by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on April 25, 2011

Really? Yes. Or as physical as one can get in a blog, and as a psychoanalyst. Lets talk about bodies. Our bodies. How they speak and what they say. This is an area that has been largely ignored, or relegated to second place in psychoanalysis. Mostly, because as psychotherapists we have grown more comfortable with minds and less so with bodies. It is an area that many of us are trying to put back on the psychoanalytic map because it deserves as much of our attention as our psyche does. Psyche and soma, hand in hand, in constant interaction. To wit: what do our bodies say and how do they speak?

Developmental research tells us that early experience is registered physically. No thought there, just feeling. It tells us that there is a sensori-motoric organization which precedes, and is vital to the life of the mind. Thus, our bodies are the first instruments in the experiential knowing and understanding of who we are, and who we are in relation to others and the world. We feel first (and think later), and this experience begins to be translated to us through our physical interaction with our caretakers. As we develop a profusion of sensory and physical experiences, we begin to experience ourselves as engaged with, and able to engage others. We feel our way through and in relationship to another. Over time, and as we develop the ability to use language, to think and speak, we begin to assign meaning to our physical and embodied experience. We begin to connect our sense of ourselves with thoughts and actions. This is how experience becomes signified and acquires meaning.

Early relational ruptures, traumas, and illness, greatly impact the body and are absorbed within it, inscribed in its physicality. These corporeal inscriptions become the precursors and repositories of our internal experience and mentalized world. While as therapists we attempt to put words to experience that has been incorporated in this way, the body does not speak in words. It speaks through sensations, feelings and movement. It speaks in an older and more primary language, particular to the body in question. The body holds and assimilates all of our experience, and the mind is always a tad behind in the translation of that experience. Often times more than a tad. Our mind can entertain many possibilities, it plays with them. But the body never lies, it just is. And it remembers.

The body speaks through sensation: a feeling that unfolds from the inside through our senses, sometimes dizzying, painful, deadened, fiery, alert, you name it, but before you name it you feel it. Somatic experience speaks directly through our physicality, and only then do we go about trying to figure out what it means. Despite our reliance on our psyche, it is the body that speaks first.

Our bodies are key players in the development of our sexuality and the ongoing elaboration of our identity. The mind, our psyche, gathers much of this information and begins to translate bodily states and internal sensations, which are filtered through cultural and social norms, into thoughts and internalized experience. Consider this: it is the body with its experiential, somatic reservoir that fuels, feeds, and shapes the mind. It literally maps out who we are to become.

When I sit with a patient in my office, I am usually aware of the way that they carry themselves. How do they walk in, sit, recline? Do they look at me when they speak? When do they look away? Do they smile, laugh, cry? Is their movement easy, fluid, or labored and slow? I am also aware of my body and how it feels. Given the fact that I often sit for hours at a time, I try to intersperse movement in my day. Let my body move a little so that it can be open to listening and feeling the particular movement  and aesthetic of the patients I sit with. Receptive to the body of the other. Despite the imposed mind-body binary that psychoanalysis has reified, many of us are attuned to both what is said and not said in the room as well as what the body does or does not do. Communication and meaning is thus multiply determined through our various languages: emotional, affective, intellectual and physical.

It is no coincidence that activities which involve physical movement, such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Karate, and dance, to name but a few, carry potential mind benefits with them. It is often movement, through its disciplined motion and action that releases what is held in the body. The movement becoming a language form for the articulation of somatically held experience. Or like a colleague recently told me: “Good yoga is like good therapy, it accesses important experience and brings it to the fore.”


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Fred DeVito May 30, 2011 at 5:11 PM

Thank you for addressing this phenomenon so clearly, Dr. C. In my Core Fusion classes I like to get into the “heads” of my students at the beginning of the movement class and encourage them not to “think” during the next hour. Instead, I want them to focus on their breath, get out of their own way, and “feel” the physical beauty of their body in motion. I must say, the experience becomes a liberating flow of movement, breath and transformation. Students always leave more spirited, grounded and centered compared to when they walked into the classroom. As a good friend once told me, “you need to move a muscle in order to change a thought”.


Anne Conger May 11, 2011 at 4:04 PM

From my perspective of selling women’s fashions, the body is all telling. I am much more interested in how it fits and feels than how it looks. If it doesn’t fit and feel right it is immediately evident in the face of the woman who wears it. Even a trace of a grimace detracts from the desired effect, which is presence. Your presence is a reflection of how you feel about yourself and the prettiest dress in the world can’t disguise that.


Zoe May 4, 2011 at 5:19 AM

Really enjoyed this one…adding to our understanding of how we work as a complete package. I agree with Erika in that we need to be more aware of our bodies how it is feeling and what it is telling us and being able to trust and respond to it. Also speaks about looking after and respecting the body!


Erika Schwartz,MD April 26, 2011 at 7:58 AM

Body awareness translates into high functioning adults. Encouraging our patients and ourselves to connect body and mind moves us another rung further upward on the evolutionary scale.


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