What is embodiment? What does it mean to be ‘disconnected from our body’?

Our relationship with our body is a complex thing. A lot of us doing embodiment work use the word ‘embodied’ without much thought- as though the meaning is obvious. It’s the opposite of being ‘disconnected from our body’. But what does that mean?  I like to say that my services teach ‘embodied self-care’. Ways that people can get in touch with their inner needs, take care of their body’s needs and live in a way that is empowering and honoring of themselves as a whole. But what does that look like in real life?  

Embodiment is about our mind, body and feelings being in an ongoing conversation, and attempting to work together.  Kind of like being in a band- each musician works in harmony with one another- contributing to the whole. Likewise, In order to be embodied, there must be a balance and harmony between mind, heart and body. It’s about developing an awareness and curiosity about our experience while allowing ourselves to be in the experience at the same time. 

I could be doing a yoga class or a heavy workout and still be mentally disconnected from my body throughout it!  If I’m doing something physical, but my mind is busy replaying a conversation from yesterday, I am anxiously thinking about an interview tomorrow, or I am forcing a mental  ideal that my body cannot safely do, I am not fully present in my current physical or emotional experience, and therefore not moving in an embodied way. In this state, I can miss cues from my body, and may move in a way that causes injury or strain.   

It’s not about your mind calling all the shots, but it’s also not about your physical desires or discomfort calling them all, either. It’s about learning to differentiate between pain and discomfort, and being curious about the feedback your body is giving. Being a witness to your physical experience. 

I often used to say to students ‘listen to your body’- which is a bit overly simplistic and doesn’t take into account the complexity of the feedback our body can give us. We don’t necessarily need to avoid things things the body feels a resistance to, nor is it necessarily healthy to always do what the body wants, or else I would probably try to live off of chocolate and spend 15 hours a day in bed. Being embodied can mean to just take in the feedback the body is giving us, and be curious about it and experiment . So I now often say to students now “get curious about…”

Notice the sensations and adjust when necessary. Sometimes we need to just move into that comfy, familiar place. Sometimes we need to step out of it. It’s about presence and awareness of the here and now- and keeping an open conversation between mind, heart and body. 

 This is easier said than done. To help the mind and body to communicate, we often need to slow down and get curious

Take a deep inhale.. Exhale.. Now get curious about the sensations in your left foot. Is it cool or warm? Wriggle your toes. Alternate between pointing and flexing. How does your ankle feel? Try rotating it, make a few circles with your foot. Now try flexing the foot as your inhale, and pointing your toes as your exhale. Notice how your left foot feels different from your right foot. 

Even now you are a bit more embodied than a few seconds ago! And maybe you feel like moving your right foot now, for balance. 

Take a moment to reflect on your daily routines. How often are you curious about what your body is saying? Do you take time to fully feel your emotions?  Do you allow time and space for that? Why or why not?

Why is embodied self-care important? 

 We can miss important cues from our body or feelings that are informing us to make a shift in our lifestyle to preserve our health and well-being. Maybe we haven’t processed some old grief or allowed our anger to be expressed. This can be stored in our body, and subsequently limit us from moving forward in our lives. We feel blocked. Maybe we develop pain. Embodied practices can help move that emotional energy locked in our body, and ease pain. Embodied practice can alert us to imbalances we have and prevent them from becoming worse or manifesting illness. 

 Trauma may be stored in the body: Perhaps we feel ‘numb’, depressed or anxious. We may ‘space out’ doing certain activities, or generally feel disengaged from things we used to enjoy. We may feel our body is not a safe place to reside, due to previous trauma or unresolved emotions. Embodied practices such as yoga and mindful movement in conjunction with talk therapy can do wonders for healing trauma. But it does not happen overnight and should be facilitated by a trauma-informed practitioner. Being embodied with trauma history can take a lot of practice and require an extra dose of self-compassion and support from others. 

What can I do to live in a more embodied way?

One thing to remember is that no one is living in an embodied way 24/7! 

It is normal and natural to be in a dynamic relationship with the present moment- we often vacillate between pain & pleasure, numbness & feeling, attraction & repulsion, and in between. This is normal. 

Some easy practices you can take into your day:

  •         Notice the Breath: A basic way to become more embodied is through becoming more aware of your breath. During the day, if you are waiting in line, or sitting on a bus, or reading an email, try taking a moment to just bring your awareness to all the sensations of the inhale and the exhale. What parts of your body expand as you inhale? What happens in your shoulders as you exhale? Try with your mouth open. And then try with your mouth closed. How do they feel different? Don’t overthink it. Just be curious. 
  •         The Feet. Our feet are most often touching the ground. But how often do we really get curious about that sensation? Wiggle your toes, get the blood flowing. Feel the floor or ground underneath. If you sit a lot, a hard ball or foot roller or squishy mat can help you stay grounded and connected to your body through your feet. Give your feet massage breaks. They will thank you!
  •         Mindful eating: Mindful eating is incredibly simple and yet, many of us don’t habitually do it. Next time you are eating something- slow the process way down. Take a very small, intentional bite.  Bring all of your attention to the sensation of lifting the food to your mouth, the sensation of it hitting your tongue, the taste buds activating, saliva, the reaction in your stomach, overall body, emotions. Put off chewing as long as you can. Take your time just feeling it in your mouth. Then make each chew very slow and fully experience it! Notice your feelings and emotions in relation to your experience of eating different foods. 

 The more curious you get about what is going on in your body, the more ‘in tune’ your mind and body will be. The less stress you will feel, the more accepting of yourself you will be. The more you will have a deepened sense of ease and flow in your daily life.