On and off, I have been writing a small practice book on embodiment, which seems years in the making. This little book will offer in written form some of the synthesis practices that I have been working with and teaching over the years. These practices draw from Yoga, Somatic and Integrated Movement, Embodiment, and Healing practices, particularly for women, or for those who want to connect more to deeply to the feminine aspects of their nature.
Here is a little excerpt to enjoy, based on my definition and understanding of embodiment.
The Nature of Embodiment
"Matter and the elements become sacred when they reflect the presence of the spirit or consciousness. This we observe in the natural world. Hence, matter has a certain neutrality and receptivity. We can energize it either with the sacred or the profane, knowledge or ignorance. " Dr. David Frawley
I have been thinking a great deal about the nature of embodiment lately, and what this actually is. I see the human body as a vehicle, a great cosmic instrument, to transmit the resonance of the forces that move through us. If we were truly able to experience the body as a conduit for the forces of energy, then we would have access to a whole other realm of experience. This realm is described as multi-layered, one where our cellular matter is vibrating and alive with the wave like undulations of energy that are ever moving through us like tiny rivers and streams. Through this experience one could sense and feel that we are a part of an intricate matrix of life, and that our human form carries and directs these forces through a subtle web of inner pathways that connect directly into the outer world, and infinitely out into space. Then we could truly begin to have an embodied experience of the reality of the universe as an ever pulsing, breathing, great and epic organism that we are delicately interconnected to.
There are probably as many definitions of embodiment as there are human beings in this world. Each person creates his or her own sense of it, and what it might be. Expanding upon my definition above from a less poetic point of view, I believe that the phenomena of embodiment is the experience of the fullness of the layers of the physical and subtle bodies as a unified entity or whole. And beyond this, I see the experience of embodiment as the opening up of these inner pathways through the subtle bodies so that the energy streaming through us moves more freely, and is less obstructed by the blocks of ones own body-mind. Because my practice is grounded in Yogic Philosophy and Cosmology, I would also state it in this way: The phenomena of embodiment is the experience of the natural and unimpeded energy or Prana flowing through the Nadi channels, and the experience of the Five Body Sheaths or Koshas as an integrated sentient whole being, living in relationship to the external environment.
Most of us are living lives in which we are completely or partially disconnected from the experience of our physical bodies. Our bodies carry an enormous amount of cultural, religious and ancestral history and weight. Religions have often told us that the experience of our bodies is tainted, dirty, unholy or wildly profane. The experience of our bodies can be charged this way. But, the experience can also be one of sacredness, and a profound way of perceiving the movement of energy and spirit through the material world, and, the material world is the world that we live in. How do we experience the presence of energy and spirit fully within our earthly lives, if we are not fully within our bodies?
Because we are limited in our perceptions, we have a difficult time perceiving these subtler bodies, and perceiving the actuality of their presence. But, we know it when we feel it. We experience embodied awareness in the presence of a great spiritual teacher. We also can experience it through the work of a great healer, or in varying degrees, when witnessing a great performing artist (dance, theater, music, performance). The form and the formless become one, the visible and the invisible merge. A human being could walk into a room or on stage and stand, and while seemingly doing nothing, we could experience the innate power of their presence. Going back to, and expanding upon my definition, I would say it is because they have opened the pathways through their physical form, and allowed the energy surrounding us all, swimming through us all, to mix, mingle and nourish their own physical being. They have momentarily, or more permanently, allowed that energy to move freely. Surrendering and trusting the wisdom and flow of that movement, or the intrinsic intelligence of Prana, they become one with the matrix of life. Joseph Campbell would define this as a peak experience, an event where one is fully alive and awake in the body and experiencing the harmony, bliss, and expanse of their own being.
I see the experience of embodiment as also a claiming of ones own energetic strata and matrix, and a calling of that energy home into the physical form. It is a common belief by many shamanistic practitioners around the world that we as human beings can block, hide, or loose parts of our subtle energy body or self. This happens through the experience of emotional, physical or psychic trauma in ones life, which we all have gone through. There are many healing practices around bringing those lost or buried parts of the self back into the physical form to re-unite with the layers of one’s being. We do not have to be fully conscious that we have done this to have an experience with it. But in order to have an all embracing sense of oneself, it is necessary to claim all parts of the self in the physical form.
In order to cultivate such embodied experiences, we must also begin the process of unpacking the way that we fundamentally think about, and experience the human body, and our selves. This process opens up the deep layers of history and the shadow side of human nature, buried within our physicality. We must begin to shift the ground of reality and paradigm upon which we base the experience of human-ness and the physical form. We must begin to stop treating the body as an object or machine, and cease thinking about the body as something to conquer and dominate, much like the peoples and lands and countries that the western world has come to conquer and dominate. In transforming the foundations of our perceptions, we can begin to energize the body with the sacred rather then the profane, and begin the work of becoming deeply and profoundly sensitive.
We must become intimately familiar with the terrain of our inner body landscape, and cultivate the courage necessary to experience the energies that are locked, buried, and hidden within the tissues. In experiencing these energies, we can cultivate a deep well of empathy for ourselves, and others, and become well acquainted with the practice of kinesthetic sensitivity and an inner listening. In becoming more nuanced in our sensory experience, we can begin to separate out sensory and sensual experience from erotic or sexual experience. Though these experiences are related, they are not exclusive. We live in a culture where there is so much terror, repression, darkness and violence around the human body. Sexuality has come to dominate the landscape of sensual experience, and has shut us down from perceiving much of the sensorial realm without its veil.
We are not normally trained to do any of this, least of all to be sensitive, and to feel deeply. We are not usually trained as children to honor these qualities, and cultivate them within our bodily experience as tools towards greater perception and understanding. These qualities are not actually valued within our culture. They are often seen as weak, overly feminine, will-less, goal-less, and therefore ultimately not very useful. How does the cultivation of a deep sensitivity within translate to anything measurable in the physical world?
This is not surprising given the state of imbalance between men and women within our culture and world today. This imbalance speaks to an underlying root imbalance, which is now very widely referenced. In the Yogic cosmology, we refer to these energetic forces as Shiva (masculine, solar, seer, active, outer, left-brain, logical, linear), and Shakti (feminine, lunar, seeing, inner, flow, right-brain, intuitive, cyclical).
Shiva and Shakti are much more then just masculine and feminine. To understand them is to be one with the mystery of the universe itself, and so I fall woefully short in my explanation as my own understanding is limited, and any definitions that I might provide only point towards the reality of the experience of Shiva/Shakti. But we can think about these as pairs of opposites that are truly one, which exist along a continuum as the play of this world. The one becomes two, then the two become three, and the three become many. These are cosmic principles that express forces of nature and their intrinsic truths through an eternal dharma or order. In Yoga, Shiva and Shakti are one. Shakti is the creative power and movement behind all things, and Shiva is the awareness of that movement. Shakti is the pulsating formlessness, Shiva is the form. Shakti is the great mother, Shiva is the divine father. The whole purpose and function of all Yoga is the unification of these prime forces within the body temple, and through their beloved communion, to experience the oneness behind all names and forms.
So it goes without saying that our bodies, and the way in which we inhabit the body, reflects this great divide and imbalance. Part of the goal of experiential, somatic, and embodiment movement practices is not to produce anything tangible, but to have an experience of being deeply alive, and to be inside of that experience. One could even describe these practices as the sensitization towards the experience of the flow of Shakti pulsing through the matrix of one's body. How can our culture, with its goal oriented, linear, left brain dominated logical thinking bias- possibly begin to reconcile the importance of these subtler and more intuitive experiential embodiment practices? It really cannot.
What differentiates these somatic and embodiment practices from more mainstream physical practices are its general focus on developing sensory awareness and sensitivity while widening ones range of perception. These practices are inclusive of explorations of the different systems and corresponding psychic states of the body, including the circulatory and fluid systems, the glandular system, as well as the more widely focused upon musculoskeletal system. I believe it is no mistake that there is such a focus particularly upon experiencing and developing the muscles of the body in western culture, as this system is intrinsically tied to ones sense of vitality, will, and form. Muscles have become tangible evidence of ones achievement, which is wonderful to behold. But this is also only one system and experience of the body, and it, not surprisingly, resides in the more solar or masculine realm.
What is it to experience the softness and fluidity of the inner body? What is it to experience the somatic state of surrender, rather then of willfulness? What is it to amplify ones sensory experience, and widen ones range, so that what we are experiencing somatically is more like a million colored rainbow, rather then shades of only black and white? What is it to let go, surrender, and yet stay awake and present to the flow of ones full range of kinesthetic and energetic experience?
Most people in this day and age, if given the opportunity to surrender, will go unconscious, and perhaps fall asleep. This can be an incredible experience, especially if one is working with lucid dream practices. Opening to the imaginal dream realm is a doorway into the other worlds, and this is the field and domain of healers and shamans. But what is it to experience surrender, to widen ones range of sensory phenomena, and to stay awake, in the earthly world?
These embodiment practices go further then to intrinsically link somatic experiences with the terrain of the mental, emotional and energetic bodies, widening the range of ones perceptual awareness into the subtler and invisible fields. This can happen through the use of imagery, dreams, the experience of poetic language, and sound. All of these non-linear, intuitive methods enhance and improve ones ability to be, practice, and live in a more embodied way.
If we want to cultivate the “experience of being alive”, we must be willing to go into that experience. And as we live here, on this planet, on this earth, we must go into these experiences with our bodies more fully awake, and resonating as the profound instruments that they are born to be. These beautiful bodies are a cosmic gift of nature, capable of perceiving phenomena well beyond what we commonly understand through the lens of the five senses. I believe what prevents us from experiencing such phenomena is in part the inability to allow ourselves to sense deeply inside of the body, resulting in a general experience of numbness and profound lack of sensitivity, which translates into our relationship to the outer world.
These somatic and embodiment practices can help us open into this deep feeling and sensitivity, and assist us to expand into the profound and mystical experience of embodied presence. These practices also ask us to expand upon the more archetypally feminine qualities of our nature. I am not saying that these practices are only feminine or lunar, but that what is lacking culturally in our bodily experiencing are these aspects of our nature and being. These practices ask us to cultivate receptivity, the art of deep listening, intuitive and right-brained thinking, and compassion, and to feel these as somatic states and realities within the body. These practices also ultimately ask us to be very courageous, as we open ourselves to the resonance of our own inner being, and the energies that move within. Unlocking this can be a process of deep release, and will involve some amount of emotional or psychological suffering, as any transformation does. As we let go of our own personal as well as ancestral psychic holding patterns stored deep within the physical form, this is inevitable. But it is these holding patterns that keep us locked into particular ways of being, and our experience of the phenomenal world. Once we are willing to let go of some of our limited perceptions, and meet the experience of the physical form in a more expansive and gentler way, the experience of the body and the physical world that we live in will transform into love. Using the instrument of the body as the tool for expanded perception and awareness, we can begin to have a fuller experience of embodied presence and the love that pulses through us, the power of human gentleness, and the profound beauty and nature of the mystery of life.