Embodiment

“True meditation is about being fully present with everything that is–including discomfort and challenges. It is not an escape from life.” ~ Craig Hamilton

The same can be said for embodiment. When we get lost in a good book, movie, or binge watching a show we can get so immersed in the world of the fiction that we sometimes forget we even have a body.  When we are working on a project or need to solve a problem by a deadline, we can be so involved that we forget that we can ignore our need to sleep, eat, or move.  When we are worried about the future, we can be uncomfortable even in the most comfortable place.  When we get on Facebook, hours can pass on a Sunday without us so much as noticing.  This quality of transcending, being disconnected and/or unaware of your body is disembodiment.

I don’t think it is necessarily bad or good.  Depending on the quality of the experience, this capacity to ignore the immediacy of our body can be enjoyable or miserable, it can be beneficial or harmful, a prison or an escape.  While disembodiment is not, by itself negative or positive, spending too much time in a disembodied state tends to make it more difficult for us to appreciate the benefits of embodiment — an awareness of the body as it is at this moment.

We can perhaps most appreciate embodiment when we relax into a hot tub, relish a home cooked meal, or embrace a loved one or friend.  When we have no other thoughts than how it feels to be there at that moment, in our bodies, without fear that it will go away or projecting into the past or future, we can see how wonderful it can be to be present in our own bodies.  But even when we aren’t experiencing bodily comfort or pleasure, paying attention to how the body feels can be wholesome, healthy, and calming.  In daily life, simple activities like walking or doing the dishes can be a great alternative to the high stimulation of work and play.

To some extent, the simplicity of embodiment can even be a benefit when we are suffering or our body is feeling discomfort or pain.  While disembodiment is perhaps all we can do to handle situations of extreme pain, one of the ironies of the human mind is that we can actually intensify our own suffering by ruminating on our pain rather than merely experiencing it.  We tend to judge our pain, think about it, worry about whether it will go away, and otherwise give it all kinds of negative thought that actually exacerbates our experience of suffering, mentally, emotionally, or physically.  While it is easier said than done, when we become comfortable simply feeling the body without judgment or additional thought, we can lesson our suffering or even find some contentment when we are in pain.  Though I am certainly a beginner when it comes to embodying this way, I have found that there are moments when I can feel the internal drama of pain dissipating slightly when I am present with it in meditation, yoga or tai chi.

In addition to those practices, one technique to appreciate and practice embodiment is by doing a body scan.  To do a body scan, bring your attention to each part of your body, lingering on each part for a moment and noticing how it feels and accepting it whether it is feeling good, bad, or neutral (or not feeling anything noticeable at all).  You can begin at any part of the body, but I like to begin by noticing the feet, moving up to the ankles, the shins and calves, and so on, up the legs to the torso, down the arms and hands, then going up the neck and to the skull.  Spend time appreciating the details of each region — temperature, pressure, and any other salient feelings — and then move on.  This can be done while sitting in a chair, standing in line someplace, or lying in bed before sleeping at night.  Check in with how you feel before and afterward, you might notice a positive shift even after 5-10 minutes.  It’s rarely profound and earth shaking, but, in my experience, I usually feel better afterward than I did before, especially if I was feeling stressed out beforehand.

2 thoughts on “Embodiment

  1. Thank you for lending your eloquence to this blog topic. It reminds me of the Thich Nhat Hanh quote “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

    Do you think this embodiment and body scans lends itself to yoga moves that require balance or inversions? Perhaps the body scan helps to focus on your grounding leg in a pose for example…

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    1. Thank you for saying so 🙂 I think doing a body scan in most postures that you hold for an extended period would yield insights. Balance poses like Vrksasana (Tree), would be very supportive for feeling the foot that’s on the ground, but it could also help you feel the difference between that and the feeling of the foot pressing into the leg that you are standing on, or into the feeling of the collar bone broadening, and so on. I honestly can’t say I’ve done this too often in a systematic way, so I’m going to have to try it tonight! Thanks for the comment!

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