Struggling with feeling alive and finding a sense of purpose?

Your day is busy. You get out of bed and hit the road running. It’s important to stay focused to get it all accomplished. You eat at your desk, again. Work spills into home when you make dinner, do the dishes, then take care of some emails before going to bed. For most of the day you’re in your head, thinking about the things you have to do, wondering if the things you do are good enough. And the next day… it is the same. And over time, you sense that you’ve lost connection with yourself. You might feel drained, indecisive and deflated.

What happened?

By being so busy you ‘forgot’ to activate the brain areas that work together to create your sense of self. Research shows that by spending time thinking about nothing in particular, for example by focusing on your breath, you start paying attention to yourself. As a result, Bessel van der Kolk states in his book The Body Keeps the Score, the “Mohawk of self-awareness” gets activated. The Mohawk consists of midline structures of the brain that are involved in our physical sense of where we are, register sensations from the body and coordinate emotions and thinking. When we numb these self-sensing areas we lose our body and our self.

When we numb our self-sensing areas
we lose our body and our self

Feeling more alive

Living a fulfilling life and having a sense of purpose makes you feel happier and healthier. The message is that we need the body for that. We need to spend time practicing and activating our brain structures that make us feel alive and present. Luckily, human beings have the powerful capacity to consciously switch our focus. Unfortunately, we typically don’t tap into that potential.

The focus on intellect in our cognitive based society has resulted in a disconnection from our body. We have forgotten how to check in with our body, to identify what is going on in there and use it to increase our self-awareness. In organizations we are discouraged from talking about our emotions, instead focusing on results and effectiveness. There is often no room to express how change, pressure and challenges are impacting us on a personal level. The paradox is that, to make wholehearted decisions, put our plans into action, relate to others and be effective, we need the information of our sensations and emotions.

Activating the Mohawk

Here a couple of simple things you can do to activate your sense of self:

  • Most of all: Stop missing your breaks!
  • During those breaks become aware of your breath. Where is your body expanding during the in breath, where is it relaxing and softening during the out breath?
  • Center! Bring your attention, on the inside of your body, to a point below your belly button. Learn more about centering (sorry, translation on the way).
  • Become aware of and name the sensations in your body. Where do you feel movement? What parts of your body feel warmer/colder? Where do you notice tension/relaxation? What parts of your body feel alive/numb?
  • Contact a coach with a somatic approach that can help you to practice these skills.

As Moshe Feldenkrais put it: ‘You can’t do what you want until you know what you’re doing’. The implications are clear. In order to be present you have to be aware of what is going on within. If the self-sensing system is not online, we need to find ways to reactivate it.

Share how you “Activate Your Mohawk” in the text box below.


Karin KarisKarin Karis zet mensen duurzaam in beweging. Zij is auteur, leiderschapstrainer en -coach. Haar insteek: van je hoofd naar je lijf!

Karin is expert op het gebied van embodied leadership. Leren waarbij je lijf de essentie is. Zij gelooft dat leiderschap ontstaat door bewust en actief richting te geven en verantwoordelijkheid te nemen voor de keuzes die jij in je leven maakt.

Door onze houding en manier van bewegen te veranderen,
veranderen we de omgang met onszelf en de mensen om ons heen.