Back Into The Body

Jan 24, 2024

The body is a kaleidoscope of information. It’s an exquisite way to know about the world and ourselves. And yet, we’ve been indoctrinated to prioritize thinking over feeling and to focus outward towards others instead of inward towards ourselves for guidance.

Consider the ways our culture has distorted our relationship with our own body.

Going to the doctor is like taking your car into the mechanic. We hand the body over to a medical professional, “the expert.” Then it’s another expert, the psychologist, who addresses the driver of this vehicle. The mind and body are dramatically separated by two unrelated fields. Western science has dissected the two. This is one of many ways we’re left feeling dis-empowered.

We also live in a culture where pornography is consumed regularly by a third of the population but breastfeeding in public is considered indecent, even taboo. Further confusing how we live in and with our body.

Diet culture also distorts our relationship to our body. This multi-billion-dollar industry profits from the destructive message that all bodies should be a certain size and shape. It has ingrained in us a dissatisfaction with what is, And, erroneously equates weight with health when weight is only one of many health indicators.

And then there’s trauma. The trust we had with our body was broken. It’s meant to keep us safe but in some way this safety mechanism was overridden. It could have been a natural disaster, an accident, or it could have been acute or chronic abuse.  

All of this can lead to disembodiment and disassociation. It keeps us from living in and loving our bodies.

It’s even been codified in literature. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), often quotes a line about a character in one of the short stories from Dubliners by James Joyce to make this point. “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”

In all these ways, we’ve been cut off from an incredible source of wisdom.

The body isn’t a thing. It’s a process. Embodiment is a process of experiencing an awareness of and connection to the physical body. I like to think of it as letting my mind fully inhabit my body. I’m there for it. I’m aware of it. I’m listening and responding to it, without judgement or rejection.

This body is my vehicle. It’s the only one I get in this lifetime. It’s what allows me to write this, to taste that, to laugh and cry and feel a surge of energy when I win. Hugs, bike riding, sumptuous meals, and lovemaking - all thanks to the body. Let’s honor it! 

Significantly, the body is one of our best sources of insight and information. It’s like having your own personal expert counsel with you at all times to guide you to the best outcomes for both yourself and others.

And yet, even today, people laugh at the idea of using embodied awareness as a way to run a successful business. Sure, some business gurus are now (finally) starting to talk about a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise. But it’s easy to exercise and still hate your body. Or to exercise while completely focused elsewhere. In fact, it’s common advice to do something else with your mind (like listen to a motivational talk) while exercising. This is the opposite of embodiment.

But we get to do it differently. Oftentimes the very thing that had me feeling so awkward and out of place in life turns out to be just the thing to help me soar. Embodiment is one of them. I discovered books on traditional Yoga in my library when I was in high school. Something lit up inside me because it rang so true. Like with so much else in our culture, this too has been warped and mis-used. Let’s take it back. Let’s dive into the root of things, where the nourishment is. Embodiment is one way to do this.

Why I prioritize embodiment:

1) The body is now. The more I’m aware of body sensation, position and movement, the more I’m in the present moment. My senses, which is one way I use my body to experience the world, also help me feel fully into the now moment. I don’t want to miss this one, precious life.

2) I make better decisions. “Gut feelings” are a way the body guides us. There are a million other ways as well and the more present I am with my body, the better direction I get.

4) My body posture and position affect my mood. When I notice I’m hunched over or huddled into myself, I can shift my posture before it has too much of an effect on my mood.

5) I feel more alive when I move and feel into my body on a daily basis. There are receptors all over the body that give us input into where the body is in space. The more we move, the more input we get and the more embodied we feel. It’s like wearing your absolutely favorite cozy sweater all the time. A natural side benefit of this is greater confidence.

How about you? Where are you at in your relationship with your body? I invite you to play with embodiment. Go slow. Start where you are. Be curious and kind.

3 Simple Tools to Promote Embodiment

1) Body Scan. This is like strolling through an art museum. With a sense of curiosity and friendliness, place attention on each part of the body in turn – each eye, each finger, each organ – and notice. It could feel vacant, or buzzy or heavy or light…or something else. There’s nothing to change or fix, it’s just a way to develop a relationship with your body. Don’t you feel closer to a friend when they reveal something to you and you think, “Oh, I didn’t know that about you.” There’s a real tenderness to it. It makes us more compassionate.

2) Mindful Movement. Do what you love and do it with awareness. I love yoga, hiking and swimming. I need to be in water on a regular basis. Lakes in the summer, the bathtub in the winter. Moving in water gives me lots of delicious feedback about where my body is in space. The activity isn’t important but being present is. Running while distracted decreases embodiment. Running with awareness of the breath, the weight of the foot fall, the scene and the scents promotes embodiment. Tai Chi and Qigong are exceptional embodiment practices.

3) Notice where an emotion or thought is felt in the body. The body is a great divining tool. “Yes” is a physical sensation. “No” is another kind of physical sensation. When faced with a decision, ask the question to yourself and notice what you feel in your body. Practice often to learn the language of your body. Start with simple things like, “Toast or oatmeal for breakfast today?” before you move on to, “Is it time to leave this job?”

These tools come under the umbrella of mindfulness. The body is literally full of the mind. It’s more than a mind/body connection. The mind IS the body. This isn’t something Western culture has promoted or supported so it can feel a bit like swimming against the mainstream at times. But keep at it. Find your people. Trust yourself.

These are a few of many ways to access the body’s intelligence. Inhabit this amazing vehicle that allows you to interact with your loved ones, smell the roses and taste that rich, silky cappuccino.

And when you use body awareness as an asset in your business, it’s like having a market advantage. Mind and body together – this is rare and precious.

 

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