Today is the fifth day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2017. This morning I was reflecting on an experience that is commonly reported to me by clients in recovery from disordered eating: mental disconnection from their bodies. This can develop due to physical abuse or sexual trauma, such that living in one’s head is much safer and less fearful than being connected to one’s physical self. Or it can develop because of a growing dissatisfaction with one’s physical body, a feeling of betrayal by the body, such that thinking or doing feels better than being.
Before and during my recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder, I, too, experienced disconnection from my physical body. It was as if my thoughts controlled the show; I was very aware of the barrage of negative self-talk running through my head all day, but not at all in tune with my body’s actual needs and sensations. Part of my recovery from B.E.D. was to engage in the process of “embodiment”, reconnecting with my physical self. So, on this 5th day of NEDA Week, I thought I’d share with you 5 ways to reconnect with your physical self:
- Mindful breathing – Sit in a comfortable position, in a quiet place, and close your eyes. Direct your attention to the flow of air in and out as you breathe naturally. Don’t try to change the quality of your breathing, just allow breathing to happen. Notice any physical sensations as you breathe. Notice where you feel the air (your nose, your throat, the rise and fall of your chest). Sit quietly noticing your breath for a few minutes, just to reconnect with your breath…to remind yourself you are alive and connected to all other living things.
- Mindful hand-washing – The next time you wash your hands, turn your full attention to that process. Notice the temperature of the water on your hands. Notice the sound of the water. Notice the sensation of the soap on your hands. Notice how one hand feels while the other washes it and vice versa. When you rinse and dry your hands, attend to the feel of the fabric of the towel.
- Gentle stretching – There are many wonderful gentle stretching videos on YouTube. Whether you try a seated stretch from your chair or something from a standing position, stretching increases our awareness of the breath and the flow of oxygen throughout the body.
- Self-massage – Self-massage is a great way to reconnect with our physical self. However, if you have a strong aversion to your body, the thought of touching yourself may be uncomfortable. I suggest starting with a relatively neutral body part, perhaps the hands or neck & shoulders. Gently rub (instead of vigorously squeezing) the area and notice any physical sensations: coolness, warmth, tightness, tension, pain. Even if you do this for just 60 seconds, you are taking time to compassionately reconnect with your physical self. Gradually increase your time, or massage other body parts.
- Massage by someone else – It took me several years to feel comfortable enough with my body to pay a massage therapist for a massage. Maybe this is a longer term goal. Whenever you do try it, be sure to do so mindfully — noticing times when your mind wanders and returning your attention to the physical sensation of the massage in order to stay connected with yourself.
With all of these exercises, it is normal for the mind to wander. We’ve spent a lot of time in our heads/thoughts and less time connected to our bodies. Be gentle with yourself. When you notice yourself thinking, simply say the word to yourself: “Thinking”. And then return your attention to the physical body.
Reconnecting with the body is a process. It will become easier with time. For more information on embodiment and mindful body awareness, use the search terms “embodiment in eating disorder recovery” and you’ll find many resources and blog posts.
Peace, joy, and reconnection,