Updated: Aug 17, 2021
By Sabine Grunwald
Ah, what a delight. I just finished a guided body scan (http://mindfulnesshamilton.ca/meditation-scripts) á la Jon Kabat-Zinn. My body feels relaxed and warm. The spine is resting peacefully on my yoga mat and my body is sinking into the ground. This moment could not be better. Joy emanates from every fiber of my bones, and cells are vibrating in sync with the vibrations of the universe. Was I dreaming? or lost in la la land? Not really, I was fully awake and mindfully focused on scanning parts of my #body. My experience was direct, I perceived the release of tension in my belly, the muscles in my calves were loosening up and the tight grip in my lower back was suddenly gone. I cannot really remember any thoughts arising during the body scan because ‘I was my body’, rather than ‘I have a body’ or ‘I felt my body’. Conceptualization that would have separated me from the experience, dropped from my mind. There was only pure awareness. My embodied experience was larger than my physical body. This subtle shift in my experience was significant in that I did not feel separate from my yoga mat and the floor in the living room or my cat sleeping close by. I was in a state of complete embodiment – at least for a moment where nothing else mattered. And yeah, it felt good. Hmmmm, honestly – it was sweet and graceful, simply a delight.
#Embodiment – What’s it like to be embodied?
Let’s take a moment here and look more deeply at embodiment. When was the last time you felt fully embodied? Think of this embodied experience from the inside-out, outside-in, and sideways. Feel into the #embodied state. What felt sense emanated from the experience? Are you fully embodied in this very moment? What sensations do you feel – right now in your #body? Try to name them. What is the texture, structure (density) and color of these perceptions? These embodied experiences anchor us, provide grounding, security and safety. The strange thing is that if we completely embody an experience, even one that we would commonly label as negative such as fear (e.g., fear of not meeting expectations in a project at work or in a partnership), we are not overwhelmed by it, we do not run away from it or are paralyzed by it. On the contrary, fear that is fully embodied and owned dissolves into nothingness. But many times our ego in its aggrandized, #disembodied state tells us otherwise. We may ignore other’s needs, disregard that we are in need of self-care and so we “muscle through” a situation, or deny ourselves permission to take 10 minutes off and meditate.
How to Practice Embodiment
Rick Hanson (2013), an internationally well-known psychologist, provides the following practices to move us – From Idea to Embodied Experience in his book “Hardwiring Happiness (p. 92)”.
Be aware of your #body as well as the good fact.
Soften and open your mind and body, with a sense of receiving the fact.
Think about aspects of the good fact that naturally encourage positive emotions, sensations, desires and actions.
Be kind toward yourself—like an inner voice saying, “Go ahead, this is real, it’s true, it’s all right to feel good about it.”
Imagine that this good fact is in the life of a friend. What experience would you wish for him or her? Could you wish this same experience for yourself?
Somatic Meditation practices allow us to connect with the inherent, self-existing wakefulness that is already present within the body itself (Dharma Ocean, 2016). Somatic Meditation develops a meditative consciousness that is accessed through the feelings, sensations, somatic intuition, and felt sense of the body itself. We are simply tuning into the basic awareness of the body. The practice of Somatic Meditation, as found in the more esoteric traditions of Asia and especially in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism and in spiritual Taoism, provides the means and methods necessary for making this journey to spiritual embodiment. You can learn more about somatic meditation at Dharma Ocean (2016).
Within and Beyond our Physical Body
In #somatic psychology (body-mind psychotherapy) embodiment is a key concept. The primary principle of embodiment holds that all experience registers in the soma (i.e., the #body), brain and mind. Fogel (2013) points out that embodied self-awareness is the ability to pay attention to ourselves, to feel our sensations, emotions, and movement, in the present moment, without the mediating influence of judgmental thoughts. He says that embodied self-awareness involves interoception (i.e., sensing our breathing, arousal, pain, fatigue, feelings, and the like), the body schema (an awareness of the movement and coordination between different parts of the body and between our body and the environment and others), and exploring the intricacies of our emotions in relation to others and the world. This embodied self-awareness involves being in the subjective emotional present, being able to actually feel one’s sadness or pain, which differs from conceptual self-awareness which is engagement in a thought process (Fogel, 2013).
Embodiment in spiritual and Wisdom traditions encompass not only the physical (personal) body, but also the interpersonal and the cosmic body (Ray, 2014). In the Buddhist tradition different bodies are recognized including gross and #subtle energetic ones: the nirmanakaya (conditioned body of flesh and blood), sambhogakaya (body of joy; perpetual change and transformation of death and birth; the evermoving energy), and the dharmakaya (body of ultimate reality; unbounded openness and #emptiness) (Ray, 2004). Recently, somatic learning has rediscovered ancient truths that are several thousand years old and alive to this day in #Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism, indigenous traditions, and others. According to Kaparo (2012) somatic learning provides embodied #participation in life of ‘who we really are’. Here, the body is not viewed simply as an object, but as the embodiment of spaciousness, the actual blooming of life in the here and now (Kaparo, 2012). Prendergast (2015) brings it home. He says that (p. 181) “the more clearly we sense that our body is an expression of pure awareness, the more deeply we sense this of the world. There is a direct correspondence: as we are with our body, so we are with the world.”
Dharma Ocean (2016). What is somatic meditation? Available at: http://www.dharmaocean.org/meditation/somatic-meditation/.
Fogel A. (2013). Body sense – the science and practice of embodied self-awareness. W.W. Norton Publisher.
Hanson R. (2013). Hardwiring happiness: the new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence. Harmony Publ. [see also” http://www.rickhanson.net/idea-embodied-experience/].
Kaparo R.F (2012). Awakening somatic intelligence: the art and practice of embodied mindfulness. North Atlantic Books.
Prendergast J.J. (2015). In touch – how to tune in to the inner guidance of your body and trust yourself. Sounds Truth.
Ray R.A. (2004). Three in one: a Buddhist trinity. Lion’s Roar, Sept. 1, 2004. Available at: http://www.lionsroar.com/three-in-one-a-buddhist-trinity/
Ray R.A. (2014). Touching enlightenment: finding realization in the body. 1st edition. Sounds True.