The following is adapted from Touching for Pleasure by Adele P. Kennedy and Susan Dean, Ph.D. I have taken my own methods and inserted them, so it is not identical to the original. My adaptation of their exercise is inspired by additional breath and energy techniques taken primarily from Tantra and emotional release, including the work of Greg Ehmka, quoted below. These added elements serve to deepen the experience of the exercise, and to allow for the expression and completion of persistent suppressed emotions surrounding one’s self-image.
Self image and body image sometimes get in the way in intimate relationships. Some people are afraid to be touched in a particular place because they feel that part of them is ugly or unattractive. Some people refuse to disrobe with their partner unless the lights are off. This type of thinking and behavior can interfere with many opportunities for deeper intimacy and connection in relationships.
“[The biggest problem in the world] is that, on average, the level of individual self-love of the people inhabiting the planet is terribly low. This is not the self-love of the identity loving itself. That is what is meant by megalomaniacal, self-aggrandizing, etc. This is the inability of the identity, that which you think you are, to receive the love of that which you really are.” – Greg Ehmka
The purpose of this body image exercise is to establish a higher level of the type of self-love described above. Before you begin the exercise, prepare yourself to rediscover many things about yourself, and look at your body through new eyes. Also, prepare yourself to be ruthlessly authentic in expressing emotions, thoughts, beliefs, the pictures in your head, or whatever becomes present for you during the exercise.
Expressing what you really feel about yourself can help clear emotions you may have been suppressing or repressing for a long time. By allowing yourself to feel those feelings, think those thoughts and express yourself with authentic vulnerability, you may find those difficult things lift away, giving you access to new and powerful awakenings in your relationship.
A Few Guidelines
To get the most out of the exercise, follow these simple guidelines. While the instructions may be simple enough, actually doing all these things can be a challenge for many people. If you feel challenged by some of the techniques, simply express your challenge or frustration with the technique, and keep going.
Breathe: This may sound too simple to many, but in normal life we do not really pay attention to our breath. It just goes in and out on automatic. We don’t think about it consciously. As a result we often breathe shallow, not allowing air to fill our lungs completely. Throughout the exercise, put more attention on your breath. Breathe deeply. Allow your lungs to fill and expand. Allow your diaphragm to expand, pushing your stomach out. If you are familiar with any form of breathwork from yoga or meditation, feel free to use any technique you’re already familiar with to slow and deepen your breath.
Feel: Give permission for any emotions that may arise. When emotions come up, allow them to be. Resist any urge to stifle them. Science now tells us that single emotions typically last for no more than twenty minutes. Whatever you feel, rest assured it probably won’t last long, and will most likely lift some weight off your shoulders.
Make Sounds: Feelings are often difficult to express in words. In fact, when you listen to people making grunts, sighs and other noises, these are typically expressions of emotion. Think about this for a moment. We all know what various sounds mean. A sigh may mean a person is tired, or impatient, or angry. Seldom does it have another meaning. We all know that “mmmmm” expresses pleasure, and that “ewwww” expresses displeasure. When an emotion comes up, express it with a sound. If angry, you might scream or shout. If sad, allow yourself to moan, cry, wail, or express yourself completely in your sadness.
The idea here is to make an “authentically connected sound.” What that means is to allow yourself to produce the sound connected to the emotion you’re feeling in the present moment. This is frequently challenging for many people. Making sounds like this, especially in front of others, is something that can feel quite uncomfortable for some. Regardless, the payoff is immense. If you want old or stuck emotions out of your way, then making the sound of them will help them come out faster.
Also, sometimes a sensation can be locked in the body. For example, the neck may become tight for no apparent reason. By making a sound connected to this tightness, often the pain will begin to subside, or an emotion will become present when the noise is made.
Express: Express whatever comes up. If you have a picture coming into your mind, describe the picture aloud. If you have words coming into your mind, speak them. If you have emotions coming up, make the sound of the emotion. If your body wants to move, allow it to move however it wants. Express yourself with all the passion and power of a two-year-old. A toddler doesn’t care what others think of how he expresses himself, or what his expressions look like. When he’s mad, he’s all out mad, throwing his body all over the place, wailing and screaming. When he’s happy, he’s all grins, smiles and giggles, and possibly bouncing off the walls like a monkey on cocaine. Allow your expression to be like a toddler – completely open, honest, authentic and turned up to the highest volume.
Move: Express your body in whatever way feels natural. If you feel a great deal of fear, and want to curl up into the fetal position on the floor and shake, go ahead and do it. If you feel angry and need to stomp or hit a pillow, go for it. If you feel sexy and turned on, dance or touch yourself. Feel free to express your emotions not only through sound and words, but also through the motion of your body while doing the exercise.
Stay Present: Stay present to what is going on right now. If you catch yourself wandering off into thoughts of future or past that are unconnected in any way to the present, bring your attention back to what is happening now, to whatever you feel or think in the present.
Connect to Inner Guidance: You know where you are going. Connect to what you desire, and feel any subtle guidance to go in a particular direction. Some call inner guidance “coming from the gut.” Others may call it “feminine intuition.” Regardless of your name for it, allow yourself to feel your intuition, your gut reaction, your inner guidance, and follow it. It can show you where you need to go next.
Expressions Lack Meaning: Remember, whatever you express, it does not mean anything about you. Whatever your partner may say while doing this exercise also means nothing about you. Sometimes we say some extremely harsh and destructive things about ourselves or others that we do not mean, but that may also be real expressions of our emotions in the moment. For example, during this exercise you might say about yourself, “I hate my body. I’m fat and ugly and nobody will ever want me.” You don’t necessarily mean that, but you probably completely felt it in the moment. Or you might hear your partner say, “I felt sad and confused when I listened to you talking about your body.” Try to listen to that purely as an expression of what your partner was feeling in the moment. If this is difficult for you, that is okay. Detachment from words can be difficult, but the more space you can give to your partner to express such things, the more open, authentic and honest your relationship will become.
Disrobe and stand in front of a full length mirror. Spend at least one half hour looking at your reflection as though your body belongs to someone else. Evaluate the image in the mirror from top to bottom, discussing aloud everything you see. Look deep into your own eyes. Pay attention to what your audible voice is saying. Pay attention to the internal voices, and speak them aloud. Pay attention to your emotions and give them sounds or allow your body to move with them as they come up. Be 100% honest. Do not “pull your punches.” Be as critical as your worst voices.
Some of what you complain about or criticize may be remedied, and some perhaps not. How can you accept the fact that you once had a different body, and now have this one?
Try thinking of your body this way. You once had all the vibrancy of youth, but as you go through life you accumulate the markings of the life you have lived. These changes to your body indicate where you have been, what you have done, how you have lived. You may desire or even intend the body of a teenager, but that body would not match the path you have traveled in life. Your body perfectly matches the path you have traveled and where you are right now. You may wish to intend that your body continues to match who you are right now as you continue to transform higher.
If you feel there is something you can do to change it to look the way you want, intend the change, intend the actions required to make the change, express any complaining voices, and act upon your commitment for change.
If you feel your complaints about yourself cannot be changed, you may wish to simply intend unconditional self-love. See how much more beautifully you project yourself to others when you experience unconditional self-love.
Allow yourself to compliment and appreciate all those things you LOVE about your body. Be totally honest here too. Be as bold and cocky as you wish in your compliments. It is perfectly acceptable to boast about what you love and feel your power, your attractiveness, or anything you love about yourself.
When your inner guidance says you are ready to do this exercise with your partner, listen to that guidance. If your inner guidance says you are not yet ready, continue with self work until you become ready to share the exercise with a partner.
Disrobe and face each other, standing up. Intend to see your partner as “just another person,” instead of as someone intimate or deeply significant. Continue expressing any voices, pictures or emotions that are present for you until they have died down and subsided, and you can gaze upon your partner and see him as just another person.
Now stand facing each other, and stretch out your arms so you can place your hands on your partner’s shoulders. Don’t keep your hands here unless inner guidance says to, but instead just use this as a measure to make your bodies an arm’s length apart. Talk about how the distance feels. Is it too far? Is it too close? What feelings come up? What voices and pictures come up being this distance apart? Play with increasing and decreasing the distance between you and your partner, and notice what this brings up for each of you. Keep expressing any voices, pictures and emotions. Remember to connect to sound. Play with the distance until you find a distance that is comfortable for both of you to complete the exercise….
Once you have found a comfortable distance, begin to synchronize your breathing. Notice your partner’s breath, and align yours with his. Once your breathing has aligned, it will likely produce a more relaxed state in both of you.
Remain silent (make sound, but no words) for the next part of the exercise.
Begin to stare at each other candidly and guilelessly, like children do before they learn that “staring is rude.” Without talking, look at each other’s bodies very slowly, and notice what comes up as you do this. While doing this silent part of the exercise pay attention to any emotions, pictures or voices that become present in your mind, but do not express them aloud.
Begin with the top of the front of the body, and work your way down. Begin with the hair.
When you reach the eyes, take about 5 full minutes to gaze into each other’s eyes. Resist the urge to look away. Continue eye gazing even if it becomes uncomfortable. While gazing into your partner’s eyes, breathe deeply and steadily.
Continue down your partner’s body, with the rest of the face, the neck, the shoulders, and downward. Give permission to stare at your partner’s genitals or breasts as long as you wish, and give your partner permission to do the same. Pace yourself slowly, and wait until you’ve both seen all you want from the front of the body. Take turns gazing at each other’s backs.
Move downward on your partner’s body, noticing every detail: every wart, every freckle, every scar and every wrinkle. Do you like what you see? Do you dislike it? How do you feel? View with curiousity, not judgment. Allow your partner to discover everything that makes you unique. Allow yourself to discover what makes your partner unique.
Give each other complete permission to look, to stare, to examine.
For the next part of the exercise, you’ll take turns. One partner will be active while the other is passive. Take a moment to choose an active partner, and proceed.
For the remainder of the exercise, talking is allowed. Be sure to honor your partner’s expressions of words, emotions, sounds and anything that may come up. Remember that expressions lack meaning. Whatever your partner is present to is just what they’re present to in the moment. They might be present to something else the next moment. Their expression in the moment means nothing about you or them, or about their persistent emotions toward you. Allow each partner to complete a thought. Do not interrupt.
The active partner stands in front of a full length mirror, just as in the individual work. Again, the active partner evaluates her body from head to toe, speaking or in some other way expressing any voices, pictures or emotions aloud for her partner to hear.
The passive partner listens, but does not “respond” or “converse” with the other person’s voices, pictures and emotions. This is not a “dialogue.” Neither is it an opportunity for the passive partner to critique the active partner’s body.
For the active partner, remember that it is equally important to compliment and boast about that which you like as it is to criticize that which you do not like. If voices like “I feel so narcissistic saying this” come into your head, express them, but be sure to take the opportunity to both compliment and criticize.
If you want to touch yourself as you do this, do so.
Once the active partner feels complete with commenting on her entire body, she should indicate this to her partner.
The passive partner then takes the active role, and has an opportunity to “dialogue” about what he heard and saw and otherwise noticed about you as you did the exercise. The goal is for him to be totally honest about what he heard you say about yourself. Again, he should be as honest and authentic as possible, and say what he really saw and heard as you talked about yourself. It is his opportunity to say what he loves and appreciates about you, and to tell you where he sees a discrepancy between how you feel and how he feels about your body.
As your partner evaluates you, notice every word he uses. You may have described your body as “fat” while he describes it as “voluptuous and yummy.” You may see yourself as “too pale,” while he sees you as having a “creamy complexion.”
Both partners should be expressing any voices, pictures or emotions, and using sound and breath to keep the emotional energy moving.
Once you and your partner are complete, switch roles. The active partner becomes the passive partner, and the exercise is repeated.
Things to Notice
What areas did either you or your partner ignore while talking about either self or other? What areas did you or your partner focus on intently? Point these out and inquire into how you really feel about any skipped parts, as well as why you’re so intently focused on other parts. Let him know if he completely skipped over his hair loss. Let her know if she spent a very long time talking about her breasts compared to the rest of her body.
Be honest with each other. Be honest about yourself. Very often, we’ve been told something like, “you’re too hairy,” or “your breasts droop,” and we carry someone else’s criticism around like it is our own personal truth. Notice if some of your criticisms really belong to other people. Are they really authentically your criticisms, or did you just take them on?
What did you and your partner learn about each other? How has your relationship to and understanding of your partner deepened by sharing this exercise?
What do you each want to change about your bodies? Do you want to make a commitment to each other to make those changes? How can you support each other to change the things about your bodies that you want to transform? In answering these questions, avoid telling your partner what you want him or her to change, and focus instead on what you want to change about yourself.
When you are ready, begin with an intention that your body is always in the process of becoming the outward expression of your inward beauty. When you begin there, what comes first into your thoughts, your emotions, or your body? Notice it. Any difficult thoughts or emotions that come up when you think of this intention are likely where you need to grow to develop real self-love.
Relationships are Mirrors
Like you may have noticed during this exercise, every relationship is a mirror. The best way to attract has always been to grow and deepen your relationship with and love for yourself. Your body may change over time; it may grow or shrink, lose or gain hair, wrinkle or freckle, and the list goes on endlessly.
In being more aware of your emotions about your body, you can allow difficult emotions you may have held on to for many years to finally be expressed and move on. In becoming more aware of what you love and appreciate about your body, you learn to feel greater sense of love for your true self.
Learn to be truly authentic more often. Take off that mask and permit yourself the freedom to flaunt what you love about yourself and appreciate everything about yourself. Learn to take the beauty you have inside your true self, and project that outwardly.