What is Embodiment and Why Does it Matter in Recovery?

I find myself explaining this term often. I work as a psychotherapist teaching recovery through the embodied door, and as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, I teach and offer the experience of embodiment on the mat.

How do we define embodiment? In the beautiful words of French philosopher Merleau-Ponty, “To be a consciousness or rather to be an experience is to hold inner communication with the world, the body and other people, to be with them instead of being beside them.”

I know that those words may be a bit heady, however, in simplistic terms, to be embodied means to live through our sense door. It means to engage oneself in the world through the experiences we feel in our body, through our body, and perceived through our body.

I would like you to consider for a moment how we are all born. We are all born the same. We have no access to language at the time of birth. We also have no ability to cognize, or make sense of the world through thought. Rather, we are aware of others and self only through the world or our senses. We recognize all needs through our body. When a baby is hungry it cries. When full it stops eating. When over stimulated it pulls away. We know exactly what we need and how much only through our sense doors.

Therefore, we are born as embodied creatures however, once our higher brain develops we move away from our embodied, sensory knowledge as guide, and instead rely just on our minds ideas to make our way through the world.

Anyone struggling with recovery knows that the mind is often a major obstacle in healing, as perceptions can often guide us in the wrong direction. I often label the mind in recovery as “the great trickster.” We can misperceive the way we look, feel, and amounts of food eaten or not eaten. This is where the body and embodiment can play a major role in recovery. When the mind is foggy you can’t see clearly, but when clear awareness is built, the body can offer valuable information and wisdom as to what is really happening in the moment. In my research I explored embodiment through the stages of recovery. In the beginning stage, embodiment was “the informant.” When women dropped into their sensory experience, what they found was unfiltered information, or direct sensory experiences that they were unaware of and that they could not recognize through the clouded, thinking mind. In the beginning stages, the mind can continue to pull one back to habitual, obsessive thought and behavior. It’s key to go back to the place deep inside, where the body does not lie.

Information from the body is one of the first primary sources of information that something is not well and that something needs to change.

The following exercise is a simple way to begin practicing embodiment:

Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes to take away the overused sense door of sight. Feel for a moment what it is like to simply close your eyes. Feel the seat beneath you, maybe the grounding of your feet or legs, along with your spine upright.

Take a breath and feel the experience of breath in your body. Can you notice where the breath starts in your body? Can you feel where the breath ends in your body? See if you can tune into the exact location of the breath in your body.

How about your energy level? Can you evaluate in this moment what your energy level feels like? Are you tired, energized, feeling strong, weak?

Ask yourself the following questions:

Does my body feel strong?

Does my body feel healthy?

These are a few steps to take to embrace an embodied life. Your body is a great informant if you allow it to be. See what it is like to drop into the sense door each day in these simple ways. See if you can trust in your body’s wisdom to inform you on a daily basis.

In closing, from the words of Merleau-Ponty, “…by thus remaking contact with the body and with the world, we shall rediscover oneself.”

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1 Comment

  1. says: Matthew

    A psychological statement of mindfulness and the mind-body-spirit conjunction, this is a lovely call to wholeness and integration. Blessings, dear heart.

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