“I am feeling disconnected from my body.”
Most of the women I coach say that sentence during our discovery call. “I am too much in my head, and I feel depleted,” they add.
It’s exactly the right way to put it; they are disconnected from their body.
But what does that mean when your body still operates to perform your everyday tasks? It means that your attention goes primarily to what you think versus what you feel or sense.
Our western society valorizes so much theoretical knowledge and meaning. In my country, since this French dude called René Descartes declared, “I think, therefore I am” (himself inspired by the great Greek “thinkers” Platon and Socrates), theory-based knowledge became the “smartest.” (That’s maybe why if you argue with a French person they say “I know” before you finish your point).
Professional knowledge gets some approval as well because it generates money and our capacity for consumerism has become a sign of success.
There are other kinds of knowledge, though, and sadly, they are not taught in schools yet.
One of them is body-based knowledge. This has nothing to do with performing with your body, like being a dancer for example. It’s more the capacity to receive information about yourself, others, and the world through your body.
You might think, “Oh, easy; I can get that in a yoga class.” Yes, if the teacher doesn’t fall into the trap of being obsessed by the form (here the postures), you can. Otherwise, it falls again into the performance category.
Body-based learning is key, especially for women who want to reclaim sovereignty over their own pleasure and sexuality.
It’s good for everyone because as counterintuitive as it appears, what you think is not always true. Descartes was a mathematician; he didn’t study the nervous system. It is a complex system with a simple mission: our survival. So each time we perceive a threat, our nervous system, especially if we are more familiar with a freeze response, will shut down some channels of information—generally, emotions and sensations. Because the emotions and/or sensations that are arising are too painful to be dealt with for now.
Let’s take a simple example: you grow up with an adult around you who is often angry, yells, and scares you. Each time you hear the screaming, you start to freak out, you freeze; you are young and vulnerable and you don’t know what to do to self-regulate. Your nervous system goes to overwhelm. To regulate, it shuts down emotions and sensations, and you default to thinking.
Your thought can be, “If I say nothing and I make myself invisible, it will be okay.” This is true that day and maybe many other days; that’s how you remain safe.
Your nervous system just created a shortcut or defense mechanism:
An adult yells = I say nothing and I make myself invisible.
The problem with the freeze and the shut down is that the painful sensations and/or emotions are not evaporating. They are hiding somewhere in our body. And whatever is not felt fully is not processed.
>> Your body will continue to repress these challenging emotions and sensations, and this takes a tremendous amount of energy. Too much of that dynamic creates an energy leak. It can easily lead to procrastination, chronic fatigue, depression, and even addiction.
>> This thought, “If I say nothing and I make myself invisible, it will be okay” will stay with you and will begin to feel like it’s true. You are now an adult, and, let’s say, at work, you present a project to your colleagues. Someone disagrees. If that person speaks louder, you will be triggered and your nervous system will bring back the freeze response and the coping mechanism: “Say nothing, stay invisible.” There might be no real danger, and it would serve you best to defend your point, but you won’t be able to do it! And, as a result, you will feel frustrated.
For people who have been through severe shock or abuse, there is even a stronger nervous system response called dissociation. It’s like an out-of-body experience, and it’s common when sexual abuse happens. The body is not a safe place anymore; a voice inside you is screaming, “Get me out of here,” and somehow your nervous system supports that. To the point of burying it so deep that you don’t remember what happened as an adult.
You can understand why it’s so hard for abused people to come back into their body (still in alert mode), to now feel any kind of pleasure. Even if they consciously want it. The body has its own intelligence and is like, “Naahh, not touching anything that can awaken those painful sensations or emotions.”
The body is the portal to pain and it is the portal to pleasure.
It’s simple. You can’t think your way back to pleasure; pleasure is felt. Reconnecting to your body is the access point to this experience.
So for all of you who lost touch with their sensuality, somatic work is a necessary step.
The body never lies.
As mysterious as it is. When your body sends you signals, you better listen. How many times was there no logic as to why you felt a particular food, or person, or situation was either good or toxic for you?
Though I work on this all the time, I did the same mistake again not so long ago. I was paying an agency with a good reputation to process some important paperwork for me. They kept making mistakes and making me nervous; I had a knot in my belly each time I interacted with them. I was procrastinating, avoiding having to ask, “How is it going this time?”
I didn’t listen to my body because people kept saying to me, “This is the best agency here; they are serious.” Well, after one year of mess, I finally left and had my paperwork processed by another office in two months!
You want to have full access to this body wisdom. The information you receive through it is precious.
And this information circulates through different channels; you don’t want to have the channel emotion and the channel sensation unavailable.
All that was shut down through the freeze response or the dissociation is in storage somewhere.
Can you picture your computer when you have more than 80 percent of space taken, and it slows down everything? It’s the same for us. These painful emotions and sensations are in storage. They take so much space and energy you could use for other purposes than not remembering. But contrary to the computer, we can’t delete them or throw them in the bin. We have to sequence them out of the body.
How to reconnect?
To continue with the channel analogy, you want to switch on the emotion and sensation channels again. But it’s difficult if each time you dare to do this, pain or overwhelm surfaces.
You want to avoid any shock techniques, such as catharsis or group breathwork where everyone is super activated. This can reopen old boxes too fast and retraumatize you; it is not what you need. You need titration. It means pendulating between allowing a bit of overwhelm, and returning to safety. Step-by-step, slow and gentle.
If it seems like a big challenge, you’ll want to look for a practitioner to help you. Check that this professional is at least trauma-aware or trauma-informed (if not a trauma expert) and offers somatic work.
If you are ready to try a few simple techniques by yourself, get started with these:
I cannot emphasize enough the power of shaking. That’s how animals come back to balance after experiencing a threat. It’s simple and efficient. Put some music on if it helps, and shake your body intuitively for five minutes. Repeat every day until some sensations or emotions arise.
Change the channel
If you are stuck with a recurring thought, which feels like a limitation, “I feel no one understands me,” for example, stand up, close your eyes, and translate it into a movement, whatever comes. When you start to move, add sounds. The idea is to ask your body to translate your thoughts in order to access the switched-off channels again.
Music gives permission
It’s powerful to make sounds and to hear sounds. I think music is a great healer. If you feel a glimpse of emotion or sensation coming back to your system, you want to use music to turn up the volume of the channel now. So, if sadness arises, play that melancholic music that moves you, and let yourself cry as much as you need and release what wants to come out; if joy is there, jump around and dance it. Give yourself permission to wildly embody the sound, as raw and messy as it can get.
Reduce phone screen time
Or, at least change your posture. Hold the phone up more because the bend in the neck collapses the vagus nerve. This nerve is connecting your brain to your vital organs. The more it’s toned, the more there is a good communication between the vital organs and the brain. It will result in you having a better capacity to process difficult emotions, regulate, and relax.
Sequencing pain out of the body can be raw, messy, or wild even. We are not comfortable with chaos and would be more comfortable solving all of this by having a conversation or journaling. It’s helpful for the first part of the journey, which requires awareness and noticing, but it won’t be enough.
To give you a map, the process can look like this:
1. Belief/thought: “I can’t defend my point at work.”
2. Refining the noticing: “When someone speaks louder, I can’t speak.”
3. Noticing what the body does: it freezes; it feels numb or shuts down; “I experience a fog.”
4. Notice what happens in the body just before the fog: “I feel scared.”
5. Where do you feel that fear in your body? What is the sensation?: “I feel a big knot in my guts.”
Now we have it, the key to the release. The next steps are:
>> Using somatic techniques to release the knot in the gut.
>> Using trauma awareness practices to deal with the emotions that come up then, without overwhelming the nervous system. The person feels safe and regulated throughout the process.
>> When the release is complete, a lot of space is free. It usually feels like being lighter and having a lot of energy back.
>> From this free space, new thoughts can arise, and thought work is now efficient. It’s like having a blank page to generate new beliefs and a new mindset.
With a new set of beliefs or a new mindset, we create new results in our life.
But it’s effective only if the body is on board.