Have you ever stopped to think about how amazing human bodies are? There are so many intricate functions, systems, and processes that make up our bodies so that we can live out our daily lives. From our physical functions to our mental capacities, our bodies are unique, important, and always in need of care.
Although our bodies are so amazing, many of us are unaware of how our bodies may be speaking to us. Our brain communicates and directs every part of our body through the release of neurotransmitters and hormones. For example, have you ever experienced insomnia, increased heart rate, tense muscles, headaches, upset stomach, or loss of sexual desire without understanding why? Norepinephrine and cortisol are being released in your body to signal to you that you are either unsafe or under stress. Or how about after eating your favorite meal, getting a solid eight hours of sleep, exercising, or engaging in a prolonged hug and kiss? Feels amazing, right? That’s your body releasing some dopamine, endorphins, or serotonin to tell you, “I like that. Please do that again.” Our bodies are designed to send us messages to convey thoughts and emotions about ourselves and others.
Most people that I see in my therapy room usually can’t tell me the last time, if ever, they have tried to listen to what their body is telling them. Many of those clients can tell me how they felt and what they thought about a situation but cannot describe how their body reacted. When I ask the question, “So, tell me how your body responded in that moment,” most people say “I was nervous.” I gently have to say, “I can imagine you were nervous. Where do you feel that nervousness in your body?”
If you have been through trauma (remember Trauma is anything not nurturing), you may find that understanding how your body is speaking to you may be difficult. Many people who have undergone trauma don’t feel safe in their own bodies. Their physical bodies may have been violated, bullied, or neglected. If this fits for you, creating safety in your body is crucial and necessary. It will take more intentional work to create that safety, but there are incredible tools out there to help. One I would suggest is trauma-focused yoga or any other type of slow, stretching yoga like Yin Yoga.
I have found that most people lack body awareness. We are so busy and distracted in our daily lives that we forget to listen to the one thing that can’t lie to us…our bodies. Our bodies are so important that the Bible directly speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20—“Do you not know what your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Our bodies were designed to speak to us and tell us things such as…I need nourishment, I need rest, I am unsafe, I feel loved, or I need help.
There are two tools I teach every client that walks in my office to increase body awareness—1) Body Scan and 2) Belly Breathing.
Body scan is when you close your eyes and scan your body from head to toe noticing any emotional tension, muscle tension, or unusual sensations. Take notice of those feelings but don’t judge yourself for having them. Just simply notice and become aware. After you have noticed those feelings in your body, belly breathing is next. The idea of belly breathing is to breathe in expanding your diaphragm so you can let in the most oxygen as possible. Breathe in slowly through your nose to expand your diaphragm while keeping your chest from rising. Then, hold your breath at the top for a second or two, and slowly release your breath through your mouth. Do this approximately 5-7 times. After you finish belly breathing, do another body scan and notice if you feel less tension or unusual sensations. If you continue to have tightness in your body, continue to do belly breathing until it has subsided. I encourage clients to practice this daily.
I hope these tools are helpful to you and that you are able to use them to create body awareness in your life. Healthy bodies=happy bodies!
Whitney Voss, M.S., PLPC, CSAT-c