This word, “embodiment,” gets tossed around a good bit—but what does it really mean? And why all the fuss?
We often experience our “minds” and our “bodies” as separate and distinct from one another, but they certainly are not. World-renowned neuroscientist, Candace Pert, described the mind as being “in every cell of the body.” In therapeutic circles, “embodiment” generally refers to the degree to which our “minds” and “bodies” are consciously united at any given time.
Embodiment can also be thought of as the dynamic process of cultivating conscious awareness through the here-and-now experience of being bodies.
Maybe this sounds lofty, so let’s jump right into an example of a person moving from less embodiment to increased embodiment, including the positive effects of doing so:
While emptying the dishwasher on Saturday, your is mind deeply involved with a stressful situation at work. So far, your Saturday is not serving to restore or rejuvenate you as expected!
In a moment of mindfulness, you realize your mind is far way. You notice that your head feels cramped, your movements are a bit stiff, and your breath is held. You realize you’ve been thinking about this work situation since you woke up. You take a moment to feel your body. As soon as you tune in to your sensation, a deep breath breathes you and your jaw releases.
As you exhale, you feel a more expanded sense of your felt experience. As you feel your sensations and allow them to move you, a little undulation moves through your neck and spine and then transforms into a gentle bounce. This little bounce continues for a while until it naturally ends in an open, spacious stillness.
Your gaze has relaxed. Your spine is long and you sense space between your vertebrae and into your cranium. Your tailbone rests in a neutral position. This has all taken just a couple of minutes. You resume your task of emptying the dishwasher, staying tuned in to your sensations. Your consciousness rests in the present moment and your movements become fluid as your continue your task.
The “work” of this household chore has transformed into nourishing self-care of body, mind, and spirit. Your cells are bathed in oxygen as you breathe deeply; your joints and muscles are lubricated by natural movements that produce a sense of deep and subtle connectivity from your head to your toes. As you feel your body in this way, you feel capable, supple, and whole. A thought comes that you will handle the “stressful” situation (it doesn’t feel so stressful now) at work as best as you can come Monday. You trust that will be enough.
Hopefully, you can see from this example why all the fuss about embodiment. This simple, gentle practice can have a profound effect on a person’s quality of life. Practiced regularly, it can minimize the need for expensive therapies of all kinds. Embodiment practice is both an efficient and thorough form of self-care: something very valuable in a fast-paced, over-stimulating world.
If you want to get started, here’s a basic guide:
- Bring your awareness to your present-moment, felt experience;
- Start to notice the sensations in all parts of your body—deep to surface, head to toe, front to back;
- Let go of holding and straining – in the jaw, forehead, eyes, lungs, spine;
- Invite release of mental clinging to what feels “proper,” “right,” or “civilized”;
- Let your breathing be full and natural: no holding or controlling it. Let go of your jaw (again);
- As you let your attention rest with sensations as they arise, allow those sensations and the flow of energy inside you to move you and even move sound through you;
- Let your body move as it wishes. Your thinking mind can loosen the reins and let the intelligence of your animal body emerge;
- Movements and sounds may be microscopic or subtle, or they may propel you through space;
- Allow this process to continue as long as you like.
Enjoy this deeply nourishing practice!
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