Learning to Listen to the Body

Today, I decided I needed to do some yoga or meditation before getting started with work—especially because I neglected to do my usual meditation immediately after waking up this morning. I’ve let that slide more than I care to admit in the last couple months.

I use the word “yoga” loosely in referring to my practice because I feel like I don’t really “practice” it. So far, it has consisted of warmups for my pole fitness classes or what’s been included in mindfulness classes I’ve taken.

But sometimes—and this has only been true for me in the last handful of months—sometimes, I just feel like I need to move my body. I need to feel my body move. It seems there’s a subconscious need to remind myself that I am here, in this body, and that moving it how and when I want to is right and good.

Because of this realization, you’d think that maintaining a regular yoga practice would make a lot of sense for me, but I think I still have a ways to go until I get there.

Turns out, I have a complicated relationship with my body.

Like many other women in the world, I grew up with a strong message that my body was not my own—not really. My body belonged to a punishing God, to the male gaze, to my future husband, to those who touched me without my consent—but not to me. And since I didn’t feel connected with my body, because I felt I had no control over it, I believed there was no need for me to get to know it.

I’ve gone through all 34 years of my life in this body, but I couldn’t tell you how many moments in my life I’ve actually felt present in my body.

Getting Acquainted

I wasn’t aware of my lack of feeling present in my body until I took the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course. As part of this program, participants learn a meditation practice called the Body Scan. In this meditation, you are taking time to understand what sensations are present in your body. You focus on each part of your body, one at a time—investigating inside and outside, becoming aware of what you feel, or don’t feel—from your toes to the crown of your head. In the course, we work our way up to a 40-minute guided body scan meditation! The practice became somewhat of a nemesis for me, because even though I knew logically there is no true goal to be achieved with mindfulness, the competitive and achievement-based side of me really wanted to do everything “right.” And I didn’t feel like I was getting it right.

I have feet!

I was amazed, the first couple of times I tried the body scan, to realize that I had feet! And they had sensations! But often, I’d lose track of myself by the time the scan was moving above my legs. It felt like a failure to me, that I couldn’t stay inside my body—the place where “I” reside. The only place I’ve been for my whole life. But body awareness is not like a light you can just turn on. There are many factors that can keep us from tuning in. Practicing the body scan over time gives us many chances to get to know the feelings and processes in our body, which often go ignored. Our body can tell us a lot, if we’re listening.

Through therapy, reading, mindfulness practice, and a new fitness routine I started for me, I’m slowly starting to become acquainted with my body. Instead of just getting crabby, I can sense when there is a buildup of emotions, or something “stuck somewhere,” in my body and know when I need to go for a walk, do a few yoga stretches, or give myself a block of time for a workout. And that awareness itself feels like an achievement.

As I suspect many others might relate, I’m still not 100% familiar with my own body. I don’t expect I ever will be. But I’m so grateful that I’ve reclaimed this relationship, and that it continues to grow. I encourage anyone who sees their own body as a stranger or an enemy to begin to reclaim it for yourself, by first getting acquainted or re-acquainted, through whatever means feels accessible and right for you.  

Try out a 10-Minute Seated Body Scan led by Mindfulness Instructor and E-RYT 500 Carol Hendershot

Recommended Reading—What’s Helped Me:

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
Untamed by Glennon Doyle

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