Taylor Wark

Taylor Ashley, RP #11063 is a Registered Psychotherapist at MyLife Counselling in Guelph. She works with couples and individuals 11yrs and up through anxiety, depression, and relationship issues. Learn more about Taylor here.

How to Live an Embodied Life – Even with ADHD and an ED

What does it mean to live an embodied life? Sure, we all have a body, but are we really in tune with our vessel? How often do you find yourself noticing too late that you are hungry or need to use the bathroom, or cannot figure out why you are sore? Often, especially in our hustle culture, we tend to ignore our body’s cues because of perceived convenience, or if you have ADHD then you may struggle with body cues due to overstimulation.

This is why embodied living is a hard concept to grasp, especially for individuals with a history of trauma, ADHD, or eating disorders (ED) who have spent their lives not trusting or feeling safe in their own bodies. The idea of connecting with their bodies and experiencing internal discomfort is something most individuals avoid. Embodiment aims to connect your external world with your internal experience, promoting acceptance and inner calm. When clients come to discuss their struggles with racing minds, inability to relax, or inability to notice or decipher emotion-body cues, we begin discussing what it means to be ‘embodied’ and why it is so important.

Embodiment can look like mindfulness in terms of goals–it promotes self-awareness of internal experiences and allows individuals to be present and in the moment, as well as cope more effectively with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Embodied living focuses on our living bodies’ impacts on our homeostasis and self-regulation practices when our cognition relates to our internal interactions.

To put it more simply–

if we listen to our body’s feedback and notice its reactions then we are better able to emotionally regulate, mentally and physically function.

We begin to understand why we emotionally and physically react in certain situations and address our needs more effectively.

This may not seem like a new concept to people, but when was the last time you experienced stress, anxiety, or a shift in mood without being able to pinpoint why? You might have looked around at your environment or brushed off the feelings.

  • Did you take a moment to check in with your body?
  • Did you note where you were carrying tension in your muscles?
  • The reactions in your stomach or chest?
  • Did you notice changes in your appetite or note where your thoughts drifted to at that moment?

Most people are unaware of changes in their body from moment to moment, and therefore, are unaware when they experience ‘odd or surprising’ sensations and emotions. Like that time, you could not sit still after being busy all day when you thought you were going to be tired. For my clients, this is a common frustration.

In my work with clients, we practice channelling certain emotions that make them uncomfortable–usually anxiety, sadness, or anger. When asked to tell me how they know they are experiencing anger by focusing on cues in their body, clients usually report, “I don’t know, I just get mad and my mind races.” What most people do not realize is that our bodies always respond before an emotion. If we are not aware of how our bodies and our emotions are connected, to one another, we do not usually notice the physical response that tells us we are angry vs. upset vs. anxious. This is why, if we are not practicing embodied cognition, emotions may be perceived as confusing or surprising. Something in our body reacted to our environment or situation, and that signalled us to feel a certain emotion.

When working with trauma survivors, ambiguous environments or phrases can often cause this experience because our body remembers what our brain tries to forget.

When we build a connection with our body and mind, we gain the ability to emotionally regulate effectively and understand responses to triggers more reliably. Embodied cognition does not make the triggers or emotions go away, but instead allows us to know why we are experiencing something and cope with the reactions more effectively. In other words, we learn to trust and care for ourselves with compassion.

Now, how do we practice embodied living?

When collaborating with clients who feel disconnected from their physical experience, I like to take things slow. As I mentioned before, individuals are often disconnected from their bodies due to trauma, discomfort, or overstimulation. If this process of reconnection is too quick, then internal trust is not gained back because we ignore the discomfort without providing comfort.

A practice to try at home and one I usually use to begin:

  • Identify three body sensations and three emotions, three times per day.
  • Draw attention to the tension your body carries in the morning, afternoon, and evening, and notice what emotions may be attached to these physical sensations.

Sounds easy enough.

Not surprisingly, clients often struggle to notice three body sensations happening simultaneously. As clients progress with body awareness, we introduce and explore practices such as yoga, dance, stretching, and breathing practices. These activities bring focus to appreciating your body’s responses to movements and how you connect your movement with your emotional experience.

When specifically collaborating with clients with ADHD, who often struggle with mindfulness, being fully present, and sitting still, I like to highlight the practices listed above and how they are focused on movement, not stillness like ‘traditional mindfulness.’ A common misconception is the idea that, to be fully present, you must clear your mind and be still. Instead, mindfulness is the practice of acknowledging when our minds wandering and pulling ourselves back to the present, and you can do this through embodied practices and mindful movement.

Mindful movement is any activity that pulls focus on your present task allowing you to fully experience the moment.

Activities include intentional walking (focusing on our surroundings, breathing, and walking technique), stretching, horseback riding, most sports, Vinyasa Yoga (more fluid motions that align movement and breathing without extended holding positions), riding a bike, lifting weights, gardening, mowing the lawn etc. Anything that you can use to intentionally keep yourself present and experiencing the moment. The act of being present in the moment and noticing our surroundings more than being in our own heads. And this includes noticing your body’s responses to the moments–where do you carry tension and when? Are there times or activities that make you feel emotionally lighter? How does this present in your body? If you are feeling tense, is there something your body is trying to communicate?

For example–when you walk, does your pace correlate to your internal world? If your pace is quicker, is your heart rate quicker? If you are feeling pressure in your chest and heart racing, try slowing down your pace and looking up at the trees or buildings. Notice how your body responds to this slowed pace and increased awareness of your environment. Highlighting curiosity about our experience instead of judgment or ignoring it.

The four pillars of embodied living are awareness, breath, movement, and sound.

Allowing our senses to connect each pillar and promoting connectedness to all parts. By practicing the skill of embodied living there will be less ambiguity of triggers, emotional regulation, misinterpreting body cues, and gaining confidence in ourselves by attending to our internal needs with compassion.

Taylor Wark

Taylor Ashley, RP  #11063 is a Registered Psychotherapist at MyLife Counselling in Guelph. She works with couples and individuals 11yrs and up through anxiety, depression, and relationship issues. Learn more about Taylor here.

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