When we are embodied, we have an awareness of our body as a whole, including sensations strong and subtle. This awareness is highly adaptive. Awareness of the body helps us to tune in to subtle messages from the body and the outside environment. The well known 'gut instinct' is the most obvious example of this. Signals from the body can also tell us that it's time to move and help us to avoid the negative consequences of sitting or pushing ourselves for too long. The body holds it's own wisdom which it will share when we are tuned in to it.
However, many of us have not learned how to tune in to our bodies. This resource has not been highly valued in our education or our society. When I first started to practie Mindfulness I was aware of many detailed thoughts and feelings that I experienced but had almost no awareness of how I felt in the body. Students who attend my drop in mindfulness classes in Newcastle often report similar experiences. The sensations are there, but we can easily condition ourselves to consider them unimportant, zone them out or try to overcome them. Many of us have years of experience of ignoring or suppressing whatever we feel physically. Coming from this position it can take time and effort to tune in more to the body. The consequences of improved balance, connection and physical and emotional health make this a difficulty that it is worth sticking with.
Here are a few ideas that may help us to improve our awareness of our body so that we can move towards a sense of embodiment.
1. Work out. During and after exercise the sensations we experience in the body are much stronger than when we are inactive. Working out in a way that challenges but does not overwhelm us often results in a range of pleasant sensations throughout the body afterwards which can be easy to focus on.
2. Practise mindful walking and movement. We do not have to be still to practise mindfulness. Mindful walking and movement are excellent practices that can help us to draw our attention to a wealth of present moment sensations and feelings which occur in the body as we move.
3. Develop a body awareness habit. Mostly we can focus on the body - we just don't. We can start to develop a habit of focusing more on the body by deliberately dropping our awareness into the body at regular intervals through the day. We could set a regular alarm to remind us to do this, or choose to link it to an activity we do regularly, for example dropping our attention briefly into the body each time we sit down.
4. Tune in to the body at times of high emotion. Whenever our emotions are running high there is likely to be a clear reflection of this in the body. At these times, asking 'how do I feel this in the body?' will not only help us to become more embodied but also give us a helpful way of stabilising in the face of difficulty.
5. Drop the distraction. Limit the use of electronic devices. If you listen to music while you exercise, try it without and focus on body sensations instead. The high level of stimulation we receive from television, computers and phones can be like a floodlight which causes the more subtle body sensations we experience to fade into darkness.
As always it will take time to develop a new habit, but it is worth persisting. Becoming embodied will connect us to an inner wisdom that can enhance every aspect of our lives.