Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword these days. Being bodyful is just as, if not more, important.
The mind-body connection is a critical ingredient in recovering from the trauma of rape. If you’ve read my story you’ll know that it was only when I realised that I’d become entirely detached from my body that I was able to start to feel like I was on the pathway to recovery. After I’d done all the work to manage my symptoms, and even after I’d done all the work to re-programme my brain. Reconnecting into ourselves is an absolutely critical step towards reconnecting to living.
I read a sign once, outside a gym. It said something like, your body is the only home you’ll always have, so look after it. I remember thinking, that’s clever, that’s true. And then, just walking past, not giving it any more thought. But whilst it’s not really all that clever, it’s certainly getting towards true. I used to think my body was just a vehicle that I was moving around in, and I hated that it was a sluggish, overweight vehicle at that.
My body isn’t a vehicle, and it’s not even just a home.
It’s me, it’s part of what I am, who I am. It has its own feelings, and emotions, and memories. Just as I have several different personalities in my head (the perfectionist, the bully, the critic, the little girl, to name a few) which all respond due to the scripts that they’ve been taught over time, with their own memories, their own feelings, their own emotions, so my body does too. I just had to learn (and I’m still learning) to listen.
It’s entirely understandable, logical even, that we can feel detached from our bodies after trauma. If we disassociated during the attack, froze, it’s as though we cut the invisible umbilical cord between the self in our head, and the self in our body. And even if we didn’t, the self in the head will still have to learn to forgive the body for allowing to happen what happened. And the body will have to learn to forgive the mind for not being alert to the danger. Self-blame runs far more deeply than our conscious rationale for knowing it wasn’t our fault.
And what if even before we weren’t that connected to ourselves? What if feeling consciously connected, and listening, to our body wasn’t already second nature? What if we already hated the skin we were in? Then when we’re faced with the task of trying to reconnect to something that we not only feel has let us down, that we hate, that feels like an anathema but something that we never thought of as a friend anyway.
Yet, it’s vital.
The great news though is that to become more bodyful does not mean that we need to suddenly become enthusiastic gym bunnies. In fact, you might be an enthusiastic gym-goer and yet still not be practicising bodyfulness. Being bodyful is not about pushing our body to its limit, it’s about learning how to listen to what it’s telling us, it’s about learning how to ask it to tell us things, it’s about learning how to help it let go of the secrets its keeping, so that we can process them in our conscious and move on from them.
I recommend baby steps on the path towards bodyful.
We need to rebuild a sense of trust between our mind and our body, and that is not accomplished with diving into the deep end. Instead, we want to pace ourselves, walking slowly from the shallow end, possibly even holding onto the side as we go, and wearing arm bands too.
That’s why I always teach my clients to start with patting the body – simply, however firmly you want, squeezing and patting each of your arms, your legs, across your belly. Remind yourself of the skin you’re in. This can also be an extremely effective method to self-soothe and rescue yourself from a panic attack.
When it comes to developing rituals which help us be more bodyful I recommend the simple habit of moisturising the body. This might be something you already do, but do it bodyfully. It’s not about quickly slathering the lotion on, it’s about doing it with love for your skin, and what’s inside your skin. It’s about honouring yourself.
Many of you will already know that I’m a huge fan of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk and his ‘bible’ (to me) The Body Keeps the Score. In it he makes the very concerning argument for the link between trauma and chronic illness and chronic pain. And it’s because the body holds so much of the memory of trauma (our very cells are altered by the trauma) that we must learn to listen to what it is telling us. We must learn to reconnect so that we can untrap the memories from the cells and heal ourselves from the inside out.
I’ve always connected the pain in my shoulder and neck to stress. In fact, I’ve called it my stress-ache. Now, instead of just moaning at my body for giving me the pain, I talk to my body. I tell it that I know this pain means I’m feeling stress. I thank it for raising my awareness that I’m under stress, of alerting me to the fact I need to up my self-care. Instead of trying to ignore the pain, I spend time noticing it, noticing any changes to usual, noticing when it decided to alert me, what was I doing, what was it that spiked the pain this time? It still feels odd to me, but it’s as thought the very act of noticing, and conversing with the pain, seems to lessen the pain.
I’ve started to use this technique too to notice how happy feels in my body. Where am I feeling it, what is it doing to my breathing? Which kind of happy is it that makes me feel like I’m floating, which is it that makes me feel light in my legs?
Being bodyful is simple.
It’s mindfulness, but for the body. It’s noticing, not judging, simply noticing what’s going on, what the emotions are that are connected to what’s going on, and starting a dialogue. The body is run by our deep unconscious but when we consciously pay attention to it, we find we can help it heal.
What are your experiences of bodyfulness? How are you working on reconnecting the mind to the body, and the body to the mind? I’d love to hear.
All the love xx