At Show Your Spark, we recognize the intrinsic connection between inner and outer beings. When we feel disconnected from one, or both, our inner lights don’t shine quite as brightly. Our Spark Sessions, empowering luxury portrait experiences, serve as one tool women can use to connect those two parts of themselves.
We recently sat down for a conversation with Sarah Joy Gaines, a body image advocate and educator, to discuss simple daily embodiment practices you can put into your life today to help you live an embodied life, both in our studio and in your day-to-day lives!
We think you will glean gold nuggets of wisdom from this discussion. Enjoy!
A Beautiful Collaboration
When Lindsay met Sarah, she knew a beautiful collaboration was in the making. Sarah’s work closely aligns with the mission of Show Your Spark, so we partner with her whenever we can.
A day in our studio includes a guided meditation led by Sarah. Her meditation, presented after the photo session, gently encourages and prepares women to see their images on the big screen in our Premiere Room.
Show Your Spark also collaborated with Sarah in October 2023 to offer a Self-Love and Body Liberation Mini-Retreat. She led the participants in her signature workshop, joyflow, an embodiment class that integrates breathwork, yoga, and dance.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your journey, your work, and how you came into the work you do today.
I help women reclaim the power and wisdom of the body. I began this work with my own body image healing journey. My first memory of wanting to change my body and of comparing my body to somebody else’s dates back to when I was eight years old. From that age, until I was 21 years old, I did everything I could to change my body. You name it, I did it. Nothing worked. What does “worked” even mean, right?
I remember always wanting to lose weight and wanting to have this ideal body that I was told I should have so I would be desirable. Chasing down that “perfect” body became my constant quest. I thought, “If I change my body, then I’ll get a boyfriend, I’ll feel happy, I’ll feel confident, and all kinds of good things will happen for me.”
When I was age 20, I started training with a bodybuilding mindset that really took my eating and exercise habits into obsession. Disordered eating and anxiety became a constant, completely overtaking my whole life. I finally achieved the body I “wanted” but to the complete demise of my mental health and overall well-being. That low point in my life caused me to see the light and explore what another way of life and relationship with my body could be.
A Personal Quest
I began looking for things to help me with my body image and body dysmorphia. I discovered that there really wasn’t anything that existed at the time. So, I went on my own quest. Personal development through yoga, meditation, and spirituality was always a part of my life. So, I returned to that, practicing affirmations, meditation, and mindful eating in the scope of wanting to change my relationship with my body and how I viewed myself. That work took a life of its own.
Now, for the last decade, as I entered the wellness industry as a fitness instructor and yoga teacher, I’ve always made it a point to wave the flag of the mission I now support. It’s not about what your body looks like, it’s about what it feels like.
That mission led me to work with hundreds of women, helping them shift their relationship with their bodies and heal their body image. I’ve taught all around the world, teaching fitness and movement. Lately, my focus has been on healing your body image as you connect to yourself through spiritual practices. That intention led me to the master’s program I’m currently in, on women’s spirituality and social justice. My key focus, and research, looks at what we have been taught about what it means to have a female body. These ideas are entrenched in the systems and the world in which we operate. I hope to use spirituality to connect to something greater than ourselves, and to heal our body image, both internally in how we see ourselves, and externally in how we treat the female body as a whole.
What does the word “embodiment” mean to you?
When talking about embodiment, we are talking about our physical bodies and how our bodies operate in the world. When thinking about what it means to live life in an embodied way, I think about noticing the sensations of my body throughout the day. Our bodies are incredibly wise and have so much to tell us if we take the time to listen.
To get more granular, I often ask myself the following questions:
- What sensation is my body feeling?
- Where are those sensations?
- What is the energy that I am feeling and carrying in my body?
- How do I hold myself?
- How do I show up in the world physically?
What’s so powerful is that our bodies communicate a lot, both in the sensations it gives us and in what we communicate in how we use it. We can notice what we’re embodying by noticing how we are. For example, how are you sitting right now? Perhaps your shoulders might be sunken forward. Just notice without judgment. Then we can ask, what am I curling up from? That curved sensation is different from a posture with our shoulders rolled back, sitting up and tall in a kind of confidence pose.
Those are examples of embodiment – the way we show up in the world in our physical form in time and space.
Listening to Your Body
So, if our bodies help us see how we are showing up in the world, it all comes down to body awareness, right?
Yes, that’s where the shift comes into play. First, we must notice what we are embodying. Once we become aware of what we are embodying, we get to choose how we want to live moving forward. We can then ask ourselves, “Is that what I want to continue to embody? Or do I want to embody something different?” Then we can ask, “What would it look like to embody something different?”
On a practical level, how do we figure out what our body is already communicating? Then, if we want to make a change, how do we make that shift?
- Start with the vision and intention by asking, “What do I want to embody? How do I want to show up in the world?”
- Develop body awareness by asking, “What is my body doing right now?” (ex. What is my posture? Like, am I clenching my hands, right? What is the energy in my body? How is it showing up right now? Are my shoulders pulled up or relaxed? Am I clenching my jaw?)
- Practice compassion. These observations must be made without judgment. Just notice, breathe into it, and allow it to rest. Compassion and awareness are the bridges between where I am and where I’m going.
- Make adjustments. For example, observe your tongue. Your tongue is like this barometer for the level of tension in your body. If your tongue is pressed up against your teeth, you’ll notice your whole body is tense. If you relax the tongue, then your whole body relaxes.
Simple Embodiment Practices
Do you have any tips for making this practice a regular part of our busy lives?
- Start with the breath. The breath is the practice of presence, which is the gateway to body awareness. Make a conscious effort to bring breath into your life. That might look like just starting the day off with three deep breaths. Or, try habit stacking by tacking it into your routine after you brush your teeth. Or, take one deep breath right before you drink your coffee.
- Leave yourself reminders to breathe. Put written notes around your space reminding you to breathe or check-in. Put a reminder on your phone’s wallpaper, or set an alarm on your phone. Any of these ideas, or devices of your own making, will work if you choose to notice them and take action on them.
- Practice patience. It’s a practice. It’s a patience. I think it’s so easy to want to fix things and shift things immediately. But the truth is, there’s nothing to fix! The whole notion is about slowing down and allowing this practice to permeate your life with ease.
So what are some other snackable embodiment practices we can fit into our days?
- Shaking. Shaking is a way to reset the nervous system. It’s literally what animals do. For example, if a dog runs into a window, after they get up, they literally shake it off. We, as humans, can do that too. Just shaking it out!
- Sighing. Take a big inhale. When you exhale, verbalize an audible sight at the same time. Sighing helps release and relax the energy as well.
- Dancing. Put on a song that makes you move, dance around, and let loose. We take so much of life so seriously. Dancing is one way to come back to joy and presence. Life is too short to not be enjoyed.
Go Live An Embodied Life
Do you have any final words of encouragement?
It all comes down to awareness. Embodiment impacts our entire life, how we move our bodies, fuel our bodies, rest our bodies, and listen to our bodies. With practice, patience, compassion, intention, and practice, you can show up in the world the way on your terms.
Continue the Conversation
Our deepest gratitude to Sarah for sharing her time, her heart, and her work with us! We are so grateful to be on this embodiment journey with her!
If you are ready to take your embodiment practices to the photography space, contact us to learn more about our Spark Sessions.