What is embodiment, really? Can it be explained? We asked 20 yogis and dancers from around the world.
By Peter Appel
If you’ve been to a yoga or dancing class, you’ve probably heard the word embodiment. Or the expression “being in your body”.
But what is it, really?
Has anyone been able to explain it to you in an understandable way?
If you’re struggling with the meaning, you’re not alone. Embodiment is one of those mystical words that are really hard to get a grip on.
Some teachers say it cannot even be explained.
And still it’s so widely used.
So what is it, really?
We asked 20 yogis and dancers from all over the world. And here is what they are saying.
Raquel Minako Kusunoki and Victor Van Kooten
For me, embodiment is integration and union. When I encourage my students to embody something, I encourage them to experience their body, soul, and thoughts as parts of themselves, affecting each other through an intimate network.
For me, to live in the body means to love myself as I am, the pleasure to experience the world through the body and to accept and embrace the emotions that come from the meetings this body has with other bodies. And I believe it is possible to live in peace if I live in the body, but still knowing through the body that I am much more than it. Beautiful complex aspect of our existence!
Raquel Minako Kusunoki (Brazil, Israel) is a dancer, teacher of Contact improvisation, Somatics and Theta healing, body therapist, pedagogue and facilitator of women’s circles.
Yoga is the reconnection with your feelings of being in your body. And yet yoga is also the unbending force that you can call detachment: The withdrawal of the senses from the dependence of the environment in order to find the life energy which is beyond your personal body-mind.
Victor Van Kooten (Netherlands, Greece), is an artist and yoga teacher. He was born on January 17, 1940, in Breda, Holland, at the outbreak of World War II. At the age of 26, he started doing yoga. He studied under BKS Iyengar until 1983, when he formed a teaching duo with Angela Farmer. Together they changed their approach to teaching yoga as they traveled around the world.
Karin Björkegren Jones. Photo: Anneli Hildonen
Embodiment is an experience that comes when you do yoga.
At the end of my Kegel workshops, I use to ask people to tip toe around the room. When you’re walking on your toes, you automatically straighten your posture to keep the balance. You’re also lifting the muscles in the perineal floor.
When we straighten ourselves, we inhabit our bodies. I use to say that you’re allowed to be in your body, to stretch it, to puff yourselves up, to like yourself. To shine is never at the expense of someone else. We all can shine.
The next step is to start to listen to your body. Unfortunately, we overvalue our thoughts and seldom listen to the body when it tries to tell us that it is tired, needs rest, has pain and so on. In the West, we’re trained to live in stress, but we need to learn how to settle in our bodies, to not accomplish so much every day, and, above all, to take the body’s signals for real.
Karin Björkegren Jones (Sweden) is an author, blogger, journalist and yoga teacher. Since 2001, her work has mainly focused on yoga from a feministic perspective with a special emphasis on yoga for health and a positive body image. In 2012, Karin was diagnosed with breast cancer which made her go even deeper into yoga, nutrition and the meaning of life. In 2013, she was rewarded for her work supporting other cancer sufferers. Her book Yoga for woman have been published in English.
Helen Edwards Lutsch and Will Johnson
Embodiment means an experience of being fully aware of the inside of your body and of its relation to its immediate environment. It is being able to mentally travel within your body from top to toe or toe to top being at the same time conscious of how it feels on the inside, including becoming aware of any feelings of tension or pain or relative coldness as well as becoming conscious of those parts which are relaxed and warm. Being aware of its relation to its environment includes feeling, being aware of, the support of the ground as well as being aware of one’s surroundings and what feelings they might cause within you, particularly to your breathing and feelings in your upper abdomen.
Helen Edwards Lutsch (USA, Sweden) is a Medical doctor and a specialist in Anesthesia and Intensive Care, Family Medicine and rehabilitation of patients/clients with chronic pain and psychosomatic problems. She is also a certified riding therapist and practitioner of mind-body therapy.
For me, embodiment is the willingness, the ability, and the courage to shift the lost-in-thought consciousness, out-of-touch-with body-consciousness, to another consciousness, to the one that is awakened, and surrendering to the body’s very palpable physical sensations and energies, to feel the whole of the body as a shaft of feeling presence. And when we do that, watch what happens to consciousness: It is like the pulling of the plug of the internal monolog of the mind. And then the opening to this natural dimension! It’s been here all the time. It’s here all the time, but we’ve been so occluded by these veils of thought that have made us unable to feel it.
Will Johnson (Canada) is the founder and director of the Institute for Embodiment Training, which combines Western somatic psychotherapy with Eastern meditation practices. He is the author of several books, including Breathing through the Whole Body, The Posture of Meditation, and The Spiritual Practices of Rumi. He lives in British Columbia.
It feels like it shouldn’t be allowed, it feels so good! But when you first start doing yoga, there’s a lot of effort needed in the body that’s not needed. You practice with psychology – I try hard, it got to be right, it has to look like this – and it’s so tight, mentally it is so tight, physically it is so tight.
But what is available is just to drink the nectar, to have like honey in your veins, like beautiful beauty, and you can access that. Through yoga you access it through the body, in art, the artist accesses it through painting, and maybe the marathon runner accesses it through running. But for me, as a yoga practitioner, I access that depth in life through the movement of form, through the movement of posture, through asana.
And through asana, I start to uncover the depths of myself. Which is a subtle sensitivity into the feedback of the body, so I can be more clear about what the body is saying, and how to get out of the way of flow. When I’m not sensing that, I’m holding disharmony, unaware that it is disharmony.
You learn to hold the muscle and the tissue in a way that facilitates the optimum. The system knows what to do itself. My responsibility is to give myself the best and to get out of the way. To be quiet, to feel, to sensitize, and then allow myself to be guided into the inner alignment.
What happens is that the energies of the body start to flow well. And in the harmony of how they flow, the mind becomes quiet. When the mind becomes quiet, it has a deeper capacity to go in. When it goes in, its attention is drawn away from the confusion on the mental level and it becomes aware of something much more subtle inside itself. The consequence of that recognition is bliss.
Rowan Cobelli (UK) is a yoga and meditation teacher, dance facilitator and teacher of yoga teachers. His training has come through the Integral School with Swami Satchidananda. Practicing for 18 years and teaching full time for 12, he is now offering yoga from a variety of perspectives. He is also one of the organizers of the yearly Colourfest festival in Dorset, UK.
Swami Liz Padmadevi and Lydia Hikari Marolda
For me, embodiment is a feeling of being lived by love instead of fear. It is to be joyful, natural and spontaneous. To be grounded with your feet deep in the earth. To freely breathe. To live with a clear mind, observing your emotions and allowing them in an intelligent way. To live with passion and an open heart filled with empathy for others.
When I’m embodied I become more observant and realize that I’m even more than the body, the senses, the feeling, the mind. I can live in the unity of my two hemispheres, my consciousness and unconsciousness, the unity of my body, soul, spirit. And this happens when I am one with a sunset, one with my partner, one with my enemy, one with an emotion, one with all.
Swami Liz Padmadevi (Mexico, Spain) is a Mexican shaman living Spain. She is offering training in Maha Shamanism, Chi kung, Tantra, and Transpersonal Therapy, among others. “The main goal of my work is to help people generate more love, freedom, brightness and greater opening towards the Grace.”
The body is the interface between reality as it is, and the external world around us. The body is ALL WAYS in touch with the truth that is present for us in any given moment, if and when we choose to focus in on it. The body exists solely in the NOW – and through embodiment practices such as dance, yoga or meditation I am given the opportunity to cultivate more and more presence and awareness – so that I may embrace life to its fullest.
I believe that the best way to connect intimately to life and to know ourselves as intricately woven into the fabric of all of nature is to experience it within the framework of our own body.
When we focus on being in the body we are choosing to consciously step into the field where mind meets matter to observe how it relates to the present moment. The body speaks to us in sensations. Everywhere and at any given moment sensations, feelings, emotions and energy are arising and passing away within our bodies. To me, being fully embodied means having the willingness to consciously observe these sensations, feelings, and emotions and listen to what they are here to teach us and show us about reality. The body is continuously presenting us with opportunities to respond to life – with awareness, non-judgement, and compassion, so that we may connect deeper to all of life AND grow to know ourselves wholly and completely.
I feel that the body is our greatest tool towards evolving our consciousness and remembering what it means to be a spiritual being having a human experience.
Lydia Hikari Marolda (USA, Australia) is the director and lead teacher trainer for Dancing Freedom International. Lydia has devoted the past 15 years of her life to exploring what it means to use dance, authentic movement and ceremony for healing and transformation. In facilitating her own evolution and that of others she is assisting with the global shift that is happening at this time. With the tools she has gained throughout her life she empowers and reminds others to embrace their body’s movements and natural intelligence as a means of experiencing life to its fullest.
Missy Pfohl Smith. Photo by Kevin Colton
Embodiment is about the felt sense and the felt experience of your body and its movement. The first movement is breath, and from this simple growing and shrinking that happens in each cell of the body, comes an awareness and appreciation for the infinite ways in which we can move and express through movement. But if we are not able to open ourselves to the felt experience of movement, an awareness from the inside, it is difficult to be embodied in our experiences of life. Our unconscious and subconscious embodiment of our life experiences exist whether we notice them or not. If we open ourselves to noticing and listening, we can learn to be more aware, to make more conscious choices, and to be able to experience an embodied life more fully, with more presence, and with more variety.
Missy Pfohl Smith (USA) is the Director of the Program of Dance and Movement at University of Rochester (NY) and the Artistic Director of BIODANCE. She is certified in the Evans Method of teaching Laban/Bartenieff-based modern dance. She has taught and performed internationally with BIODANCE, Randy James Dance Works, Paul Mosley, among others. BIODANCE, established in 2002, is a repertory company that performs the work of Smith, Heidi Latsky, Bill Evans, D. Chase Angier, Ivy Baldwin, Jeanne Schickler Compisi, Courtney World and more. Smith is currently working on a BIO/DANCE and Social Justice Series in various community venues, and enjoys collaborating with multi-disciplinary artists in music, visual art, sculpture, and technology. Her areas of interest include choreography, site-specific performance, improvisation, socially conscious dance work and dance on camera.
Danielle Fraenkel (embodied in a healthy mud bath) and Michele Iemolo together with a client
For me, embodiment means being fully present, grounded, aware of my physical boundaries, and conscious of other boundaries.
Embodiment really is about being fully present and having an awareness of myself in space. Not like I’m locating myself in space, but here and now. Aware of my shape. The way I’m now.
In a nutshell, it’s really about being connected. Not just with my head. My thoughts, my feelings, my somatic experience. All are integrated.
Danielle L. Fraenkel (USA) is the founder and director of Kinections. She has been a dance/movement therapist for more than three decades. She developed LivingDance to teach people how to use the joy of creative movement to make positive, lasting changes in their lives. LivingDance synthesizes current knowledge of human development, creativity, dance, counseling, and body-mind integrity. Educator and published writer, Dr. Fraenkel teaches formal, alternate route and continuing education courses at the graduate level. Topics include dance/movement therapy, counseling, and nonverbal communication.
Embodiment is the art of being present with what is, the moment it arises in the body and the allowance of the breath to guide you on an inward journey. It’s the intersection between mind, body, and spirit. It is a deep awareness at the cellular level and the surrender to the intelligence of the body. When practicing the art of embodiment, you gain a vantage point on how your emotions, cognition, and behaviors affect your physical health. Over time, with consistent embodiment practice, you begin to see more clearly how different modes of thinking; feeling and behaving directly impact your habitual patterns of movement. This practice also increases your ability and sensitivity to this process in others. The art of embodiment becomes a tool for attunement and a tool to connect with others on a non-verbal plane. As a therapist working with children with autism and related disabilities, I have used embodiment in the service of connection and communication with individuals who did not have verbal language. The movement dialogue aides in the development of language and socialization.
Michele Iemolo (USA) is a clinical psychologist, behavior analyst and is also completing her certification as a dance/movement therapist. Dr. Iemolo has over 15 years of experience treating and assessing numerous clinical populations across the life span including individuals with; autism, developmental disabilities, psychiatric conditions, neuro-behavioral disorders and dementia. Currently, Dr. Iemolo is an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico where she works with individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Leo Peppas and Emma Leech
I don’t like to explain embodiment, it’s like reading a list of ingredients to judge how something you’ve never eaten tastes, to me it does not make a lot of sense – talking about. When mind and body come together there is usually a shift in the state of mind and this is better experienced – the integration is of more value than the cognitive understanding. There are some things that can only be appreciated through experience and there is a limit to the cognitive mind’s capacity to appreciate experiencing when it’s so exclusive in nature. When the mind experiences that it’s not alone and in sole charge, so when it’s also present with the body-mind, it has more ability to not cling so exclusively to its domain. So I try to save myself and the students time and jump straight in. I do like to work with mentally identified people, because it’s great to see when a whole new world of experiencing opens up to them, and that this doesn’t necessarily have to be threatening to the mind. It’s this experience that stretches the mind – which is often the biggest limitation.
I feel that the last thing I would want to do is give a talk about embodiment, from an embodied point of view it makes little sense!
Leo Peppas (Greece), is a yoga teacher and artist. He is currently working on a book series about embodiment – how to get back in touch with the vital process that reconnects us to our essential human beingness. In the meantime, you can see a small part of this process in an album he has created on Facebook called “Embodied anatomy”.
Embodiment is being awake, present, feeling alive, grounded, complete and whole.
Normally, we live in the “chat room” of our head, but when we learn to bring our awareness and give attention to our body’s expression in the moment, we can become very awake and present with ourselves on a physical level.
Usually, we only give attention to the physical when we are sick or injured. But we are so much more than our thoughts, we have an intuitive intelligence and instincts that live in the body as energy.
Emma Leech (UK) has been dancing the 5 Rhythms movement meditation practice for over 20 years. She trained with the founder, Gabrielle Roth, in 2001. My commitment and passion for this unique and dynamic healing art led me to take further advanced study and training to teach the ‘heartbeat’ map of the 5 Rhythms which explores emotion as a dance. Since then I have traveled to different parts of the Globe and London’s suburbs taking the dance to a wide audience of disadvantaged communities and the corporate world in business for well-being. This diverse range of communities has become invaluable in expanding my teaching skills and insight into all walks of life.
Does embodiment have something to do with what I do in dance or yoga? Or maybe it is something like Body Mind Centering, Embodied Anatomy or Authentic Movement?
No, these are all methods that definitely can help us to be at home in the body, to be embodied. They also include sets of exercises that are fun to do.
However, when I am embodied, every method disappears, every wise word is gone and no experience is needed: I am. Love is. Life is.
Embodiment is joy and love, truth and pure being. Conscious embodiment is the sweet beautiful Spirit and Love that communicates itself uncompromisingly through my body and everybody when “I” am awake.
Embodiment can either be a little bit of life coming through the person or it can be the whole ocean of Life at once, in every cell; consciously vivid and vitally creating the wild life of unemotional pure Love that can never be put into words nor found by science.
Marjo Wuorisalo (Finland) is a yogi, dancer, and the founder and director of YogaSource Finland. She created the school with her most beloved husband Michael to be the kind she would have liked to attend herself; to invite people who wish to be both great professionals and the love they truly are. Her life unfolds as a practical magical day-to-day dance in Helsinki and in a little town on the West coast of Finland.
Nadine Ruiter and Fuyuko Sawamura-Toyota
Being in the body or not being in the body? For me, the difference is in the breathing. The moment you start to fully breathe down to the belly, you arrive back in your body.
In daily life, it’s often all about the head. From the moment we wake up, we start thinking. All our energy goes up and stays there. We do everything with our head.
But then, if we give ourselves a moment to take a deep breath, we sink back into the body. Because your breath brings you back in your body and in this present moment.
Yeah, that’s my personal reminder as well.
Nadine Ruiter (Netherlands) is a breath and massage therapist. She has offered her therapies and workshops in several countries and is traveling around the globe to spread the healing power of the breath. Her passion from a very young age is to guide people on their way to happiness and love.
For me, embodiment means inhabiting the fullness of everyday human being-ness while abiding in and as timeless Pure Love; True Nature.
Fuyuko Sawamura-Toyota (Australia) is a certified iRest Yoga Nidra® Senior Trainer, Retreat Leader and Supervisor / Mentor. For the past 20 years, she has been deeply committed to the path of Yoga and ancient Non-Dual wisdom.
Michael Cramm, Émilie Meyer and Mattias Gopala Hagman
Embodiment is being in the body, meaning in the now. Now is so much faster than words, so it really can not be expressed in words.
Michael Cramm (Germany, Australia, Finland) is a meditation and yoga teacher, naturopath and kinesiologist. He is also a practitioner of Hapkido, Tai chi, and Ba Gua. Together with his wife, Marjo Wuorisalo, he is the founder of Yogasource. “My life is dedicated to love and joy of living.”
Embodiment for me is when my body is unified with my mind. When I’m embodied, I can better listen to myself and take better care of myself with exercises, practices, and nourishing food. Being in your body also makes it easier to find a supporting community and start doing the work you really love.
We’re living too much in our heads. When working with my clients, I try to help them develop a better relation to their body and their heart. Then it is up to them how they want to express their truth.
The human being is a fascinating subject. We are all moved along by forces that deserve to be heard. It is worth listening to our bodies so we can enjoy life in all its colors.
Émilie Meyer (France) is a Shiatsu therapist. She also offers treatments in Foot reflexology and Aromatherapy.
Instead of explaining what it means, I want to offer a direct experience of embodiment. One of the best tools I know is a form of body scanning plus soft movements in sync with the breath.
Mattias Gopala Hagman (Sweden) is a yoga and meditation teacher. He is also an Ayurvedic Health Counselor and holds a degree in Behavioral Science. In 2001 he founded Gävle Yogaskola, a yoga school affiliated with Satyananda Yoga Sweden and International Yoga Fellowship Movement. Since 2006, he has been one of the lead trainers for the the national yoga teacher training within Satyananda Yoga Sverige. In 2006, he was initiated as Karma Sannyasa by Swami Niranjan Saraswati.
A simple explanation is that we are like three building blocks – body, mind and spirit – and through the body, we can become more aware of our inner selves. Our bodies are the physical sheet or the protection embodying our spirit or souls.
In my work with inmates, I’ve found that an initial stress reduction with breathing exercises, followed by a clearly structured yoga program which slowly builds up to some strenuous movements in the middle and then slows down with a long Shavasana or Yoga Nidra, works really well. Often I close with alternative breathing and a silent meditation.
Eva Seilitz (Sweden) is the national co-ordinator for yoga at The Swedish Prison and Probation Service. She has created a yoga concept for the entire system built on Hatha yoga to reduce stress and aggression and to enhance wellbeing for the inmates. She is a certified Satyananda and Kripalu teacher.