“Embodiment” is a buzzword thrown around much like “self-care”. It’s easy to sell but hard to practice, which probably explains why the wellness industry is projected to be worth over $7 billion by 2030. When we talk about self-care, what we often mean is community care—and when we talk about embodiment, what also needs to be abundant is safety and support.
The accumulative effects of trauma, racism, non gender-affirming care, fatphobia, and harmful lived experiences (to name a few) can all contribute to the dissociation of body and mind. Sometimes actively disassociating is a helpful short-term coping strategy. Long-term, it creates a chasm between actions, emotions and feelings. I’ve lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the last three years and at times my body reverberates so loudly that it’s all I can think about and, at other times, I feel like a cold pane of glass held between hands.
You need to be able to look in the mirror and feel what you see—to understand that body moves mind and mind moves body. The idea of “trusting your body” has become something of a catchphrase for birth workers, a sentiment I find challenging because trusting your body doesn’t void trauma or harm. Pregnancy, birth and parenting can be totally disassociating experiences and it’s normal to resist feeling that but, when we move only from our mind, disengaged from our bodies, it’s hard to listen to what feels right. It’s hard to remember that you are your own authority. You know when something feels right—and when it doesn’t.
This isn’t something you pick up in a yoga class or a therapy session – although movement and a safe space to process help – it’s a lifelong practice of waking up in the morning and meeting yourself as if for the first time over and over again. How did you sleep? How do you feel? What does your body need today? Even if it feels weird and you don’t mean it, placing your hands somewhere on your body and saying “hello” or “ thanks” can feel really powerful. Do this consistently and you might notice that you soften into yourself a little deeper.
There are endless ways to connect to your body and everyone’s access point is different. I spent my 20’s anxious, depressed and flying through vinyasa flows five times a week. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I realized I actually had zero core strength. As it turns out, making shapes and shapeshifting are two different things. My point? You can’t know yourself too well.
Whether you feel deeply rooted or estranged, I hope these practices help set the scene for awareness, acceptance and empowerment.
1. Find your safe space
If you’ve ever experienced trauma or work from a trauma-informed lens you’ll know that what’s safe for you might not be safe for someone else. Find a quiet moment and think about where you feel most comfortable: somewhere you can truly be yourself without inhibition or expectation. What surrounds you in this space? Is it light or dark? Are there any smells or sounds? Are you alone or is someone else close by? Consider these questions and jot them down. You might need to let go of the idea that connection comes with closed eyes in an open yoga class with strangers. Know that there is no wrong way to secure your safety.
2. Start (really) breathing
Breathing! Groundbreaking, I know! There’s a reason breathwork can be so challenging because unlike meditation where the focus is on easing your mind, intentional breathing requires feedback from your body. Taking a few deep belly breaths or practising diaphragmatic breathing creates a feedback loop between your body and brain that’s hard to to quiet. Try to visualise your diaphragm moving down with every inhale and your lungs emptying with your exhale. This deeply nourishing breath helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is a grounding place to be. If this feels like too much, a few rounds of equal inhales and exhales can feel like a more accessible place to begin.
3. Take it slow
The idea of a slower, more restorative practice might sound luxurious but beyond the low lighting and binaural playlist is the offering to sit with yourself. When I facilitate postpartum or restorative yoga classes, I can often feel the resistance in the room as people sigh or struggle to settle in when we begin a class with breathwork. Some of this can be supported by offering trauma-informed options like different positions, props or the invitation to sit it out, but sometimes it’s about holding space for discomfort. Outside of a yoga class, this might look like one exaggerated full-body stretch in the morning before you get out of bed. A moment to check in, recalibrate and move on with your day.
Written by Ashley Jardine.