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embodiment - but what is it really?

We are in the habit of coming into unfamiliar territory in the body like a missionary, giving ourselves directives such as “Open up, release, soften,” …

Try coming in like a pilgrim instead, asking,

“What are your customs? How do you live here? What can you teach me?” — Susan Aposhyan, Natural Intelligence (1999)

I've seen a lot of definitions of embodiment as the research and learning in this area expands, some of which are lengthy and complicated, and some which seem to capture the essence.

My own introduction to embodiment as a concept and a practice began 13 years ago, when I attended a training in Vancouver called Body-Mind Psychotherapy, taught by Susan Aposhyan.

The room was full of women and a few men,many of whom women been participating in this weekend training for 10 years already. I was one of a handful of wide-eyed newbies.

After the intro circle, Susan said, "Let's begin. Let's just breathe for 2 minutes." Everyone started moving around, walking, stretching, or rolling on the floor, breathing, and making sounds like big sighs and yawns.

Susan kept saying "letting go of the breath, letting of the voice" in her soft and encouraging voice. "Allow your body and voice and breath to just do what they want."

When those two minutes ended, I heard Susan ask, "How is everyone feeling?" and happy voices called out things like "Oh, so much better, lighter, freer."

Not me. I was on the floor in a corner, feeling as though I was going to vomit, flushed and hot and on the edge of panic.

I put my hand up and caught Susan's attention and said, "I don't feel better, I feel awful."

I had the eyes of everyone else in the room on me as Susan walked towards me, and the feeling of horror and nausea intensified. I was stuck to the floor with my own sweat, and my legs and arms felt shaky and weak. I truly thought I might vomit, and my face was deep red.

That's my first memory of conscious embodiment.

I share it, even though I worry it might scare some of you off, because it's important to understand that when we begin our conscious embodiment practice, we really are going to be contacting what our body has been experiencing for years, that may not have gotten through to our mental awareness. This won't be everyone's experience in the beginning, but if we've been masking and numbing in response to trauma or mental illness, the first few times we touch in to what's just under the surface might feel fraught.

By the end of that 5 day workshop, I had a new sense of my self in my body, which felt safer and much less shaky and scary. I could see that the very simple practice of "letting go of the breath, letting go of the body" would be able to help me.

I went back every year until the workshop was no longer offered, and even though I often found myself stuck to the floor with my own sweat, feeling shaky and weak on the first day, I always felt like I'd grown within myself exponentially by the last day. I too was one of the people saying "I feel so much freer, lighter, more spacious and alive!"

Embodiment practice has been a turning point in my life, and absolutely accelerated the healing and development that I gained through all other therapeutic practices I've accessed over the years.

My working definition of embodiment comes straight from those years experiencing Susan's teachings. Embodiment is what happens when we let go of the voice, let go of the breath, and allow the body to move however it wants to. Having help as we first make this contact with our inner selves can be really helpful. I'm deeply grateful for Susan's guidance through those early years, and can hear her voice in me whenever I take a moment to refresh my embodiment.

If your journey is taking you deeper into the inner landscape of your being, and you'd like to explore the depth of embodiment practice, you might find Susan's website helpful. I'm currently developing classes to offer in the Comox Valley in the near future, and will let you know when they're up and running.

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