward the feminine, the process of learning to love your body is not just a women’s issue.
This speaker shares the secret ingredient to feeling good in your body, sharing tools that have given her the permission and freedom to love herself. Pleasure isn’t about feeling good about your body, it’s about feeling good IN your body.