Embodiment – the experience of being in our bodies - is something we are doing at all times. And like other aptitudes of the body such as breathing, sleeping or running, it is a skill that we can develop with practice.
For me, the practice of embodiment means exploring my experience of an idea, perception or emotion with my body. It means noticing what is going on in my body while I consciously “try on” the idea/emotion/perception. What sensations are present? How am I holding my arms? What is my posture? Is there energy in a particular part of my body? These questions can provide information on emotions and beliefs that I carry around in my body.
For example, I can talk about being nervous about starting a new job without actually experiencing the feeling of anxiety. If I make an effort to embody this sense of nervousness, I will notice sensations in my body (fluttering in my stomach or hands clenched, for example) and I can further explore what anxiety or discomfort might be underneath the nervousness of a new job (such as fear of failure or a belief that change is hard).
So, where to start? Like many things for me, the practice of embodiment starts with the breath. It starts with noticing my breathing, the rhythmic in and out that requires no conscious effort. Focusing on the breath helps me to slow down my mind and begin to notice the sensations of my body. I begin to imagine the breath working its way through my entire body. I watch the breath continue systematically through my torso, my limbs, my feet, my head. It’s as if I am waking up my entire body with my breath. As I ease into the present moment, I become aware of how I am holding myself; I might notice tension that I’m holding in my shoulders or a sensation of tingling in my hands or feet.
Of course, the mind doesn’t easily cooperate and quiet down, so when I find myself drifting off with the flotsam of thought, I simply remind myself to come back to my breath. With embodiment practice, I’m not trying to shut off my mind completely, just asking it to take the passenger’s seat for a change.
I might be surprised by what I find with this kind of internal exploration, or I might feel relief at being able to put words to it. It might feel like something I knew was there all along or it might feel like more than I can manage. Regardless of my reaction to it, the goal with embodiment is simply to notice, to be with and experience whatever it is I am feeling, sensing, and perceiving in that moment. I do not need to change anything or fix anything. It is simply an exercise of awareness.
Building those awareness muscles allows me to consciously explore what’s going on for me. It offers information about my state of being, about the beliefs and assumptions that are impacting my behavior and my relationships. I do believe that we hold onto assumptions and beliefs in our bodies. And even when our minds have recognized that a belief is holding us back, and we want to let go of i; our bodies may not have come to that same conclusion yet. And this brings us back to the original query: how do I get from that place of head-knowing to that place of heart-knowing?
I am confident that just as our bodies can absorb limiting beliefs and assumptions, they can also unlearn them. We are not here on this earth to live limited lives. I feel passionately about this. What I want more than anything is for each of us to live an abundant and purposeful life - filled with love, compassion and courage - being exactly who we are meant to be.
And so the journey continues on the embodiment train. The destination remains unclear, so I'm going to st what I know. I'm going to start with my breath.