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What does it mean to be embodied and why is it important?

In yoga and counselling circles, this term means to connect one’s awareness through the body – accessing the senses and registering internal cues/sensations from inside the body. For example, you might notice the feeling of your breath, the temperature of your body, areas of pressure or tension, or sometimes noticing more complex experiences such as the feeling of an emotion or the energetic state of your nervous system. When we sense what is happening in our bodies, our attention shifts to the present moment, which also means we are engaging in mindfulness. I often use the term “embodied mindfulness” to reference when we are paying attention to the present moment through our bodies.

Over the years of working with individuals in a yoga therapy setting, I’ve learned people vary tremendously in their skill level of embodied self awareness, and this is important because both our physical health and emotional health require us to listen and receive information from our bodies in a skillful way. Many individuals who have experienced trauma or suffer with depression tend to be low on their ability to get embodied, and indicates the need to reestablish this connection for healing (Bo Forbes, Neuroscience of Depression, 2022). I like to remind my clients, emotions are not just experienced in the mind, they are a head to toe experience, and therefore the body needs to be included in the healing.

Learning to listen to the signals within the body is all the more important when you consider more information goes from our body to our brain than our brain to our body. About 70% of information from our nerves goes from our body to our brain, sometimes known as the information superhighway through the vagus nerve. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that the vagus nerve is so closely entwined with the digestive system that stimulation of the nerve can improve irritable bowel syndrome.

Moreover, when we develop the skill of embodiment, and use our bodies as resource for understanding what is going on in around us, we can better discern whether our responses accurately reflect our circumstances. For example, you can use your sensory awareness to determine if you are reacting fearfully in a situation that is actually safe, or alternatively, needing to listen to cues of danger that maybe your mind didn’t register. In essence we are opening the communication lines between mind and body, and this opens all doors for mindful, healthy living.

Good news! Developing your ability to sense what is going on inside can be practiced and improved. Begin by taking a couple minutes everyday to sit quietly with your eyes closed and ask yourself what you notice in your body – any sensations, tension, feelings, or what’s your breathing like?… Whatever shows up is information about what is going on for you, and with that information you can discern what is needed going forward.