Body-Based Practices for Adapting to New Cultures

By Linda Raven, ECA Member

Just about everyone, expat or not, needs to have the occasional uncomfortable conversation, but certainly, we expats seem to have quite a lot of them. A conversation that would be fairly mundane in your home country may become more uncomfortable when adding on the additional layers of intercultural communication and potential language differences.

This is where somatics can help. Somatics is awareness of our internal bodily experience in this moment. Somatics includes all that can be noticed by the body including sensations, emotions, thoughts, energy, temperature, position, etc. So how can somatics support you in having these conversations? Somatics can help us both to prepare for a difficult conversation, as well as participate more effectively during the conversation.

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Let’s say that you need to have a conversation with someone where you expect that tensions may run high. For example, maybe you need to speak with a colleague about an interpersonal conflict, or perhaps you need to speak with an intimate partner about something that has been bothering you in your relationship. Before you even approach this person for the conversation, let’s start with a centering exercise. (There are many online. Here are some audio ones that I recorded.) Once you feel centered and aware of your bodily sensations, visualize the two of you facing one another. Spend some time feeling what it feels like in your body to remember moments in your relationship with this person where you felt a sense of connection. Stay there for a few moments, visualizing this person facing you and feeling that connection.

Once you have a sense of the imprint of the feeling of connection, visualize that the potentially difficult conversation has begun. Notice what you anticipate yourself saying, and how you imagine the other party responding. Visualize both best-case and worst-case scenarios. Keep tracking your bodily sensations as the imagined difficult conversation progresses. What new sensations arise? To what extent does the sense of connection remain?

As new sensations arise, notice them with curiosity and compassion – but not latching on to them. For example, thinking to yourself, “I’m noticing the temperature of my face increasing.” or “There is a prickly sensation in my stomach.” Express curiosity towards the increasing temperature in your face, “Warm face, what do you want me to know?” Let’s say that you sense that it is an expression of anger. Remain curious about the anger, continuing to ask curious questions – continuing to feel compassion towards the feeling, but not allowing the feeling to hijack the entire system. That may look like feeling, “Oh Anger! I notice that you are present here too!” as opposed to “I am so angry!”. Repeat this process of noticing and bringing curiosity to all the sensations, emotions, etc. that arise as you visualize this conversation.

When you enter into the actual conversation, the key is to slow it down. Often when conversations become charged, we feel the need to respond quickly, defend ourselves, and make sure we are heard. However, the fast response is rarely the response most likely to build a connection. If possible, take a pause, center, and notice the sensations of connection you feel with this actual person facing you now. Track for that connection and try to maintain it throughout the conversation. If you feel it reducing, get curious. When you notice other sensations, like those you experienced in your “practice” session, welcome them back and get curious with them again. Since you are already familiar with them, you can more easily notice when they reappear. Keep noticing them with compassionate curiosity so that they are acknowledged, but don’t hijack the system. The goal is to continue to engage in this conversation from a place of connected awareness.

Often we don’t have time to prepare for difficult conversations. Someone may simply approach us with a challenging question unexpectedly. Just as in the scenario where we had the space to prepare, the key is to slow down. Feel your feet on the Earth. Notice the sensations in your body. Notice if you can find a sense of connection between the two of you as the conversation progresses. Notice the other sensations that arise.

The use of somatics in difficult conversations allows us to attend to our own experience of the conversation, take responsibility for our reaction, honoring our emotions while keeping them from driving the conversation, and maintaining our sense of connection to the person with whom we are speaking.

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Want to learn more about somatics?

Linda recommends the following books to get started:

For an introduction to somatics: The Art of Somatic Coaching: Embodying Skillful Action, Wisdom, and Compassion by Richard Strozzi-Heckler.

Her two favorites are: My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem

and The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice by Staci K. Haines

Contact LindaRaven, Linda - Photo (2020)

Have questions?

Want to learn more about somatics or speak to Linda?

Learn More Here

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