What is Embodiment? Why do we want to be more embodied?
It is learning to listen to our bodies and what they can show us about our human emotions, our feelings, our sensations that is different from what our minds are telling us we are about. It is not neat and tidy. Our bodies offer up discomfort and comfort, pain and pleasure, chaos and order always shifting and rearranging in a tumultuous balance. So, embodiment can also be learning to explore the constantly changing aspect of life that is reflected in our own living organism – our bodies. Learning how to be with this constantly changing nature of us is what we call equanimity, or finding some kind of balance through it all, and it leads us also to our wholeness — the fullest sense of who we are at any moment of real time.
Why do we want to learn how to be more in our bodies? Deep wisdom hangs out in our bodies, more than we ever realized. We as human beings have many different ways that we take in information and process it and we often rely on our minds when our minds often lie to us – our bodies only can tell us our truth. We really have to learn this by experience and that’s why these tools are really important for our personal growth and healing. Because are bodies are so flexible, they can teach us how to wrestle with life’s challenges with flexibility and resilience.
More importantly, we have learned in the research and development of treating trauma, the underlying cause of all mental health and dis-ease in our bodies, is that the body is where we must go to process and heal emotional or traumatic issues. In The Body Bears the Burden, by Richard Scaer, MD, we learn that our mental well-being is in direct relationship to our ability to heal our trauma that is held in our bodies, and that unresolved trauma is triggered by many events that occur daily in our lives—from relationships to automobile accidents to divorces and deaths. One difficult event in your life can trigger deeper traumas that have not been noticed before. This can lead to deeper distress than the actual event. I’m sure you have experienced this kind of “triggering” in your life.
Other trauma experts in the field like Peter Levine have shown that when we humans experience a life-threatening event our bodies react by going into fight/flight or fight/freeze responses. We humans typically disassociate from our bodies in these frightful moments and therefore the emotional discharge gets stuck in our bodies. By studying animals experiencing these kind of life-threatening events, he determined that animals don’t freeze. Instead, as soon as they can, they move through the shock waves of the event through their bodies and release the terror in real time. He and others have taught that trauma treatment needs to focus on helping patients learn how to attune to their bodies more so that treatments can help track the body/mind experience in the present moment to unpack the experience through memories, sensations, beliefs and thoughts. So we therapists, coaches, and mental health professionals are encouraging everyone to work on getting more tools for learning embodiment so that we can begin to heal that trauma that we are all carrying around.
Tools for Embodiment
Yoga and Mindfulness, breath practices and other body or somatic therapies teach you how to track your body in real time. Mindfulness is the process of paying attention without judgment to each and every moment to everything that is present. With mindfulness, we try to allow what is there to be there, but often we find resistance to some or part of what we notice. When we slow down in this way, we are able to experience the exact process of how an emotion rises and falls, the sensations of sadness or grief, how pain or discomfort shuts us down and causes us to react in some way, how pleasure feels so expansive and warm, etc. We begin to see the constantly moving always changing process of our bodies in living color and form chaotic and cyclical, spiraling and shifting. We can begin to notice what is showing up out of this constantly shifting environment that needs more attention. This is when we can begin to find more clues to the source of our discomfort and where the trauma may lie within us.
Yoga is an ancient practice that has deep origins in Hindu mythology & spirituality. These teachings are worth studying more deeply than just taking a western style yoga class, because they are about mindfulness of the body. When you study yoga deeply as a deep dive into the body and spirit of you, you will experience for yourself what your body holds and that is a glorious adventure. Sometimes, yoga can teach you how to work with feelings and pain better than sitting with these things in a sitting practice because you are moving with your body’s natural rhythms and movements in relationship to the feelings.
I’m not suggesting that you figure this all out by yourself. That’s why we therapists and helpers are here to help you. But, when you become aware of how you can get to know this vast mystery of your body in your own time, through many different tools and practices, then you are more empowered to take on your own healing and you have agency to move your life forward. This is a powerful place to be.
Join me at my Day of Mindfulness this May 7th where we can spend a day together exploring mindfulness practice that will help you slow down and begin or expand your own personal embodiment.