Decolonizing Our Bodies to Liberate Intelligence



1. the action of cutting off a person’s or animal’s limbs.

2. the action of partitioning or dividing up a territory or organization.

Most of us grew up learning that our body is a flesh and blood object, made up of organs, bones, veins and arteries, and encased in muscle and skin. We learned it is something to be researched, objectified, judged, used, harmed, exercised, fed, built, and discussed as if it is something ‘other’ than ourselves. This view has been reinforced historically through colonization in many of its forms – religion, cognitive sciences, culture, and philosophy.

According to these systems, the mind and spirit are separate entities––superior to the animal / ‘base’ nature of the flesh––that can (in theory) be isolated from the body as a transcendent feature of being human. The prioritizing of cognition, logic, and / or transcendence is often not explicit but persists as an implicit bias. This bias reinforces the mindsets of colonization, which continues to separate us from our bodies, in turn perpetuating colonization.

As a result, we are collectively cut off from the intelligence centers in our bodies, accessing only a small fraction of their genius and wisdom. We are the dismembered––cut off from the neck down, living inside our heads, detached from the parts of ourselves that are signaling, communicating, sensing, and knowing.

Why is it so important to change this trend, and reconnect to our bodies? Our bodies offer us an abundance of information, sourced through highly evolved neurological intelligence centers that help us navigate life with more connection, intuition, groundedness, street-smarts, self-trust, and wisdom. Becoming embodied is game-changing in all our relationships––to ourselves, to others, to our work and the world. Far from what colonized thinking would disparagingly label as “merely touchy-feely”, embodiment is a powerful claiming and inhabiting of our most high-performing selves. 

Embodiment supports us in the following ways:

  • Physically – our body signals physical distress when something isn’t right and tells us that we need to attend to something, often long before it becomes a threat or a health issue.

  • Relationally – we become attuned to others, what they need, their intentions towards us, and how to meet them in mutually supportive and constructive ways.

  • Emotionally – our emotions provide many insights into ourselves and our relationships to the world in which we live. When embodied, we learn how to listen to emotions without being sidelined or hijacked by them.

  • Leadership – our embodied presence cultivates trust inside leadership spaces, bringing forth intelligence, innovation, intuition, self-trust, direction, and clarity.

  • Citizenship – when we abide in our whole selves––body, mind, and spirit––we show up in the world with presence, self-agency, compassion, and belonging. We feel ourselves, we feel others, and we live in accordance with that interconnectedness.

I see disembodiment in most of my client sessions guided by the EQUUS horses. Next to seven large, fully embodied equines, a client can easily discover this critical separation. Much of my work in those spaces involves helping clients with what I call ‘re-membering’––a process of decolonizing their bodies by reclaiming and reinhabiting all the body parts that have been ‘dismembered’ to access the intelligence and wisdom their body offers. Mind, body and spirit are reunited into an intrinsic whole.

People often ask me why we separate from our bodies. We could simply say that culture is the culprit, but that keeps us at a conceptual distance from our own personal story of dismemberment. Such high-level attribution denies us the opportunity to explore, identify, and heal how our individual history, and the history of our ancestors, has shaped our relationships to our bodies.

A culture that separates the body from mind and spirit behaves in very specific ways that threaten our sense of safety inside our bodies. This manifests in many forms, such as:

  • Trauma

  • Abuse––sexual, physical, emotional

  • Betrayal

  • Addiction

  • Social media messaging about perfect bodies

  • Chronic pain

  • Chronic illness

  • Being in a marginalized body, i.e., POC, disabled

  • Abandonment

  • Queer and/or trans identity

  • Trauma

  • Neglect

  • Carnal punishment and harsh parenting

  • Circumcision

  • Absence of secure attachment to a parent or primary caregiver

  • Oppressive religious or political views

In summary, any experience you’ve had, or message you received that made you feel unwelcome, unsafe, or unloved in your own body can prompt you to separate from it. We literally leave our bodies and escape to the places that feel safe––our heads, a state of disassociation, or elsewhere.

Our individual experiences and stories of dismemberment may feel personal, but it is also collective. Colonization is a much larger systemic disease passed down for centuries. Resmaa Menakem, therapist and author of My Grandmother’s Hands – Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, has a powerful and compassionate perspective on historical trauma that leads to dismemberment. He writes that since the Middle Ages in Europe, powerful white bodies did unspeakable and cruel things to less powerful white bodies. “This created deep trauma in many, many white bodies. When some of those bodies came to the New World, they brought that trauma—and those cruel practices—with them. Today, we (… ) continue to carry that trauma in our bodies.”

This story of collective historic trauma explains why society is rife with so many forms of body abuse and why so many of us have had repeated experiences of not feeling safe in our bodies.

How can you recognize if you are separated from your body? Here are some clues:

  • You may rarely, if ever, check in with your body’s signals––the sensations that tell you things.

  • You often find yourself ‘up in your head’ thinking, worrying, ruminating, and problem-solving.

  • When asked what you feel, you express what you think.

  • When directed to sensations in your body, you may notice you’ve never ‘gone there’ before.

  • You literally feel numb or nothing at all from the neck down.

  • You ‘go somewhere’ (disassociate) when things get tough or scary.

  • You may be able to identify emotions, but going deeper to identify the multifaceted layers of sensations is difficult

  • You have symptoms of an eating disorder

  • You don’t take care of your body

In response to epidemic levels of dismembered people, many movements, initiatives, and programs are emerging to address the issue. Dance and movement therapy, somatic experiencing, coaching, breathwork, and yoga. Though they may not frame it this way, these methodologies “decolonize” bodies by bringing people back into them. Camp Realize Your Beauty is an innovative multi-day camp for girls run by the non-profit Realize Your Beauty based in New York City. The camp takes place in the remote mountains of Colorado and blends physical theater, time in nature, and empowerment workshops to help children build body positivity and self-esteem. At the camp, voice work, breathing exercises, and improvisation games are tools for erecting protected and playful spaces for the campers to be themselves and feel safe inside their bodies.

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But you don’t need to attend a camp or sign up for movement therapy to begin your journey back to your body. You can start with the simple act of just paying attention. Begin a daily, moment-to-moment practice of getting present with your body and “feel all your feelings” without any judgment or need to change them. Ask yourself: “What am I feeling right now?” By “feelings”, yes, I mean emotions, but I also mean all the deeper layers of mood, and just pure sensation––the tingles, the pressure, the temperature, the piercing, the swirl, and twinges. Just be with what is, as is. You will find that some sensations are pleasant, and some are unpleasant, but none of them is dangerous. Over time you will cultivate the capacity to be with your body more and more, regardless of circumstances, rather than jump out of your body with numbing tactics (i.e., drinking, overeating, gossiping, or television). You will then access its genius.

There is much more to the remembering process, but this one practice will facilitate your journey home, back to your whole self, and give you access to important information about yourself and your world. You will experience embodiment as a felt truth rather than just an idea. This is not something we either have or don’t or another thing about which we need to feel shame. We all exist on a continuum between being embodied and disembodied, and we can shift wherever we are in the moment. By being present with our bodies, we can continue to move towards deeper remembering in our daily lives over time.

Embodiment empowers us to take a dignified seat in our own life and be the authentic and empowered people we were meant to be. And when you decolonize your own body, you invite others to do the same.

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