What is Embodiment?

dawn zentner

February 6, 2024

I’m often asked this question, and others like it.. ‘What does the term ‘embodiment’ actually mean?  ‘If I can feel my body, does that mean I am embodied?’  I’m IN my body, so am I not by default ‘embodied’?’

Yes, and….the notion of embodiment and practice of living in an embodied way, are purposeful and for most of us, require a measure of applied mindfulness.  This is particularly true here in North America where for centuries the body has been ignored, closeted and in some cases, bedamned – in part due to Descartes’ claim that the body and mind are separate and can function as completely separate entities. 

We now know the complete opposite is true – that body and mind are inherently linked in more ways than we comprehend.  Modern research is confirming what some cultures have known all along – that ‘mind’, brain and body are not and cannot be separate.  Indeed, ‘embodiment’ acknowledges the ‘mind’ as something interwoven throughout body and brain… the ‘mind’ existing ‘everywhere’ in the entire being – a holistic ‘organ’ that weaves into every other system of the body-mind.  (You may notice in a related blog, the terms soma and gnosis – Greek for body and mind respectively.)

Put another way, embodiment refers to the relationship between the entire body-mind system (the entire being that is you) and the holistic method by which the body-mind relates to the surrounding environment, circumstances and events. 

This is evidenced in the ability to experience the environment, situations, events (all of life, effectively) not just through the ability to think about it or tell a story about it but also to experience through the sensations, emotions, images and meaning that can be noticed and divulged through and with your body. 

Embodiment practices bring awareness to the body-mind system on a moment-to-moment basis through, founded in mindfulness, are more precise endeavours specifically aimed at listening to and deciphering messages of the body. 

Connecting to the physical body via movement, dance, tai chi, yoga as well as to more subtle systems of the body through practices such as mindfulness, meditation and breathwork are common in embodiment explorations.  There are also a number of therapeutic approaches that use embodiment as their foundational tenet, e.g. Somatic Experiencing developed by Dr Peter Levine – my modality of choice and subject of current certification.

As an example, by focusing on the inner experience of breath, body temperature, tingles and sensations, an individual can learn to better understand themselves in the moment, remain more aware and grounded even in more challenging circumstances. 

Over time, an individual can understand their system so well that they can notice an emotional state arising before actually going into said state, make modifications as needed to stay out of less desirable states and into more desirable ones and/or make these adjustments relatively quickly, thereby truly becoming master of themselves and their environment.

It is a truly fascinating, engaging process to witness the innate wisdom of the body-mind system, its intricacies and brilliance in managing information that at times, the cognitive, thinking mind cannot make sense of.  As much as each person is unique, so is the organization of their body-mind system and the journey of becoming more embodied is very much an experiential one to be undertaken with patience, curiosity and compassion.

The Journal


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