We all struggle living in our body- at least from time to time. I’d be willing to say that most of us, if not all of us find this ‘meat suit’ we carry around at odds with our human desires at many points throughout our day.
The topic of embodiment (consciousness & body as one) is endlessly interesting and personal to me. Living with chronic pain as a mover & dancer, having an uneasy relationship with my own sexuality due to sexual assault & harassment, societal messages, inter-generational trauma, being in a female body in this world- all ad up to a complex relationship with body. What am I embodying, exactly? If it is my soul, or the Sacred Feminine, and my body is flawed, my womb is flawed, how can I embody the vastness and beauty I feel inside?
Our minds are powerful. We can separate our consciousness from our body by placing it solely into our mind and imagination. We can choose to focus on one important task at the expense of all others. We can astral travel, we can meditate, we can focus all our will into actions that are at odds with our bodily needs to help us achieve specific goals through our day. It may be what distinguishes us from animals, but I am not sure where that line really is. Perhaps it is a uniquely human thing to dissociate from our body willfully?
We can slip into more serious forms of dissociation as a protective survival mechanism against trauma. It is a way to escape the full impact of our feelings, enabling us to survive. For example, we may develop addictions or other coping mechanisms to help us live life after trauma. Sometimes our coping mechanisms outlive their purpose and can be destructive.
Many of us are familiar with common manifestations of not being embodied: Repetitive strain, athletic injury, dissociation, addiction, bad dietary habits, lack of sleep, overwork, stress/burnout, etc. Some of us may also have experience with slightly less common manifestations such as eating disorders, body dysmorphia, gender dysphoria, cutting, suicide.
Living in a body is hard. Harder for some of us than others. Yet, we can distinguish an aspect of ourselves as separate from the body, an essence that inhabits it. We have a saying that we are ‘Spiritual beings having a human experience’ and all religions have some form of belief that we have a soul or spirit that is living in our body. When we refer to ‘embodiment’ in the holistic health community and the conscious dance community, we are speaking about the tangible body and intangible spirit harmonising into this deeply present, grounded and yet transcendent state of being. It can feel truly ecstatic, euphoric, natural and grounded, yet blissfully otherworldly all at the same time.
When it comes to these sort of what I’ll call ‘embodiment practices’, such as conscious dance, pagan rituals, tantra, hatha yoga- practices that bring us into our body, we may find they also tend to bring us into our pain, into our limitations, because when Spirit meets body, it goes through layers of complexity- emotional, mental, psychological.
If we are accessing Spirit through the body, we are going to have to go through the ‘muck’ of repressed emotions, desires and fears, possibly lifetimes of trauma, karmic imprints, inherited trauma through DNA, environmental toxins, coping mechanisms, societal pressures and expectations and more.
Our issues live in our tissues, as they say. And, naturally we work to transcend them- by working through them, being in relationship with them. Sometimes it seems they don’t really go away- we just learn to live with them instead of fighting them. Sometimes they dissolve. It’s a bit mysterious sometimes. It is ongoing self-awareness, really. Those new levels of self-awareness sometimes lead to freedom, joy and self-acceptance.
Speaking from a chronic pain point of view, I find it extremely inspiring to watch professional dancers, as they move in ways I cannot. Dance is my favourite art form, and I think it is because they seem to have figured it out- how to transcend the limitations of the body while also accepting them. How to push beyond comfort zone after comfort zone, without breaking. How to create something beautiful, something that expresses the freedom of spirit while still in form. I strive to do the same. In my own body, in my own way.
I am one of those people who processes all my emotions (and often, those of others) physically. Its like everything must get funnelled through my tissues. I sometimes wonder if I am making up for lifetimes when I neglected my body. Or, it could just be that my healing path requires that I focus on this relationship with my body as the primary way to feel whole, to feel my Spirit. It draws me in again and again, so that no matter how hard it feels sometimes, when my body just won’t do what I wish- I must come back into a patient, loving relationship with it, and must face the totality of my emotions.
Chronic pain gives us an opportunity to keep refreshing our relationship with ourselves. We don’t have the luxury of ‘checking out’ as much as others do, as our body screams for our attention like a newborn baby. We must tend to our wounds. Now. Our body often does not do what we ask, when we ask. Its like having a much more ‘spirited’ child who requires special attention. Others with well-behaved children look on, perhaps thinking it is us that is the problem. We need to pick our battles. Accept the wild child we were given and do our best to not compare ourselves to others.
For 17 years, I have been practicing yoga and for 12 years now, I have been bellydancing. And I have gained perhaps a deeper insight into the healing impact of the ripples and sacred shapes we make in the dance that only someone with chronic pelvic pain can appreciate. I may also have more experience with dissociation while dancing than most, due the pleasure/pain combo that comes with it. For me, it is a healing art and mind-body practice, and that is how I teach it, combined with yoga and meditation.
For my path, as a dancer, a mover, ecstatic dancer, yogini- My most favourite feeling in the world is how I feel when I dance, move and stretch. The feeling of not being in pain is blissful. Movement releases endorphins and the circulation helps me feel better. It releases tension and emotions and layers of accumulated energetic gunk. But its more complex than that.
Sometimes, after a fun, vigourous dance class or practice, I’ve been in pain for days after. This is why I was not able to continue in one of my beloved dance troupes. This was the case before my excision surgery. I would feel fine during the dancing itself but afterwards would pay a hefty price. Eventually, I wasn’t able to dance at all. I was restricted to very basic gentle movements prescribed by my pelvic physio. It felt like starting from the bottom all over again, like all my years of mind-body practice went in the garbage. It was incredibly humbling and frustrating. But it was just a hurdle I had to work through. For me, my practice evolves in a circular fashion- one step forward, two steps back, around and around again. But I am moving forward, up a spiral of healing, in my own way.
I am inspired by people who do what they love against the odds. An example that having a physical disability or limitation is not always a red light on living their passion. However, I also understand that sometimes our limitations are a way of showing us new things to engage in and new ways of expressing ourselves. Either way, there are lessons and hard work that should be recognised.
Even though I don’t aspire to anything Hollywood, I am glad to know there are strong, successful women out there with endometriosis, including Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Hilary Clinton, Julianna Hough from Dancing with the Stars and more.
And there are amazing painters who are blind.
And not just one but several famous composers who were deaf.
So, maybe a body with limitations is given to those with the strongest will & passion to accomplish their dreams. Maybe it is a lesson in refinement, patience and self-love.
Either way, embodiment keeps me endlessly inspired and motivated.