October 7, 2022

What is Embodiment?

Embodiment is an integration of all parts of ourselves: the physical, the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual. To achieve embodiment, we must work with body sensation regularly. By tending to sensation in the physical form, we can learn about an experience of wholeness that makes everything feel possible.

Embodiment occurs when something feels so natural, so part of our experience, that it shapes our daily choices and responses.

Yet to achieve this level of awareness requires an attunement with the body that has long eluded many of us.

What is ‘Embodiment’?

em·​body | \ im-ˈbä-dē  \ transitive verb

  1. to give a body to (a spirit) : INCARNATE
  2. to deprive of spirituality; or to make concrete and perceptible
  3. to cause to become a body or part of a body : INCORPORATE
  4. to represent in human or animal form : PERSONIFY
Wood figure with mobile joints

A Disembodied Approach to the World

A disconnection with the physical form affects practically every person in modern societies. 

While we busily focused on productivity, efficiency, and physical fitness, we lost track of what sensation meant in the body. 

This ‘disembodiment’ impacts physical health, emotional well-being, social connection, and our sense of spirituality.

Disembodiment, is in part, a response to a world that prioritizes thinking and productivity above all else.  The more we think about what we must achieve, the less value we place on the body. 

Based on my estimation, the value of the human body shifted dramatically after the industrial revolution. As people did more thought-based work and less physical labour, the body became a vehicle that moved thoughts from place-to-place. The body was something that enabled people to achieve goals, nothing more.  

Over time, humans learned to direct attention away from the body, to pay attention to the things that needed to be done to satiate necessary physical needs. It’s a bit of a cycle, really. The body grows more disconnected from consciousness as the consciousness strives to fulfill biological needs.

The Metaphors We Live By

In the process, the human body became a hindrance to human performance. 

We were more familiar with metaphors about the body than we were connected to the body. "Get out of your head", "Hot head", and "Lose your head" are all metaphors we understand - but do we really know how they feel?

Our conceptual systems grew out of our bodies, but our perception detached.

In my newsletter this week, I mentioned an Instagram post that accused the body of cheating, lying and general betrayal. That image, shown below, adeptly captures the stories we tell about the body. Make no mistake: the body has no reason to try and deter our success. It's the stories we tell that need attention!

The back of the human body described as a traitor

Bringing Intention to the Physical Form

Treating the human body like a subtle instrument panel is an effective pathway into exploration.

If we know that the body can give cues to guide our decisions, and we can leverage our critical thinking skills, the rational to listen to the body grows stronger.

Like paying attention to a car's dashboard, we can pay attention to individual parts of our body - like we would the gas gauge or the temperature gauge.

Other times, we might look at the car's performance as a whole. Does it it need a tune-up? We might check the odometer, the fuel efficiency, and tire indicators to understand if the car needs service.

The same goes for our bodies.

When we take a curious approach, we bring a different sort of intention to our embodiment exploration. Sometimes our attention will be on specific physical sensations, while other times we may explore whole-body events and patterns.

The intention we bring to embodiment is a huge piece of learning the language of the body.

Embodiment is a Growing Concern

One of my strongest memories of learning techniques for polyvagal informed practice was built on a warm autumn morning in Maine. My teacher, Deb Dana, explained that we must embody the theory in order for it to offer its benefits in our practices. 

When we are not regulated, the people we work with notice. They may feel on edge, as if something isn’t quite right, and that their concerns aren’t heard. 

Knowing the language of polyvagal theory and somatic experiencing only goes so far. 

A practitioner must embody - and  live by - the concepts of bodily awareness and nervous system regulation. 

This embodiment becomes the most significant element of setting the scene for a therapeutic relationship that feels safe and is deeply attuned to what the client needs in the moment. 

After years of focus on behvaioural change and awareness development, a great shift is taking place within the therapeutic community. Practitioners are frequently looking for new tools, ones that add a layer of evolution to their practices. These tools are also reshaping the way clients are experiencing the world…and they frequently focus on the body. 

Steps to Embodiment

Two women on a swing set

When we chose to explore our physical sensation, we choose to accept our unprocessed human experience.

As an added benefit, we slowly step into acceptance that the body keeps score. Even if the mind doesn't remember an event, the body will.

The steps to embodiment are required for building any habit:

  • Curiosity
  • Willingness
  • Practice
  • Trust
  • Validation
  • Embodiment

That validation piece is significant, and key to building trust with your body.

When we first start to work on embodiment, it's hard to tell what sensations mean. People will rely on books by Louise Hay (You Can Heal Your Life), Donna Eden (Body of Health), Bessel van der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score), Peter Levine (In an Unspken Voice) and Gabor Mator (When the Body Says No) for advice.

When we have no experience with sensation, we need all the help we can get.

The more we work with sensation and make connections to emotion, the more we trust the experience. Soon, a connection can be established between sensations and stories - which can enable a person to move from thought to pure presence.

The more time you can spend with a sensation, the better able you'll be to respond. It takes dedication, perseverance and attention.

Embracing All Part of Ourselves

Embodiment is an integration of all parts of ourselves. Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.

When we use sensation as a guide, we achieve an awareness of our lives and of the world that feels brand news and full of possibility. This sense of possibility is what drives my desire to work with sensation, to tend to it daily, and to learn about an experience of wholeness where everything works together.

Team member photo
Andrea Wood

Embodiment is an integration of all parts of ourselves: the physical, the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual. To achieve embodiment, we must work with body sensation regularly. By tending to sensation in the physical form, we can learn about an experience of wholeness that makes everything feel possible.

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