Becoming More Human
November 19, 2018 (edited Dec 6, 2018)
Below is an excerpt from a longer piece I published on my blog this week in which I share research and the origins of the concepts, "embodiment" and "somatic." Click here to go right to the full piece. Or, read the shorter version below!
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For the last 20 years I have been devoted to conscious embodiment practice. By which I mean, exploring with both my body and mindful awareness toward psycho-spiritual and personal development, emotional regulation, physical healing, and ultimately wholeness. I can trace the origins of this path in two ways. For one, I have always been fascinated with having a physical body and expressing through its form. I danced right out of the womb and never stopped.
What ignited a truly conscious embodiment path was a sacred wound, the sudden and tragic death of my first love and long time friend at age 21. This was a heartbreak too unfathomable to fit into any map of understanding that I possessed so I embarked on a quest to meet the mysteries of life and death. It would not be an understatement to say that the resources I have developed through somatic practices have saved my life on numerous occasions. While I do mean this in a literal sense, I also mean it in a much larger metaphorical sense. Learning to live more fully in my body is the gift of meeting life fully. And falling in love with living both an incredibly joyful and deeply painful human experience. The regular, steady rhythm of practice grounds me in the center of the highs and lows.
Recently I had two significant invitations to reflect on this path. In graduate school, I took a Leadership Embodiment Practices course. This offered the opportunity to bring an academic lens to both my personal practice and my work as a somatic practitioner (which you know I loved!) while also a deepening into these practices. .
I also facilitated a weekend retreat, Undomesticated, which was the most explicitly erotic, emergent and experiential group container that I have facilitated professionally. One of my biggest take-aways from that weekend was that it was also probably the safest container I have ever held. This had me reflecting not only on my learning through my personal path of embodiment coupled with 20 years of teaching experience, but also on all of the resources that the participants that attended the retreat had developed along their embodiment journeys.
As I reflected more on the meaning of the words somatic and embodiment, in both my passion for these paths and how they inform my work, I found myself in a labyrinth. I realized that while I speak these terms from an intrinsic bodily sense of them, I did not have a strong, clearly differentiated definition for these terms. I wanted to know their origin stories, what I really meant when I used them and, particularly, to have a very clear way of speaking about them to anyone. So here is what I discovered and where I arrived after a relatively short research rabbit hole on these bodies of work. (Read the full piece including the background research here).
Embodiment encompasses full being awareness, learning, development, and change. And this is what I mean when I refer to embodiment in relation to my work. Learning a physical practice with specific forms like yoga may be an embodiment practice as well as learning an instrument or how to stand more confidently while giving a presentation.
When I use the term somatic in relation to my work I am describing the nature of sensing and perceiving from the body—including the nervous system. Some examples of somatic practice might be breathwork, mindful free-form movement or noticing sensation.
Both somatic and embodiment practices are tools for resourcing and regulation. Both also develop embodied consciousness and wholeness by exploring the relationship of differentiated parts and inviting their dance of communion. I am playing with somatics and embodiment through the image of yin and yang in that they both hold elements of one another.
Embodiment practice can be engaged in a way that attempts to maintain the status quo of who we are by focusing on the relief of feeling better or achieving a goal. Or embodiment practice can be transformative, revealing more of our true essence through uncovering the unconscious impulses that came from early emotional development and predominant familial and cultural narratives. When embodiment practice supports us to disrupt our habits and patterns, we begin to have more choice within our actions, behaviors and within our lives. As we discover the instinctual and wild human animal of our body, we awaken to our profound relationship within nature. Through embodiment we discover that we are much more than our thoughts and attune to phenomena that are beyond our mental capacities. We can re-inhabit wonder, play, imagination, curiosity and surrender our rational minds to the great mystery of it all. As we realize the complexity that lies within our embodiment, we awaken to the interrelatedness of all things, and find ourselves humbled by our unique place in this web of life.
What I have learned on the path of embodiment is that it is ever-unfolding and evolving. There are always more revelations, more heights, depths, nuance, layers, and maps for sense making—especially as new science and ancient spiritual practices continue to inform one another and even merge. There is nowhere to get. Embodiment doesn’t make life easier, it allows us to feel more of everything—there is no golden carrot (or esoteric secret). However, I do believe that inhabiting our bodies more fully might make life more meaningful and further actualize what it really means to be human.
Are you a somatic and/or embodiment practitioner? I would love to hear the ways in which you make sense of and practice these concepts. Leave your comments on the blog here.