Using Your Body-Mind to be Kick-Arse
In our last blog post, Damien explored what embodiment means - at its most simple level, embodiment is about having presence in the body. In this post I want to expand on this, taking a really practical look at what we can do with our embodiment.
The first thing I want emphasise, from years of studying embodiment now, is that the mind and body are not separate (sorry Descartes, your mind-body dualism thesis is emphatically and empirically wrong!). The mind is the nervous system and the nervous system is linked into the entirety of our bodies, including aspects of the bones, muscles and even the skin - amazing! We are a body-mind. This insight has profound implications we can easily be blinded to due to our culturally conditioned assumption of a mind body split, and our crazy obsession with the head.
There are 2 primary directions of embodiment, each with different practical implications: we can practice top-down and bottom-up embodiment. Top down embodiment (or masculine embodiment) is more about taking the mind into the body - where we can embody particular intentions, attitude or perspectives. Bottom-up embodiment (or feminine embodiment) is about letting the mind emerge from the body - trusting the wisdom of what we are feeling and the movement that wants to happen to help create our thinking. I think both directions of embodiment are really important to practice - it’s in the synthesis of these movements that has us in our most integrated expression of self. In my own quest to be kick-arse, I practice deeply connecting to the intelligence of my body as this amazing guidance system, from which I can more powerfully embody my intentions. Let’s now dive into the practical applications of each of these forms of embodiment.
Top-down embodiment: the body is a concrete expression of your mind - change your body to change how you feel
The shape of our bodies is determined by the state of our mind. As the Peanuts cartoon below depicts, we embody how we feel - feeling depressed will generally have us collapsing our posture and hanging out head. When we say colloquially that we feel “down”, this is a lot more literal than is generally understood - our body literally has more down in it’s expression. As Charlie Brown points out in this cartoon, if you are feeling depressed and “down”, and you want to feel more “up” instead, then shift your posture to one of feeling happy. For me, knowing that I can shift my physiology to shift my state has been amazing. This is a tool I use all the time to create how I want to feel, which will in turn shift how I’m thinking (I don’t think this is always the appropriate thing to do though, which I go into later in this post). Here’s a really short video talking about this with reference to facial expressions. The TED talk by Amy Cuddy: Your body language may shape who you are, is also a great one to watch.
Not only do I use this realisation to shift my state but also to understand other people. At the most basic level this is reading body language. There’s a deeper cut of this though - in that I can re-create the body postures of another to have a more direct empathy of how they’re feeling. I’ve done this many a time and immediately had the flash “wow, no wonder they’re feeling this angry given what they’re doing with their bodies”. A word of caution here: without the right rapport, telling others that they can easily shift their state if they want to, just by changing their posture, can easily have others feeling unseen and frustrated. I’ve had my fair share of these instances - both from the telling and receiving perspectives!
Bottom-up embodiment: Your body is your subconscious mind - listen to your body for deeper intuition and self-understanding
Candice Pert, the well known neuroscientist, famously said "your body is your subconscious mind” - what a powerful statment! Knowing our body is our subconscious means that really listening to our bodies has us accessing the much larger intelligence that we are beyond the severely limited awareness that is the conscious mind is. An amazing empirical example of this comes from the fascinating research of John Coates who discovered that stock-traders with larger interoceptive awareness (ie internal body awareness) did better in their trading. Essentially having more body awareness gives us more access to our intuition.
What I’ve come to realise is that listening to my body is how I actually know myself. It is in listening to my body I know how I feel. And it is through my feelings that I know what is going on for me. This is why I cautioned against always choosing to change our state, even knowing that we can. Sometimes it takes time to really hear the important messages in what I’m feeling. Shifting myself too quickly out of a feeling state can impede my ability to hear these important messages. In these instances shifting my state becomes a form of bypassing what’s really going on for me.
Often we get stuck in our feelings because we’re not actually hearing the full message and we need to listen more deeply for the energy of the emotion to move through us. And, sometimes we can wallow in emotion and it intentionally shifting our state is totally the right thing to do. This can take discerning reflection and experimentation to figure out. Listen to your body for whether to intentionally change your state or not. Ultimately I believe the mind should be in service of our deeper values that come from listening to our bodies.
To practice listening to your body I suggest setting a timer for every hour or 2, in which you pause and notice the sensations in your body. You may even want to write them down. Internal sensations are akin to the sense of touch - you will notice things like temperature (eg hot, cold, numb), vibration/movement (eg tingling, prickliness, trembling, pulsing), pressure (eg heavy, light, dense, expansive, tight) and energy level (eg excited, aroused, tired, lethargic). Do a scan through your body. Pay particular attention to your torso. Notice the sensations associated with your emotions. Listen for possible meaning in the sensation and what they are telling you. Ecstatic dance style practices that encourage us to find the spontaneous movements arising in us are also fantastic bottom up embodiment practices. As you practice these awarenesses, you will start identifying with yourself as much more than just the head - your nervous system will come online in a whole new way, as depicted in the image below. These practices seems really simple but have profoundly impacted me.