I recently had a funny experience at the supermarket that got me thinking. There I was, standing in front of the fruit and vegetable section, scanning the selection and deciding what else I needed to buy. I had a list with me, but I knew I forgot to include some items. After a few minutes of standing there contemplating, I looked down to my side and realized that for the past few minutes, I had been rocking my shopping cart back and forth as though it was a stroller — even though I didn’t have my children with me on this errand. I had a good laugh.
In today’s world of hustle and bustle, running on autopilot happens easily as we are often busy juggling multiple caretaking responsibilities. Being busy can lead us to disconnect from ourselves, where our head is one place but our body is somewhere else. In my case, my hand was on autopilot and did what it’s used to doing to something on wheels—rock it back and forth—even though I knew intellectually that my children were not in the shopping cart and didn’t need to be rocked.
Without conscious awareness, mind-body disconnect can happen easily. Perhaps you’ve had a time where you were so engaged in doing a project that you forgot to eat lunch because your focus was elsewhere. Or maybe you were woken up early in the morning by your child, had to then deal with another child waking up, and you realize three hours later that you’ve actually had to go to the bathroom the entire time. Or maybe you got in the car to drive somewhere and ended up driving somewhere else because you weren’t paying attention. These are just a few examples of situations where we are not fully present.
Building a satisfying sex life often necessitates being attuned to what is happening in your body. That attunement enables you to explore what feels good and what doesn’t. Being disconnected from the body can make it difficult to cultivate and enjoy a sexual relationship. If you don’t live—not just inhabit, but really live—in your body, how are you supposed to experience pleasure? That’s like saying you want to host a housewarming party in a house you don’t live in. If that were the case, having a party would be a lot more work — you’d have to figure out where things were in that house, you wouldn’t be able to be as relaxed, and you may even resent your guests’ questions or need for direction.
Living in your body is more than just how you feel when you look in the mirror. It’s about being present in your skin throughout the day; feeling courageous to notice without judging and accept without shame. It’s about being willing to take a break from living as a “human doing” and be a “human being”. It’s about listening to what your body wants, needs, and yearns for; not just in sex or love, but in life itself. It’s about staying with yourself, even when you are experiencing thoughts, feelings, or sensations that can be uncomfortable. It’s about your body being your home; the place you reside and don’t abandon.
And throughout the day there is often a continued attention to the phone or computer. There are many benefits to technology, but sometimes being so plugged in makes us so unplugged to what’s going on inside of us.
Becoming present in our bodies is a gentle process that can translate into having a fuller living experience. Start small. Take a few minutes each day to notice what you sensing. Take a pause. No need to meditate or imagine a “happy place” (not that those aren’t great interventions!), just be aware of what is happening inside of you. Notice your feet on the ground. Your back against the chair or your legs holding you up. Your breath as you inhale and exhale. Even just a few minutes of this type of exercise can have a dramatic effect on your physiological processes, what you think, and what you feel.
The body is a magnificent gift and we miss out on it when we are stuck in our heads. But with small shifts, we can come home to our body and live in it with love and satisfaction.
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Rachel Hercman, LCSW is a psychotherapist specializing in dating and relationship issues, sexual health, and trauma. She is in private practice on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and lectures across the US. Rachel lives with her family in Riverdale, New York and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .