Connecting with the body
Updated: Apr 21
Distress can get stuck in the body. Reconnecting with the body can help.
The body is very expressive, and it is important to listen to what it is saying.
There are many reasons why a person might want to visit a psychotherapist. It may be that they have experienced an obviously distressing event or set of life circumstances.
Or there be something harder to pin down – a vague sense of physical unease or ‘stuckness,’ a feeling that things are not right, which can be felt in the body.
Or perhaps a sense of overwhelming exhaustion or lack of energy, without a definite physical cause.
Often, it is the body which first gives us a clue that things are not right, either as a result of physical sensations and experiences, or a sense of numbness and being cut-off from our physical selves.
For years, researchers have recognised the ways in which trauma can be felt or held in the body. The psychotherapist Babette Rothschild writes of trauma as a psychophysical experience, which has an impact on both the body and mind, while Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk argues that all trauma is pre-verbal: he describes recovery from trauma as a process of befriending the body.
Trauma can rock the foundations of our world, shattering previous assumptions we might have had about life, and threatening the self in ways which can be hard to process. Stuck, unprocessed thoughts and feelings can reside in the body, leaving a physical sense of tension and unease in their wake.
Bereavement, like other traumas, can seriously test your body’s defences. You might find yourself more prone to physical ill-health or other physical effects. Stomach pain, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance and loss of energy are all common experiences in a time of great grief, as is a physical sense of dread or threat, which does not seem to have any present cause.
The body is very expressive, and by listening to it – tuning in to what it might be saying and taking it seriously – it may be possible to reach a deeper understanding of why we are feeling as we are, and connect more deeply with the causes of our pain or unease.
And by re-connecting with the body in very simple ways, some release and healing may also be possible.
While this is by no means a definitive list, here are some thoughts on what you might do to re-connect. Experiment with what works for you.
1. Ground yourself. Feel the weight of your feet on the ground, or the way the ground supports you if you lie on it.
2. Take time to tune into your body. Listen to what it is saying. Focus on areas of tension or unease and try to understand these. Accept any feelings which might come as you tune in.
3. Breathe. Pay quiet attention to your breathing. Notice where it might be stuck or shallow.
4. Slow down. We spend a lot of time in our heads, thinking and doing. Try spending some time with your body, noticing it and letting it be.
5. Small acts of self-care – eating well, cooking, exercising, going for a walk, grooming or getting a hair-cut – can remind us of the ways in which we are physical creatures. By caring for our bodies we care for ourselves.
6. Massage therapy can help for those who are comfortable with physical touch.
7. Yoga or Pilates can foster a sense of reconnection with body and self.
8. Spending time in nature can lead to a sense of physical connection with the living world, which can in itself be very healing.