Today I’m excited to share a guest post with you from the lovely Ellen Carr, from Being Change. I’ve been following Ellen over on Instagram and I’ve always been struck by her intentional and holistic approach to life.
I’ve also been really interested to hear her thoughts on embodied living – feeling emotions in our body and listening more to our body. As someone who feels stress and anxiety in their body a lot, I find it all totally fascinating.
And this is exactly what she’ll be sharing with us, how to live an embodied life.
We all have a body, but most of us aren’t living what I would call an embodied life. We tend to think of our bodies, if we think of them at all, as at best a vehicle for our brains and at worst the cause of a lot of suffering.
There’s a lot of power and wisdom in our bodies that, if we only listened, could help us in so many ways. I believe re-connecting to our bodies supports us in leading fuller, more connected lives but living an embodied life isn’t easy, in fact it’s basically counter cultural.
What is an embodied life?
Take a look at any child and you will see what an embodied life is. Children live out their lives fully in their bodies. Emotions are a whole bodily expression and they roll, boogie and crawl their way through the day.
An embodied life is allowing your body to have a say. It’s listening to it, feeling it, moving it and being fully in it throughout the day.
It’s so hard because as we grow older this innate, and glorious, way of being is beaten out of us. Beaten by chairs, desks, straight lines and the instruction to ‘sit still’. We’re taught to value mental intelligence, and the body becomes demoted; something to be controlled and contained, but not a collaborator in a healthy, fulfilled life.
Viewing our bodies in such a way is beneficial to the Western society we live in because it keeps us in the market for products to help us control our bodies. This is why I think living an embodied life, and giving some power back to our bodies is countercultural – it returns responsibility for our happiness to us.
Why live an embodied life?
Simply put, we’re missing out on the full experience of life by not living an embodied one. Shutting our bodies out in the way many of us do is like driving a car but not using the air con, and ignoring dashboard symbols. I know from my own experience that re-connecting with our bodies can make us healthier, happier and more vibrant – it makes us feel more alive.
On a practical level, our bodies communicate with us all day and, once we start to tune into this, we can start to give ourselves what we need to thrive. There are bigger signals such as “I’m tired/hungry”, and then more subtle signals.
For example, now I’m more tuned into my body I’m aware of cues that my anxiety levels are getting high and can do something about it before it gets too bad.
Listening to our bodies means we can become aware of things such as pain and stiffness in a certain posture, before it becomes a major injury. We’re tuned into when we feel under the weather, and so can get a few early needs to prevent this turning into something worse.
On a subtler level, when we live an embodied life we re-connect with our instinct, our ‘gut’ feelings and become more attuned to our emotional states. Not only this but by living in collaboration with our bodies, we can shift our emotional states and support our health via our bodies.
A simple example of this is how practising belly breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) helps to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system response via the vagus nerve.
Our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our rest and digest responses (as opposed to fight or flight), which is why this deep breathing can help to calm us when we’re feeling stressed or anxious.
Biomechanist Katy Bowman says that most modern ailments are “diseases of captivity” caused by not being in our bodies in the way we were designed to be. I also believe that a lot of feelings of disconnect, unhappiness and general stuck-ness in our lives is a result of not connecting to our bodies.
I firmly believe that by re-connecting to our bodies, and living an embodied life we can affect change in our lives.
Some simple ways to start re-connecting to your body now
1. Make a commitment to listen to your body’s signals throughout the day and act on them. Start with the big “I’m hungry” style ones, and then see if you can tune into more subtle signals.
2. Lie on the floor and roll around. This is amazing for feeling parts of your body you may not have felt for a long time, and letting your body lead the way. You’ll probably feel stupid to start with, but ease into it and you’ll soon find you don’t want to get back up. Lie down and allow your body to do whatever feels good, try not to overthink it (or better still don’t think at all).
3. Notice emotions in your body. Whenever you feel a strong emotion, pay attention to what your body’s doing and see if changing how your body is shifts the emotion. For example, if you’re feeling really stressed you might notice your jaw is tight and your shoulders are up by your ears – so what if you released your jaw, and relaxed your shoulders down?
4. Change your posture. Staying in one position for a long period of time is simply no good for the human body. So if you’re physically able to, change your posture often. (Even better – take a movement break!)
5. Tune into all your senses. Stop what you’re doing and ask yourself ‘What can I see? What can I hear? What can I feel? What can I smell? What can I taste?’ Spend time exploring each answer and really get absorbed in this sense. This exercise is brilliant for bringing you back into the present moment in a full bodied way.
6. Notice your body language when faced with a decision. Our body often gives us subtle cues to what we’re really wanting. A simple example of this would be leaning slightly towards one piece of cake over the other one.
How interesting was that? I love the tips, especially recognising where in your body you feel emotion. I know for me a lot of this centres around my chest, throat and head, which is why breathing is such an important thing for me to keep in mind.
If you have something you’d like to share here on Blue Jay of Happiness, give me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat – I love sharing other voices here.
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