How Embodiment Can Make You Feel More Alive (And 5 Ways to Do It)

“Embodiment is living within, being present within the body.” ~Judith Blackstone

When I was a little boy, I would dance whenever I heard a catchy pop song on the radio. There are photos of me laying down dance moves, radiating joy and vitality. Eventually, however, I lost my ability to dance.

If I had to guess what happened, I would say that I stopped dancing when I became insecure. I wasn’t just his anymore; I suddenly realized that I am someone with a body.

Thus began a long and complicated relationship with my body. As a teenager, friends and family teased me for being unusually tall and lanky. As a young man struggling with my queer identity, I objectified my body; I was ashamed of how “it” deviated so far from the perceived male ideal. To make matters worse, one day my lungs spontaneously collapsed.

Over the course of about two years, I was in and out of hospitals as doctors struggled to fix my leaky lungs. While undergoing several painful surgical procedures, I experienced my body as a source of great emotional and physical pain.

Life presented other challenges. Over time, I came to the conclusion that being in a body in this world is inherently painful. I thought that in order to find peace I had to become pain free. In order to achieve this, my spirit had to separate itself from the physical experience.

Looking for a way out

In my early twenties I was already tired of life. I felt alienated and withdrew into my inner world of ideas and concepts where I could indulge in fantasy and philosophy as I read. Most of the time I was just a head in front of a screen surfing the internet – there was little point in having a body.

I’ve also tried many things to minimize my exposure to pain and anxiety. Avoiding social interactions to avoid the possibility of experiencing shame has been a common strategy of mine. I was scared to death of having difficult feelings. As I am a highly sensitive person, strong emotions such as shame would freeze and incapacitate me.

I later embarked on a spiritual journey and was drawn to teachings that promised an end to suffering. I deepened into meditation and was somewhat relieved by a growing sense of detachment. I thought it was a sign of progress, but actually I was becoming more and more apathetic. I found it increasingly difficult to engage with life and other people.

Restoration of authenticity and liveliness

I lived in my head and became an observer of life – like an armchair anthropologist. Sure, I participated in the activities that society expected of me, but I always did so at a distance.

We all come into this world as embodied consciousness. With our body we experience ourselves and get in touch with our environment: we move, communicate, relate and create worlds. We experience the colors, melodies, temperatures, pulsations and textures of the world. And through our bodies we feel joy, sadness, anger, fear, comfort and love. By sampling this hodgepodge of sensations, we also discover and bring our unique expression into the world.

Living with limited sensation and feeling is like experiencing the world in only one dimension. So the work I had to do to find myself again was to get home to my body.

In a world that sometimes tries to erase or suppress our embodied, authentic expression, coming back to ourselves takes courage and a lot of support. By reclaiming our bodies, we can rediscover a sense of belonging to ourselves and to this world.

Five ways to start coming home to your body

There are many approaches that can help us come back to our bodies and feel more alive. If you have experienced deep trauma, please find a trained somatic practitioner who can work with you. Here I’m just going to share with you a few simple things that you can try to do more of to become a little more embodied. Make sure to listen to your body to see if these activities feel right for you.

1. Take a deep breath.

Proper breathing is essential to becoming more embodied.

I learned from a bodyworker that I wasn’t breathing properly most of the time. My Zen practice taught me to breathe into my belly, but now I didn’t breathe into my chest much.

To breathe more fully, take a deep breath and fill the space in your abdomen as if you were pouring water into a jug. The air rises to the chest as water rises up a pitcher. When you exhale, air escapes from your chest and abdomen.

2. Touch the earth.

Recently, my painting teacher offered to teach me how to garden. There is something very healing about touching the ground with my hands. When we touch the earth we connect to our larger body, which helps us to recognize our individual small body.

So many of us these days, myself included, spend our days in front of a computer. That’s why I think it’s important to find activities where we can touch the earth. I remember the first time I walked barefoot down a beach I was like, ‘Wow! I can really feel my legs and feet… I feel so alive.”

3. Eat quality foods.

One of the healers I worked with taught me that what we eat has tremendous effects on our psychosomatic system on multiple levels. I’m not a specialist in this area, but in my experience, switching to a healthier diet was a game changer.

It’s not just what we eat, it’s how we eat. By expressing gratitude for what I eat and savoring the delicious sensations on my tongue, I celebrate the experience of being embodied.

4. Move freely.

Through practice I become more aware of how I inhabit my body based on the way I react to my surroundings. I can prop myself up to gain respect or walk briskly to keep up with the rush. Giving ourselves space in everyday life to move more freely and freely can help us discover an authenticity that seems to flow with nature.

5. Make art.

When I think about the moments when I felt most alive, a lot of those moments were about expressing myself through art.

Whether it’s painting, sculpting, playing an instrument or dancing, we involve our whole being in the artistic process. It is not just an intellectual exercise, but a visceral engagement of our soul with the physical world. In creating art, we allow our body to express its wisdom, a wisdom that moves us by touching the beauty that lies within us.

Learning to embody more is a beautiful process of self-discovery. There was never a separation between mind and body – they are one. By reclaiming the space in my body and settling back into the temple of my soul, I’m learning to dance with life again.

How Embodiment Can Make You Feel More Alive (And 5 Ways to Do It)

About Thomas Lai

Tom Lai is the founder of Lifted Being. Through spiritual life coaching, mindfulness and embodiment practices, he helps sensitive people who are feeling lost and empty to engage in meaningful work that nourishes their soul. As a certified Realization Process Embodiment Teacher, he teaches embodiment meditation practices to help people experience more presence and wholeness. Visit his website at www.liftedbeing.ca.

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