Soma & Embodiment
The Greek word 'soma' refers to the body. In modern therapeutic references the word comes with a connotation of intelligence. I like to think of the soma as the vast intelligence that lives in and animates our bodies. While this intelligence often lives just beneath the surface of our everyday awareness (doing things like keeping our heart beating in a reasonable range, digesting our food, and keeping us upright in gravity) we can also access it by learning to pay attention to our bodies in particular ways. This ability, sometimes referred to as embodiment, is helpful in many ways and is also a necessary part of healing from certain hurts and traumas that life deals us. This work helps to increase the ability to tolerate, and even engage, both pleasant and unpleasant feelings - thereby providing access to more of life. Over time the automatic reactions that have run the show start to have less control over us as we develop greater capacity to relate directly with our own living experience instead of trying to think our way through or getting stuck in reactions.
One of the practices of embodied living has to do with paying attention to our internal sensations and impulses - sometimes called interoception. Do you know what eating, going to the bathroom, quality kissing, and healing trauma all have in common? You may have guessed it, sensation. Success with each of these processes relies on our ability to recognize certain messages that take the form of specific sensations. From the grumblings of your belly or the butterfly-like magnetism around a new love to the relief of a freshly emptied bladder, sensations are our bodies' way of telling us that something needs our attention or is changing. Similarly the lingering effects of overwhelming or traumatic experiences from our past often make themselves known by their intrusive demands for attention. This includes things like tension, quick reactions, environmental or dietary sensitivities, pain, empty or collapsed feelings, and other difficult experiences. The good news is that just like an exhale follows an inhale our bodies know how to release the stored stress when we learn to give them the sort of attention they need.
One practice that can be a gentle way to being exploring this goes as follows:
1) choose a place and time that you are relatively comfortable - no pressing demands or extra chaos
2) let your eyes look around a bit and find something they are drawn to in a pleasing or neutral way
3) take in whatever it is about this thing that you caught your attention, take time to notice anything about it that you appreciate or find interesting
4) let your attention softly shift from what you are looking at toward your body - notice any area that resonates or responds as you take in whatever you were looking at
5) spend a moment just being with whatever sensations or feelings you can notice in your body - they don't need to be remarkable or intense - just noticing a small area that softens or lights up is great
6) gently bring your attention back to your vision and again notice whatever it was that caught your eye - do you notice anything new or different about the object or your location?
If you find this to be difficult or disorienting or distressing that may be a sign of some underlying nervous system disregulation. Be gentle with yourself, this may not be the right practice for you. Please feel welcome to reach out if this is the case as finding a more appropriate practice for exploring the body and its rhythms can require some exploration and guidance.