Why embodiment matters

A living body is in constant motion; only in death is it truly still.”

Those are the words of psychotherapist Alexander Lowen, whom I've been reading as part of my training in transpersonal dance therapy (I’m sure I’ll share more about this ongoing training in the future). Lowen talks about how an alive body pulses and vibrates all the time, it’s never still even when we think it is. The clearest examples are our heartbeat and our breath, and if we sense deeper we’ll find other sensations of movement inside of the body as well. Without going into all the anatomical and systemic details just think for a moment about your cells, your digestion, your cardiovascular system to see this truth about the ever movable nature of the body.
If you look at kids (or think back to your own childhood) it’s pretty clear how our body naturally wants to express itself in movement,and it’s only because we from a young age have been told repeatedly to sit still, not to fidget, run or move that we’ve trained ourselves to be unnaturally still in life. Movement becomes compartmentalized to be appropriate in exercise classes or during certain activities, whereas the general normative state is to stand or sit still.
We’re extremely well trained in overriding our body's natural urges and signals. We sit much longer than what is good for our body, we don’t really feel the tensions that are building up, and we limit the body’s natural functions by not going to the toilet until it’s really pressuring, or by not giving the body time to rest until it’s exhausted. In some ways we’ve mastered the art of numbing our body, so we don’t feel it in order to keep going and focusing on our mental goals and achievements.

Not only are we mistreating our body, we’re actually missing out on so much by living in a disembodied state.  

Photo by Daria Litvinova

Photo by Daria Litvinova

We inhabit this world in our body. It’s where our emotions manifest, how we connect with others (via gaze, touch, and speech for example) and the state of our body is tightly connected to the state of our mind, our general sense of vitality and not least our ability to experience pleasure. 

Most of us have unconsciously been trained to connect to our body from the inside out: focusing on what it looks like over what it feels like. We’ve been taught to strive for a symmetric, slim, and extremely controlled body. 

The sad reality is that we’ve been trained to judge our body harshly.

An example of this is how - especially women - are led to believe that they need to have a flat belly in order to be beautiful and desirable - any roundness is ugly or wrong. This is why most women actively suck in their belly – an action made so habitually that it becomes the default mode – resulting in a tight belly, shallow breathing, and limiting the sensations in the whole belly and pelvis area. When our bodies are well aligned our center is located in the lower belly area, we’re able to physically ground strongly downwards through the legs and feet, and our upper body is relaxed and open. A tight contracted belly leads to less physical grounding through the lower body, and instead, we end up tensing the chest, shoulders, neck, lower back and jaw. 

An agile and healthy body needs to move and adjust regularly so as to not build up tensions and stagnation that impede the energy to flow freely.

I’m painting a pretty dire picture, right? We’re encouraged to operate disembodied and in constant judgment. The good news is that it’s absolutely possible to change this. 

The first step in becoming more embodied is to direct your awareness to the sensations in the body and to build up a habit of regularly checking in with your body. Pause and explore: what do you sense? 

By shifting to relating with your body from the inside out - exploring the sensations, how it moves and the possibilities it enables, you’ll experience a personal power that comes from being in constant relation with your body. 

When you make a conscious effort to be in touch with your body you’ll also become more aware of your needs, your boundaries, how you naturally respond to different situations, and the limitations that you’ve created through habitual modes.

Our relation with our body is something to be continuously nurtured and developed – like any other relationship in life, it’s never static, and we never arrive – but that is also why we can change and focus on creating a great relationship with our own body. It impacts our lives in so many ways. 

The strength of our body lies in being fluid and being able to move and transform. 

Here’s an exercise that enables you to experience the inner flow of your body.

Try it right now:

Stand up.
Close your eyes.
Begin shaking your whole body.
Shake all parts; legs, hips, buttocks, belly, chest, shoulders, arms, head, feet and hands.
Don’t stop, just keep shaking for a couple of minutes.
Keep breathing as you do this and let the body be soft and relaxed - you’re not shaking strenuously that will only create more tension. 
Keep your eyes closed.
Come into stillness standing.
Notice all the sensations inside of you – the vibration and aliveness.
How do you feel?

This is one of the simplest ways to get in contact with the flow inside of you. It’s also a highly effective way to release tension, to reboot yourself, to energize the body, and to help the body regain aliveness. 

If you tried it out, I’d love to hear what you experienced. ... Just let me know in the comments below.


If you found this whole exploration around your relation to the body interesting we'll dive deeper into how to cultivate a healthy relationship in the Stillness & Sensuality online course starting in January 2019.