Doctor Paul Golz Course leader for Dance Theatre BA (Hons) explores the importance of embodiment and why you really need it in his latest Academic Blog.

It will probably come as no surprise to you to learn that you have a body, that you’ve had one for absolutely ages, and that you’ll have one for as long as you live.

Although it might come as surprise to you, however, to learn that a lot of people think of their body as something they “have” rather than something they “are”. The mind is who you actually are, bodies are just there to carry the mind around and to do things like eat bagels, work a phone, or play football.

This might be how you think of your body, that the “you” bit lives inside your body but isn’t your body, everything that makes you uniquely you, all your memories, all your emotions, all your thoughts, is just in the brain. This makes sense, if you accidentally lost an arm you’d still be you wouldn’t you, but if you lost part of your brain, maybe you wouldn’t be?

Pebble in Sand

This is a very common view in the western world. Therefore when you have a problem we tend to ask if you want to talk about it (mind), rather than dance about it (body). However, in reality, the mind can’t be so easily separated from the body. Think about any big emotion you’ve experienced recently: stress, embarrassment, joy. Where did you feel it in your body? Turns out that most people feel these emotions in similar places. The body is a window into your emotions and often we only realise we’re feeling something when we notice our bodily reaction.

So, if you’re unsure about what you’re feeling right now, maybe have a quick check-in with your body.

Research shows that our bodies are often useful sources of information for what’s going on inside us. The way we move, the way we play, the way we hold ourselves. We may not realise how tense we are until someone else notices our hunched shoulders. We might wake up tired, even though we’re not aware of anything bothering us. So, if we want to really understand ourselves, we should be tuning in to our bodies more.

That’s where embodiment comes in. When we start paying attention to our body more, we become more “in” it, experiencing the world through our physicality, not just our mind. 

ripple of water

Embodiment isn’t just about noticing problems though, it’s about feeling more complete, more whole. When young children play, they move freely, naturally. They fully inhabit their bodies. Animals do the same. They “think” and “feel” as much with their bodies as with their minds. We call this duality of mind and body the “psyche-soma” and being fully present in both we call embodiment. 

As we grow up, we tend to lose that connection with our body. Our society prioritises the mind and often treats the body as an inconvenience. School forces us to spend most of our times in our heads. Much of sport and exercise is framed around “pushing through”, telling your body to do what your mind wants. “No pain, no gain” is still a common mantra. On top of this, we are bombarded with images of what our body should look like, how we should move, stand, walk, pose.

Imagine treating a friend like that: ignoring them, bullying them to do what you want, not paying attention to their needs, thinking they’re not good enough. Of course, that connection gets weaker! Yet our bodies are also the place where we experience the world. Often when dealing with the world it is easier to leave our bodies and retreat into our minds. Sometimes we actively seek disembodiment. 

Yoga - embodiment blog

There is good news though! Embodiment, like any other skill, can be learnt (or rather re-learnt) by taking the time to tune into what’s happening to us. There are specific exercises designed to help, these are called somatic practices. Yoga can be one, but there are many others. These practices help us to focus our attention away from the mind and increase our bodily awareness. This is often through movement where these things can be easier to notice. There is a whole branch of dance dedicated to somatic practice and embodiment.

How could embodiment help you? The more we accept that our body is a fundamental part of who we become more in tune to it, the more we can feel whole and connected to out true nature. Only then we get to understand ourselves better. It’s authentic, it’s grounded and it’s real. It’s like making friends with someone who will always be there for us, no matter what.

So, spend some time making friends with your body and, like all good friendships, the best way to start is simply to listen… 

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