By: Emma Jean, Staff Writer
“Embodiment” is a key concept in Tara Teng’s work. It’s in the name of her popular Instagram account, part of her job title as an embodiment coach, and all over her website and online presence. But what does it mean? To Teng, it’s many things, but mainly, it’s the act of connecting your mind back to your body.
“All the messages that I was raised in was [sic] that ‘your body is sinful’ and ‘you can’t trust your body’ and ‘your body is going to lead you astray,’” Teng explained in an interview with The Peak. “Embodiment is the practice of coming back home to your body, living in your body, experiencing the world through your body and noticing that how you navigate the world in your body matters. It’s an essential part of us being human, and yet, in Western culture, we’ve been disconnected from our bodies. [My work recognizes] how political of an act it is to come home to our bodies.”
It’s clear that Teng’s message resonates. With approximately 12,100 followers on Instagram alone, Teng has built a strong community that connects with her work. Her posts address issues around overcoming sexual shame, deconstructing patriarchal and colonial ideas of sex and gender, and merging her Christian faith with a liberated idea of sexuality — all of which are rooted in listening to the body. Those same concepts are applied through her sessions as an embodiment coach, during which she works one-on-one with clients to guide them to connect with their bodies and work out internalized beliefs that harm their ability to do so.
Teng explained that she is both a product of the evangelical church and a millennial who grew up in a time of abstinence-only education and a general culture of fear around expressing sexuality. As such, she sees a wide-spread need for the work she does as both sides of her upbringing fall under the category of “purity culture” — a term often used by ex-evangelicals to describe the sexual repression taught by the church and Western culture.
“Fast forward now to today, and we have all of these adults who were raised in purity culture [and] who were taught from a very young age to distrust our bodies, our bodies are sinful, [and] pleasure is something to be ashamed of,” Teng explained. “Maybe they were never even able to explore their sexuality because they were only given a heteronormative narrative, or maybe they were shamed for any kind of exploration of their sexuality so they never learned how to establish their boundaries [or] a healthy sexual ethic.”
In order to rectify this, Teng describes her coaching role as being a mediator between her clients and their bodies. “I don’t say that I’m a teacher because I don’t think that anybody can teach you about your body or your connection to the divine [ . . . ] My job as an embodiment coach is to help you ask the right questions so you can dive deeper into yourself [to] uncover these things.”
For individuals trying to break out of a purity culture mindset, she recommended talking to a peer or a professional who can help you to safely explore your discomfort and aid in how to listen to and trust your body. With that, she said, true intimacy with yourself can be established and relationships can be sought from a place of “abundance,” not “scarcity.”
“I don’t have to depend on anyone else to love me because I love me. I don’t have to have anybody else give me orgasms because I give me orgasms,” Teng laughed. “All of that, just being able to stand alone as a person [ . . . ] for people who grew up in purity culture, who were taught that our body doesn’t belong to us, that’s really, really powerful.”