The Centre for Healing Blog


Working with body awareness from a trauma informed perspective (part 2)

autonomic nervous system awareness embodiement healing mind body trauma informed trauma sensitive traumahealing Feb 19, 2024
embodied processing, integation, understanding, trauma healing, awareness, trauma-informed

Click here to read part 1 of the blog.

Re-sensitizing and connecting back the body:

Embodiment work is focused on - 

  • Appreciating that the body is the royal road to what’s out of awareness (the implicit memory imprints in the unconscious) 
  • Increasing awareness of our disconnection and de-sensitisation process and how and why we do it! 
  • This includes knowing how we disconnect, what beliefs sustain and maintain it, what body postures and breathing patterns sustain it. 
  • Knowing the contexts of where it happens, the pros and cons of this is important. 
  • Understanding they ways in which dis-ownership of bodily life is part of our early or current survival strategies to life challenges.
  •  Developing increased access to our body sensations in a slow and safe ways when the client is ready. 




Some guidelines that we can learn to re-sensitise and support embodied inquiry in safe ways:

    • Inviting our clients to explore their relationship with their body and body sensations. This often pulls out their beliefs, concerns, attitudes, judgements, fears and significant learnings about their body. Validate and understand this first. 
    • Don’t push for embodiment until the client  is ready. Validating  and contextualizing the survival value of desensitizing builds the ground to then move beyond it.  
    • When we begin to enter the body, we need to be mindful of trauma, assessing and staying within the WOT, and titrating the amount of contact we have with sensations to as to avoid flooding, dissociation and de-compensaation. 
    • Learning to breathe with continuous and regular inhalations and exhalations to supports body awareness and regulation in general. 
    • Finding places in the body that are already regulated and or neutral to support greater regulation and stability e.g in the hands or feet, at the periphery! This is often helpful and an important first step for clients who are already overwhelmed and hyper-activated. 
  • Entering into body awareness through resourcing experiences first e.g a memory of feeling safe, empowered, alive, valued or connected. This creates a ventral vagal anchor that is an important step in beginning trauma work. 
  • Learning to distinguish what we think about our experience (habitual labels, interpretations, words and stories) from actual felt immediacy of experience.
  • Learning to gently, slowly develop a language for sensations and linking feelings to sensations. Asking sensation questions. E.g When you say your sad/happy/scared/angry, what are the body sensations that go with that?  What’s the quality of the sensation?  Is it tight, throbbing, prickly, heavy, tingly or something else? Often a menu helps here!
  • Inviting present centered embodied inquiry into the immediacy of our embodied experience. Inviting clients to track and inquire into body sensations and see what unfolds and happens next? (e.g How they may be linked to feelings, an action impulse/tendency that wants completion, a discharge response, new meanings.) 
  • With the right support and the ability to recruit the mind as a witness to the body,  we often discover that contained within our body sensations is the inherent self-regulating  wisdom of the body that shows us what didn’t get to happen previously, what wants to happen next, and to complete the experience cycle  e.g. a discharge, a feeling and need emerge,  a movement impulse, an interrupted mobilizing defense.
  • Using touch, body work, massage, exercise, yoga, and physical activities to enliven and sensitise the body. Physical movement often brings about psychological movement, illustrating the unitary nature of our being.
  • Developing concentration and sustained attention towards the body e.g body scans. 
  • Inviting clients to become aware of their postures and how their posture sustains and maintains survival strategies, sensations and beliefs. Then trying out different opposite postures to see what happens? 
  • Developing awareness so that we can notice when and how  we are disconnecting and de-sensitising from our bodies (e.g. shallow breathing, bracing and tensing, deflecting, intellectualising, going back to the story, and staying constantly busy).
  • Inviting embodied experiments – invitations to re-direct attention towards our bodies, to experiment with changing postures or try movements that may open up and offer a new experience or become a resource, to try an action pattern that supports completion and empowerment e.g breathing into a feeling, pushing away, reaching out, taking in or yielding. Saying yes and saying no. 
  • Therapist practicing embodied empathy to attune to the clients embodied experience e.g. trying on and mirroring their posture with them, or a movement they are making that looks empowering and sharing what you notice in your own phenomenology as you do this. (today’s experience with client, movement of hands out - felt expansive) 
  • In embodiment work we seek to increase the client’s bodily felt sense by encouraging immediate here and now experiencing and relating, heightening awareness of sensations, sensing functions and modelling an embodied way of being. 
  • If we habitually place our experience at a disembodied distance, we diminish ourselves. However, don’t forget that our behaviour can only be understood in  context. If I am encountering a traumatic situation without support, an ability to move away from my bodily felt sense maybe what my situation calls for. This is often compounded by Western cultures over focus on left brain processing and dismissal of feelings and sensations. 


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For many of us, our growing edge on the embodiment awareness continuum between desensitization to sensitivity to  hyper-sensitivity is a movement towards the increasing sensitivity of body sensations and the felt sense. However, please don’t foret many clients also need support to be less hyper-sensitized or hyper-aroused and to learn skills to down regulate their heightened sensations using resources like grounding, containing, orienting to cues of safety in the outer environment, self touch, outbreath and recalling being in safe  and supporting places. Once this is established, only then can the Client feel brave enough to face their disowned parts of self and to process and complete once interrupted protective responses that never got to happen at the time of the original trauma.  

In summary, increasing body awareness need to be done gently, slowly and at a pace the client can manage. For some clients, they are already often flooded by intense feelings and feeling hyper-aroused, and their learning edge is around becoming more regulated and resourced, and learning to identify and support a more ventral vagal settled nervous system state. For some, who are very shut down and desensitized,  safely and gradually learning to become aware of sensations, feelings and activation will help them widen their window of tolerance and become more resilient and integrated. In time increased body awareness becomes a door way back to aliveness and the capacity to be present to the deep wisdom waiting to be discovered in their body. 


Written by Noel Haarburger B.B.SC, B’Ed (counselling)
(Embodied Processing Trainer & Psychologist)


Want to work with us?
If you're a Coach, Therapist, Healer or Someone in the Industry CLICK HERE
Want to Deepen your own Healing Journey or become a Practitioner CLICK HERE