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Living in our heads – exploring embodiment

I have a vast experience in the one and I am a novice in the other and I have a sense that this is true for many people, if not the majority. In case you were in any doubt, the black belt is in living in my head and in line with my messaging throughout these blogs, it has both served a purpose and it has hindered me. We are a product of our time, much of our work and our lives require only our head and where they fail, we have Google. Our ability to listen to our bodies is not only an oft forgotten skill, but also a potential cringe inducing scenario when presented to us, especially so if applied in a work environment. I can stand in that camp, I put myself back in my corporate world and I imagine someone asking me to listen to my body and my shoulders immediately rise and lock. No way mate, no way am I doing that with my team, my colleagues, my peers, my managers, my leaders. Nope. Next slide please.

And yet… here I am to explore exactly that, what that can offer, if we could, just possibly, dip a toe in, without vomiting.

I have tried and I witness others try, to think and to rationalise themselves through their conundrums, believing that their mounting frustration will also be conquered by the thinking mind. That not having an answer simply means more thinking is required. And in some cases, this is true of course; but what do we do when we can’t think our way through something? When no matter how long we sit and delve and ponder and agonise, the answer remains hidden to us.

This I have experienced and what started as an annoyance, moved swiftly to frustration, then anger, rage and deep despondency. You can insert your own scenario here, mine was 2 major topics which when bundled equalled “what should I do with my whole life”. Had it been “shall we have fish or chicken for dinner?” (and I deliberately over trivialise), the thinking mind would be perfectly equipped to solve this one, had a favourite not been obvious. However, the former was a nut I couldn’t crack, and I tried, with the thinking mind for approximately 4 years.

I could write that I now have it all sussed, I’m a new woman and I have a plan for every day for the rest of my life.. and you would call me a liar, justifiably so. Because I do not, and there continue to be days when I can only describe myself as discombobulated. However, whereas before I would have described where I was, as being in a deep trench, which I couldn’t see over the top of and which stretched out into the distance in a very straight line, in either direction. A dark place, which felt empty, lonely, joyless and colourless. Now I feel I am on ground level, there are many, many paths stretching out in every direction from me, some straight, others rather wonky. Crucially, I now have a general sense of the direction of travel. I don’t know that the path I choose today will be the path of tomorrow, I may get to a junction and turn left instead of the planned right and no, I am not always at ease with this flexibility, I would be more comfortable with a clearly labelled map. I have, however, come to appreciate that by not having a map, I get to change my mind, to choose every day, to have an adventure. And I do have my compass (my purpose, my values and the ability to check in with… eek the body), to keep me on my direction of travel.

So, what is embodiment? Quite simply its putting awareness into your body “attending to your sensations”. We have all deliberately experienced it.. most usually in the form of deep breaths. This seems to be the most accessible and “acceptable”. Deep breaths to relax, to calm down, to reduce stress in a given circumstance – the military train in it even. It’s a way in, because when you focus, truly focus on your body, the thinking mind has to take a break. I find similarities to mindfulness, it’s an awareness and a presence in the now.

When we experience an emotion, we feel it. Where do we feel it? Do we feel it in our minds (can we?), do we feel it in our bodies? For many, it’s like an old language we have forgotten how to speak, but it is there in the recesses. It’s there for example in “gut feeling”, a deeper knowing that is seemingly unconnected to our minds. Many of us make important decisions based on this, with little to no mind input. Why is this? Are we still able on some level to interpret a deeper wisdom from this place, without the understanding as to the how or the why? We are beginning to get a better understanding around our gut. It contains approximately 100 million neurons (I am reliably informed by Ollie Ollerton, that this is more than a cat has in their brain), and these gut neurons are connected to your brain through nerves in your nervous system. Perhaps this helps move embodiment away from woo-woo and more towards science, offering a legitimacy that we can stand next to.

As in many things there are degrees and spectrums for embodiment, ranging from take a deep breath, stretching, noticing your toes for example, to well anything – dancing, singing, standing like a tree, crawling on the floor.. I have found it to be quite personal. There are forms I am comfortable with and those that make me feel awkward, that detract from the point because my inner critics get involved and point at me from the side lines, giggling. But when I can get there, there is greater knowledge, and it presents a greater resource and experience from which to draw. It becomes easier to feel – what feels right, what feels wrong and with that information there can be a new dimension for the mind to use – to navigate.

If it’s new, I encourage you to have a go. Start with when you notice an emotion (perhaps step one for you is to start noticing how you are feeling at different points in the day), where do you feel this emotion, what part of your body? What is your breathing like, your heartbeat? What is your temperature? Notice, notice, notice. Because your body has messages for you about this and by noticing your body, you can begin to relearn this language and interpret this library of resource. Our bodies are offering us information, they are underutilised, and your thinking mind often needs some support – help it delegate.

Yes, we may feel awkward and silly, I know that I frequently do, and I have also experienced that answers, nudges, and general directions of travel can lie in this space. Four years of thinking mind round and round with not much forward momentum – I didn’t know to ask all the rest of me for information. When you are next then with a coach or are in a corporate learning environment and they raise the suggestion of using your body; retrieve your eyes from your eyebrows, uncurl your toes and try to lean in. Your body knows stuff, it’s waiting for you to pay attention.

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