Your Body is a Living Prayer: Healing through Embodiment

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When I was a young child, my father called me Squirm.

Wherever we went, no matter if it was in line at the grocery store or waiting at the doctor’s office, I would move about even when I was “supposed” to “sit still.”

Later on in my youth, my nickname evolved to Squirrel, after the little furry animals we would see at the park.

He said I reminded him a squirrel, always moving around.

As I started school and needed activities during the summer to “keep me busy,” my mother enrolled me in street and hip hop dance classes at the local community center where I learned routines to songs by my favorites like Janet Jackson and Madonna.

My father put me into tennis lessons, which later turned into the high school tennis team.

There was one time where I had conflicting obligations for my tennis lessons and my beloved dance class.

My father was a U.S. Army veteran who grew up with a very disciplined, JFK era physical fitness focused mindset; so, it was the tennis obligation chosen as my priority.

When I started middle school, I was obsessed with Britney Spears. I would memorize dances from her performances instead of “hanging out” with friends and peers.

I still know many of these dances to this day – any of her TV performances from 1999-2001, I can still remember almost every single move.

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Right around this time, when I was about 12, I started an AOL e-zine where I had 700 girls in my age group signed up to receive biweekly articles myself and my online friend wrote via email.

It was called realChickz: its message and purpose was diametrically opposed to the more popular fashion e-zines at the time by older teens – mine instead focused on body image and self love.

Then puberty set in.

Suddenly, my focus shifted. I went from my love of dancing and my purpose of empowering a community of young girls to…

How do I look a certain way so my crush will like and/or notice me? 

How do I attract the “right” attention and avoid receiving unwanted advances, or worse, attacked?

How do I avoid embarrassment of my body looking a certain way or doing things I don’t like, even though it is completely genetic and/or natural? 

How do I stop moving around so much so I can focus better in class and try harder at time management, like my teachers were telling me I needed to do?

I still danced as much as I could when I wasn’t in school but the connection to my body was fading.

Then, when my father died by suicide when I was 18, the connection faded nearly to darkness.

I felt devastated by the loss and my grief was permeated into other areas of my life slowly but surely.

Instead of asking for help – I pushed myself forward, even when my physical and mental capabilities were pushed to the brink.  

As a result, in the years following my fathers’ death, I developed a substance use disorder.

Even though I had good friends, good relationships and my mother to lean on in hard times; I still had a lingering feeling that drove my desire to drink.

I did not want to be in the skin I was in – all I wanted to do was escape this mind and body as much as possible and drinking allowed me to do just that. 

I drank to get away not only from my busy mind, but from any sensation my body developed out of anxiety or fear.

The movements my body produced as a reaction to the fear I held deep inside to express my true authentic self. 

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The phoenix tattoo I got when I was 18, my father always wore a phoenix necklace as a symbol from deriving his spiritual journey meaning rebirth.

As I mentioned before, my father called me Squirm.

Squirm means to “wriggle or twist the body from side to side.”

You see, I have always wanted to move. There was something inside of me, an ancient knowing, speaking without words saying: move your body. 

It seemed like at every single turn, there were messages telling me: don’t. 

This just wasn’t from my father- it was everywhere: my peers, teachers, mass media and pretty much any authority figure were telling me to move your body is to attract attention you do not want.

To move your body like that you would have to change how your body looks – you’ll never make it in the body you are in now.

Moving your body that way is not worthy of your time or ours. 

Fast forward to 2015. I had learned my half sister, who I had never met and recently reconnected with on Facebook, had died as a result of a drug addiction.

My life started to shift, slowly at first then dramatically.

I initiated a break in the relationship I was in, then I set off to complete the #52HikeChallenge to hike once a week for a year and ended up completing it two years in a row.

That’s right, 104 hikes in two years.

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The challenge took me to the many forest and desert trails of Southern California,the Mürzsteg Alps in Austria and the base of a volcano in the Andes mountain range in Chile; the last of which was not far from where my ancestors on my maternal grandmother’s side came from.

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I was on the go constantly and made it a mission to hike whenever I could.

I thought hiking would heal me of the emotional pain I had manifested deep inside over the years from grief, heartbreak and loss.

So every each chance I had to take time off work, I would and every weekend felt like a new adventure…for a while.

I still felt stuck and I couldn’t figure out why.

Looking back, I can see now I was not nourishing the connection between my mind and body. I was still drinking after hikes (in some instances, the night before).

I would numb out the physical pain from hiking with celebratory cocktails afterward and “take the edge” off after work days “with just one drink”…which, especially during times of high stress, would lead to another and another.

Finally in January 2018, I decided I need to stop drinking to save my life.

It wasn’t easy to quit at first – I have alcoholism in my genetics and trauma buried deep within me I was struggling with.

I was still hiking in my free time and felt determined to train my body to hike San Gorgonio – the highest peak in Southern California.

Then, only three months into my sobriety, I experienced yet another turning point on hike #130.

On April 15 2018, during what would have been my third summit of Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriel mountains; about two miles from the top, I heard three loud noises come from my body.

Woosh, crack, snap.

Those noises were the ones my ankle made after I slipped on a rock and broke in 3 places, which I later found out to be called a trimalleolar fracture: the most severe ankle fracture you can experience.

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I was hoisted up by a helicopter and taken to the ER by an ambulance. I received surgery two weeks later and I was out of work for 10 weeks.

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During that time, I had no choice but to sit still with myself and my physical & emotional pain for weeks on end.

At this point, it was clear: I had pushed my body to the brink over the years and this was a sign that something else in my life had to change. 

I depended on alcohol in the past to feel connected which was toxic to my mind, body and soul.

I pushed my body to the limits with hiking in hopes it would heal my emotional pain, but it only led to more pain inflicted on my body.

I needed to slow down to truly take in the spiritual lessons of my sobriety.

As I started to get back on my feet again, I started Amba Movement and learned to nourish my body the way it has always been yearning for me to do. 

I began to truly love my body for the first time ever.

I love the way my body feels, flows and carries me through life. I love how I can go inside of it through meditation to birth my creativity. I love existing with it in stillness and movement.

What I learned in those months of being in almost complete isolation after I was hurt was this.

You are the one who will be partnered with your body as long as you are here.

This is the longest relationship you will ever have and allowing yourself to cherish it is the best gift you can give yourself.

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Recently, I attended a sound bath by one of my favorite spiritual teachers Mari Fix of Fragrance of Sound.

Right before we started, she paused – looked at all of us and said:

Your body is a living prayer.

These words could not enter my life at a better time.

It is true, it is so true. I have learned that everything we want, everything we can ever ask for – resides somewhere within us, deep inside.

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It is up to us to discern the messages we have received around us all of our lives on many different levels to get to the point where we can nourish our bodies from the inside out.

I acknowledge my POC sisters experience body disconnection on a larger scale as their bodies are disrespected both personally and systemically in this country in ways that link back to historical oppression; as we have seen with the disparities in medical treatment for black women in the U.S., as well as treatment in law enforcement custody.

This larger scale also includes individuals holding any intersection of LGBTQIA+, curvy bodies and those living with disabilities.

Whether someone is suffering from the trauma inflicted by racism/white supremacy, early childhood experiences, sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse, ageism, ableism, mental health stigma, gun violence, military war, medical malpractice, ancestral patterns of addiction; I have seen embodiment deeply impact lives on a spiritual and emotional level.

As I am experiencing this life changing shift myself, I feel grateful to be in a position to be redirected to my first love: moving; and my purpose: helping those who identify as women heal.

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Join me on my journey.

amberjstephens.com

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