A common phrase I see not just in yoga classes, but among coaches in general (especially the short social media posts designed to garner interaction and feed the algorithm) is to “check in with your body” or a various body part. This checking-in means paying attention to any feelings or sensations, naming them if you can, and using that knowledge to further your awareness of self. And while this isn’t a bad thing, it’s also something a lot of people can’t do.
Alexithymia means not being able to find the words to describe your feelings or emotions, sometimes not even being able to name them at all. What does anger feel like? What does sorrow feel like? If you’re unable to put words with those emotions, or even begin to identify them in your body, then there’s a good chance you’re not going to know. Alexithymia is often part of the autistic experience, but it also links to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), eating disorders, and other mental health conditions.
The person could also be disassociating or depersonalized for whatever reason. And while there is a push to encourage such individuals to reconnect with their body and the moment, and it can help with calming the nervous system, there’s also protection in disassociation. We act like it’s a wholly bad thing, when much like a lot of our mental health terms, it can also be protective and may have other effects. Please note that I’m not encouraging it, but if you’re teaching a yoga class or trying to coach someone who is disassociating, without acknowledging that fact (and many of us hide it very well), then you’re not being trauma-aware and probably not even helpful.
An individual dealing with PTSD also could lack a connection to their various body parts. Pain from tension held in the body comes from a variety of places and manifests in a variety of ways. Checking in with this pain could be like “my shoulders hurt. They always do. I don’t know why” and when someone deals with systemic failures in health care, there may not be any answers to be found by “going to the doctor”.
These three reasons are just a few of the reasons why someone may check in with their body and either not be able to fully sense and realize the sensations that are happening or only come up with vague answers. If your practice or teaching relies on reaching out to have people check in with their bodies, think about ways you can encourage this same awareness without alienating those who for whatever reason are unable to.
It’s not a bad thing to be unable to check in with your body, and sometimes you can check in when you can’t at other times. It’s also important that if this is an issue for you that you’re able to find a yoga teacher or coach who understands this and can work with it, rather than force you to do something that you may have difficulties with.