How To Overcome Trauma With Body Awareness And Embodiment
Written by Kianna Morgan, a therapist in training and MSW student. Kianna is passionate about trauma-informed practices and enjoys writing as a way to share empowering information with people suffering from trauma and chronic stress.
What are body awareness and embodiment and why should you practice them?
According to Peter Levine, the creator of somatic experiencing, embodiment is the practice of creating a relationship with our body, by developing awareness of and attending to physical sensations and prompts, and connecting to the world through our body in a healthy way.
Practicing embodiment enables us to pick up on physical cues through interoception, our perception of physical sensations that allows us to identify what is happening in our bodies. For example, your heartbeat and breath tend to quicken when your body perceives a threat. By noticing this you can attune to what's happening within you, around you and/or relationally to help you determine the stimulus.
Awareness of these sensations enables us to pause and ask yourself if the level of activation matches the threat. This brief pause is what provides us the opportunity to engage with our body and support it through self-regulation practices. Without this awareness, the pause isn’t possible and we get carried away by our physiological responses which limit our behavioral choices.
For example, if you are facing a challenging task you may feel your breath quicken and your heart rate increase. When you feel this, you can engage with it by lengthening your exhale which will help your body settle. In that settled state you can then discern whether to take a break, continue to engage with the task, or make another change that neutralizes the stimulus.
However, if you are not aware of the change in your heart rate and breath you may suddenly find yourself unable to focus and find yourself abandoning or avoiding the task. The opportunity to pause, because of awareness, is the foundation of empowered choice and action. While the example above may feel rather mundane, exploring awareness in our day to day actions builds a capacity that we can then carry into more stressful situations.
Additionally, being aware of our sensations will allow us to more readily notice when our body is leaving health and homeostasis and tipping into dysregulation, illness or dis-ease. We can then reach out for co-regulation, support and/or medical intervention sooner
Why do so many people experience disembodiment?
Disconnected or dissociating from our body can happen for a variety of reasons, one of which is trauma. Another of which is social conditioning.
When we have a traumatizing experience, our body activates to protect us and help us survive. One of the ways it can protect us is to actually disconnect from the experience. This is an adaptive response that is very useful in the moment.
Unfortunately, we can get stuck in this response and in the long run this disconnection makes it more difficult for us to experience safety through either co-regulation or self-regulation. It is through a connection to our felt experience that we can discern the cues of safety or danger for ourselves. As mentioned previously, identifying those cues and their felt experience helps us start to engage with our nervous system in an empowered way.
It is also an unfortunate truth that for many of us we are conditioned to dissociate from our felt experience. We may have been taught through words or actions to repress our feelings or that our feelings are wrong. We have been taught that the body is inherently bad, dirty, evil or even something to be dominated. This too will inhibit our capacity for experiencing safety and regulation.
The good news is that we can unlearn those patterns. By working with a somatic therapist we can practice becoming aware of our body. We can once again be embodied.
Red Beard Somatic Therapy has a team of trauma informed therapists that specialize in applying interventions that help you embrace your embodied self.
At Red Beard Somatic Therapy we create a safe holding space for you to connect with your body and develop an embodiment practice. Our team is dedicated to empowering you so that you can live your life to the fullest. We will teach you tools to calm your nervous system and connect with yourself, others, and the world on a deeper level through embodiment.