How often are you in your head, and can you, instead, reside in your heart or gut, or even your feet? Embodiment, in its simplest sense, is being present and ‘in’ the sensations of the body on a moment-by-moment basis. Another simple definition I recently heard is “living life informed through the sense-experience of the body.”
Most of us, unfortunately, are foreign to this idea and we are in our heads quite a lot. We are thinkers and doers and overachievers (me included), but learning to drop into the body actually provides us with more information, more choice, a fuller life, and gives the brain a much needed break.
Often we are participating in life but not fully participating. Have you driven somewhere and realized that when you got to your destination, you couldn’t recall the drive? Or been in conversation but didn’t hear what the other person said? Were you thinking about what you’d say next? What about being somewhere and simply wishing you were someplace else? All of these situations point to a disembodied state. Head is primary. Body is someplace else entirely.
Practicing mindfulness is one solution; practicing embodiment gives depth and richness to mindfulness.
Depression and anxiety are head-space ailments. Though they both exist in the body as well, much of anxiety and depression are about conditioning and living in thoughts of the past (depression) and future (anxiety). They are also very real experiences that I am in no way diminishing. Because the mind and body are not separate, the body feels these sensations as well, and interestingly you can have combinations of body-mind experiences: (depressed mind/anxious body, anxious mind/depressed body, etc.)
While I’m no psychotherapist, I am a yoga educator who has used yoga for therapeutic purposes and I’ve been studying these concepts for the past twenty years. (Important disclaimer: please seek medical help if you need it. This post is no substitute.) I have done psychotherapy, yoga therapy, Jungian analysis and neurofeedback for my anxiety. All helped and gave me clearer insight into the root cause. That help was the impetus to determine other natural remedies (that are helping too!) Please also read on to learn more about how embodied writing can be a great compliment to any other treatment you’re undergoing.
What is Embodied Writing/Journaling?
Embodied writing is exactly what you might expect: writing from a felt sense in the body. As a writer, I know that being too in my head hinders the writing process. Great writers will tell you that there is always a shitty first draft, that there has to be. Writing is about getting words on the page, no matter what those words are. It’s a brain dump, but it’s more than that. It’s a body release too. Our minds may process our emotions but our body feels them. When we are writing from the body, we are writing from our larger self. We are writing from a natural, whole space within us.
Journaling is an excellent tool that lends itself well to embodied writing. When we journal, we are typically writing about our human experience. We are writing about the content of our lives. We are writing about our innermost feelings. We are writing about ourselves––and we are a lot more than the brain says we are. We are whole, living, breathing, feeling, loving, raging, human beings. We pour ourselves out onto the page in order to feel better, to understand, to make sense of the nonsense.
An Embodied Writing Exercise
- Sit quiet. Perhaps play some calming instrumental music if it soothes you.
- Begin by noticing your body’s shape on the chair/support. Can you take attention to your feet on the floor? Your butt on the seat? The shape of your back? The feel of your shoulders––are they tense? Rounded forward? Relax. Is there tension in your jaw? You might be surprised how often you hold it here. What about your forehead?
- Breathe slowly and deeply into the belly, equal inhales and exhales … 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 … 1 – 2 – 3 – 4.
- Will yourself to stay in this state, breathing, noticing moment by moment how you feel.
- Begin to write, freeform writing, whatever comes to mind––or body. You can write about your bodily sensations if it helps you tap into them more fully, but the point is that you keep writing as you pay attention to your body. This is embodied writing.
- Stay for five to fifteen minutes, constantly writing. Don’t read it or stop. Just keep writing.
- At the end of your session, continue to check in with yourself. How do you feel now? Better? Worse? Neutral? Instead of going to the head, stay with the sensations of the body. What does it have to say? You can write about it too.
There are numerous studies and theories about embodiment, but ultimately its up to us to decide what it means––for us, and it’s up to us to decide how we feel in any given moment. Embodiment is a tool of exploration. Yogi Sage Patanjali is quoted as saying “yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice.” The same is true of embodiment.