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  • Writer's pictureGavin Conochie

On Embodiment

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

One of the things that really interests me is this word 'embodiment', and what we mean when we use it.

It's a question of how do we really come into our bodies and develop a relationship with our physical selves. For some, the answer may be self evident, but for many of us, there came a point in our lives where we started to lose touch with our bodies, either through habit or through the repeated avoidance of difficult sensations or emotions.

Building a relationship with our physical selves is not something that, in Western culture at least, tends to be valued or prioritised. If we do prioritise it, we often do so in a very structured way: it becomes about playing sport, keeping fit,'s not something that, as adults at least, we are encouraged to access spontaneously and playfully.

So I'm fascinated by how we can begin to develop a dialogue again with this animal body of ours. In my experience, the body has a life of its own: its own rhythms, its own volitions, its own impulses. It's very easy for us to treat our body as a vehicle, taking it for granted that it will carry on functioning, that it will continue to transport us wherever we want to go, no matter what nutrition or other substances such as alcohol, nicotine, painkillers etc we put into it, or how little time we make to attend to its well-being.

What Somatic Experiencing encourages is that we begin to pick up this dialogue with our bodies again. There's a lot of attending to sensation in the body. There's a lot of breaking down our experience, in terms of saying "Ok, so right now I'm feeling joyful," for example. "And how do I know that? How do I notice that experience showing up in my body? Maybe there's a feeling of space in my chest...maybe there's a tingling, a kind of electricity running down my arms...perhaps I have a sense of lightness, of warmth spreading throughout my legs want to move, to run, to jump."

Similarly, if I'm feeling sad, how do I know I'm feeling sad? Perhaps there is a greyness, a heaviness in my chest this time...there might be a sense of constriction in my belly that increases when I focus attention on it...I may notice my energy pulling into my core, sense my arms head may feel fuzzy, unfocused, as I start to notice that I'm disassociating.

So we start to notice these kind of things. We begin to set up a dialogue with these sensations in the body. And we also become aware of the contrasts we experience; often these sensations will come in pairings. So, for example, for some people joy arising in their bodies will also bring in a sense of sadness. Maybe joy isn't something that we're comfortable with; it wasn't welcomed by the people around us as children. It may have been met with disapproval or admonitions to 'be more sensible.' So we tap into joy and we notice that it can be a complex thing for us to feel. Somewhere it may be over-coupled with feelings of grief or sadness. As we pay attention to the process that is unfolding inside us, we can begin to tease out the beliefs, meanings, sensations that are somehow overlapping, keeping us caught up in an intricate web of reaction and counter-reaction.

This process is a bit like gradually clearing the debris out of a river that has become sluggish or stagnant. As we remove the log jam, the current can start to move again of its own accord. We begin to get a sense of our energy flowing more spontaneously, more naturally Our thirst for life comes back online. Things become simpler, more joyful. We find reservoirs of energy becoming available to us that we previously didn't know were there. Our capacity to be calm and at ease in the world increases. We regain access to our desire for contact, for social connection, which in turn supports us to go deeper, to trust more.

The paradox here is that it is through building our capacity to tolerate what feels uncomfortable in our system, being willing to give it attention, that we become more comfortable in life, more able to show up in our bodies. Through this process, a kind of magic starts to happen.

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