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Video Podcast V | “Embodiment” - what does it mean to be embodied?

We, the practitioners of “Embodied practice”, talk about what is important to us - about us humans, our bodies and our relation with the body, about listening and hearing ourselves and what to do when we don’t feel well. We are talking about keys that open doors into friendship with the body and our own truth. We will talk about it in the future as well.

We often hear the word “embodiment”. What does this word mean for us and how to live embodied life? This is the topic of our fifth talk on the podcast "The Body speaks".

* The opinions shared in this video are not medical advice and cannot replace a doctor’s consultation.

English transcript:

Jurga Bliss: Hello everyone. We are the Embodied Practice and you are listening to our podcast the Body Speaks. We are greeting you today from different parts of the world again: me, Jurga, from Portugal and my colleagues in Lithuania Jurga, Ernesta and Gediminas. Our podcast today will explore the topic of embodiment and we would like to share some thoughts on what this word means to us and how we perceive being present in the body, being connected, being in touch with one’s body - the meaning it bears in the context of bodywork and movement therapy and to each of us personally.

I would like to start by inviting you all, dear colleagues and both our listeners and spectators to simply direct your attention towards how we sit at this exact moment, how each of us is sitting, if we are. Those of you who are listening to Spotify, or perhaps are at the wheel driving or jogging, just notice the pose your body has taken. Let’s just notice the places in our bodies that come in contact with the surface. Maybe it’s a chair, or bed. Maybe you are out running and your feet touch the ground with each step. Just note the sensations in those parts of the body that come in contact with the surface. Is that surface soft or hard? Perhaps warm or cool? Maybe the body feels like making itself more comfortable, lean back more. Or maybe not. Perhaps it feels comfortable just the way it is. And perhaps it’s not comfortable, yet it’s fine that way. If you feel like it, you can close your eyes or just relax your glance. Let’s stay in that encounter with the surface for a moment. I would also like to invite you to sense how breathing is moving your body. Inhale, exhale. Those small movements that happen in your body when you breathe. Perhaps you feel like taking a deeper breath when you focus on breathing. We can also gently place our attention on sensing how our clothing touches our skin. The sensation in those places where the clothes or any other material come in contact with the skin. Maybe you are sitting wrapped up in a blanket. How it affects you, what is the sensation of the material touching the skin. And then we can direct our focus to the uncovered places. Perhaps it’s your face or neck. Or maybe your hands or legs. Feel how those places come in contact with the air. Is it warm or cool air? What is the sensation? If you had your eyes closed, you are welcome to open them now. (I didn’t specify on not doing that to those at the wheel). And just allow the views to reach your eyes - colours, shapes... Take a look around, in your surroundings, what do you spot, what do you see? What colours attract your attention. Finally let’s see each other on the screens. And I would like to pass the word to my colleague Gediminas. Would you like to start by describing what we have just been doing and how it relates to embodiment?

Gediminas: Thank you, Jurga, I will try. What Jurga has just guided us through is something we practice, it’s part of our practice. I personally call it somatic meditation. Its goal is to make a connection with various aspects of one’s body. Essentially feel the weight. That, what can be felt through the sitting places when we sit, when we stand - through our feet, skin, clothes. As Jurga has just guided us through in a beautiful way. All this leads to embodying. To me personally embodying is a process, it’s not a final thing. However as far as I understand our theme today is embodiment. This word kind of gives a sense of something finite, something which happens once and for all. I tend to speak of embodying as a process happening throughout the whole life. Like a journey. To me it’s making a conscious connection with one’s body. That would be it, briefly. Why it is important, why we exercise this at Embodied Practice and generally in the bodywork and movement therapy, is because we deeply believe that our psychological processes and our body are in oneness, it is inseparable. I think that due to this particular fact - that this separation appeared in our culture - is the root of many problems related to psychological issues. Maybe that’s it for a start. Ernesta, would you like to continue?

Ernesta: Thank you, Gediminas, for reflections and thank you, Jurga, for the guidance. I have a hard time stopping yawning. When I’m experiencing somatic meditation I oftentimes relax, tune into my body. My thoughts, feelings and emotions begin to somewhat rest. So does the body. The yawning is a sign to me that I have reached relaxation. I calm down. Today my mind, my mental body, is no longer in struggle with the thoughts telling me: “Ernesta, this is so very simple. No, everything is supposed to be more complex and should be something more special in order for you to be able to relax”. I notice that the more I travel with Embodied Practice and with you, my colleagues, the more I fall for simplicity. Also sometimes at night having difficulties falling back to sleep upon awakening I practice this thing: I connect with the skin in my body that touches the bed. Then I do the same with all other parts that feel restless. And then at the end if it becomes really bad, I turn around and lay on my belly. Normally that knocks me out, I start drooling and I realize - that’s superbt, I returned home, I can continue sleeping. So embodiment to me is when I come back home from my distraction, to my principal home, my body. I feel it free from clothing, I feel it touching the clothes. And when I can just be and encompass my jittery thoughts and emotions. Even some body aches and ailments. It resonates within me when Gediminas reflects on embodiment having something final about it. Maybe that anxiety is being embodied at that moment, however, embodiment itself to me is a process as well (as anxiety, thoughts or joy arise over and over again), everything comes back gradually, it can be some sort of one final action at one moment in time. So anyway, embodiment is one of the most wonderful things that could happen to me in this life, helping to merge all the esoteric traveling and wandering experiences and psychological experiences and integrate them into one – the body. It contains so much. I am also surprised. Jurga, would you be up for continuing?

Jurga Sidiskyte: I’m trying to recall now, when I had my first more conscious reflection about what body means to me and what my relationship to it is. It’s likely a few years back, before I started studying bodywork and movement therapy. When I was trying meditation for the very first time in my life, I realized that my body is not something I possess, I have, I use, it’s not some sort of means of transport that brings me from point A to B. It is in fact me, it’s myself. That was one of the first more attentive and deeper glances into what body is to me. Later there were studies, of course, our common studies. I was hearing that term “embodiment, embodying” and I disliked it. As a matter of fact it’s still a bit weird to me all the way up to now, some kind of direct translation from English. To me it is about the connection to my body in the first place. About the fact that I first of all notice my body. Afterwards, it’s about me trying to understand what it tries to tell me. And I apply it in my life – the body helps me to navigate. Within myself. Within time. Within relationships with others. That’s about it.

Jurga Bliss: Thank you, Jurga. From Jurga to Jurga. I actually used to find myself thinking, how it happened that the body became separated from us - from our thoughts, our emotions. And there are a variety of cultural and historical reasons for why it happened. At the same time it can never become fully separated anyway, because we live in that body, it is our physical expression in this world. And obviously we experience it at every moment. It aches somewhere, there is tension somewhere else, we need to go somewhere, do something, talk to someone... To be able to do all that we use our body every day, and our livelihood is sustained by the body in this world. And when you realize its meaning and its role in our lives - we use it for yawning too! – it’s weird that we are still so separated from it – the majority of us. And that the journey back to the body becomes so... well, oftentimes - complicated, opening many questions and often - wounds. When we descend into our body, we do not only relax, we actually can encounter stuff that does not feel relaxing at all. In Bodywork and Movement Therapy we often refer to the body as a notebook that records all of our experiences. Think of how we react when something happens, how we react when something joyous happens: how our face lightens up, our breath deepens, our eyes become enlivened. It’s the body that’s reacting. If we are frightened, the tension rises in us, we lift our shoulders, perhaps also every one of us has some individual expression of fear in our body, yet the body reacts constantly. And as we have mentioned in our previous podcasts the body is always in the now.

If we travel to the future in our thoughts and we feel fear, we are ruminating, we feel anxious, or maybe we travel back to the past, where we feel flooded by some pleasant memories – every time the body reacts as if it were happening now. If we feel fearful of the future, although nothing bad is really happening around us at the given moment, there’s a reaction that happens in our body: certain hormones get released, a tension in the muscles sets in, breath and heart rhythm changes. Realizing all that, I think, it becomes easier to accept that to befriend the body, to establish a relation to it is important and useful. It’s not that everyone sees it that way immediately. Sometimes it might seem easier to live separated from the body. Not feeling, blocking something. Directing our focus somewhere else, we are in our head instead. And then we try to push that body to go further and do and accomplish things, until sometimes it is too much and we become ill. So embodiment to me is as you’ve already mentioned it, to find connection with the body, to start sensing it, start noticing what I feel. I find it super useful and helpful in life. If I have a conversation with someone and perhaps later at home I feel very exhausted, I feel something is not right, then it’s too late. What’s done is done and now I need to rapidly recover, to restore, to find resources within. And if I was more in touch with my body, if I sensed my body throughout the conversation, I might have noticed already in the beginning that my shoulders are lifted, perhaps there are some sensations in my belly and I could already react to that – what is happening in this interaction, what is not ok with me? Maybe right at this moment I need to say “No” to somebody and it hasn't reached my brain yet but the body reacts already? So illustrating by such simple examples the usefulness of embodiment becomes obvious, I think. Embodiment is consciously feeling yourself in your body, getting to know bodily reactions and processes. We practice it often in bodywork and movement therapy. We often start by getting to know the body and what it is trying to communicate to us. So to me it’s probably these aspects that best describe embodiment, however, we can talk about a variety of other expressions of embodiment.

Maybe another question would be about the practices, about very practical experience of embodiment. Let’s say in the beginning of our conversation today we had a chance to have a tiny taste of somatic meditation. It’s where we focus our attention on our body, on its sensations. Here I’d like to invite colleagues to share some more ideas on ways and advice or thoughts on those practical aspects of embodiment. Ernesta, perhaps you have some ideas, you’d like to share with us right this moment?

Ernesta: Thanks, Jurga, for the invitation. I somehow feel so calmed down that it feels difficult to even talk. I’m not sure I have a specific practical exercise. I just realized that these are the first studies that came into my practice, my everyday life quite strongly. Whatever I’m occupied with, I have a constant focus on remaining maximally aware of that. And that in some sense becomes very easy after some time. Let’s say I’m making pancakes and I feel that it irritates me, and I start analyzing that there are no objective reasons for that really, why this could irritate me, but the body suddenly remembered something. And here for me is the major practice to distinguish what, I am not sure, my emotional field, that was provoked by some smell, is offering to me. This morning I added some cardamom to the pancakes and everything had been ok up till then. I added it, I smelled it. Then I thought, mm, that smells nice, feels so pleasant until I realize I am becoming nervous. And then I begin analyzing, I take on the position of an observer of the situation. Here I realize I have a clear memory of failing in making ginger biscuits for Christmas. I remember feeling enormously angry about it, and this episode of irritation resides in my memory. And now I become aware of the fact that I’m here making pancakes for Easter a year later and still find myself irritated by the smell of that baking mixture. Here embodiment comes in handy. It helps me to distinguish that now it is a morning like that, right, there’s no sun, however, the failure with ginger biscuits happened half a year ago or so. So, that is basically the practice to me when an irritation or anger sets in - to ask myself, what it is about. And when I succeed somehow to ground my body again and just observe arising emotions, that is what embodiment to me is. It’s one of the things applicable in life. Another simpler one I use before falling asleep, to cover the eyes in the way so that they could really rest. Then travel consciously through the body starting at the tiptoes and all the way up, observing what I sense, how I sense, how I fall into gravity. This helps me fall asleep way calmer. Those would be a few of the practical experiences of embodiment, which can be exercised and practiced in life without huge preparations. Gediminas, do you have any thoughts, reflections on this topic?

Gediminas: Well yeah. I will try to share a few maybe. My ‘daily bread’ is basically a traditional mindfulness meditation but with a focus on the body. I sit for a few minutes or an hour and just listen to what my body is telling me. Where something is relaxing. Where I feel something, where shoulders become tense. And similar things. And for me, this practice is like a training field that helps me to recognize and capture the moments in my daily life when my body is reacting. Ernesta gave a very good example with the pancakes. Examples of this can be where something triggers you during a work meeting. Where you don’t fully understand wh