Updated: Sep 5, 2021
We say we are a "conscious fitness and embodied movement" company, but I often wonder if anyone gets what that means and why it's different from the traditional fitness approach. To me, it's what sets us apart. But embodiment is experiential, not theoretical. So how do we get people who have not delighted in the experience of (or been conscious of experiencing) embodiment to understand what we’re talking about and why it is fundamental to redirecting the fitness industry towards true health?
Maybe a good starting point would be to describe disembodiment, since it tends to be most people’s default state. I don’t exclude myself from this - I am not some guru who has figured out how to live in a constant state of blissful embodiment (in fact many gifted practitioners are quite skilled in the art of transcendent disembodiment!) Disembodiment for the average person is simply being more oriented towards things outside of you than your body and all its contents (physical, emotional, etc). How much of our days are spent oriented to the news, to our smart phones, to other people, to work, to ideas and concepts, with little attention given to how everything outside of us is affecting the inside of us? Pretty much all of our day, yes? It is possible to do these things in an embodied way, but it takes more skill than I’ve currently got. (Disclaimer: I believe dissociation is a useful survival strategy with a proper time and place - but as a default state, it’s not so supportive of life.)
A favorite teaching-artist of mine says the more time we spend in disembodiment, the more room there is for ghosts to enter. Now, they don't just mean ghosts as energy of people who have died but are still hanging around to hijack human nervous systems in an attempt at satiating their hungers. Ghosts can be cultural values that we don't truly believe in, passed down through the generations. Ghosts can be habits and patterns that don't uphold who we truly want to be, but were once born out of a desire for safety/control/belonging/love/etc. Ghosts can be that thing we notice we are doing that our mother does that we can't stand and are shocked when we discover we do it too.
How does fitness play into disembodiment? Well, the typical fitness approach is from the outside. Many people are motivated to get fit because they want to look “better”. We look in the mirror - at ourselves from the outside, rather than feeling ourselves from the inside - and decide there’s something that isn’t good enough. Good enough to make us likeable, to make us fit in, to make us attractive to someone else (even when we think we just want to be attractive to ourselves, where do those standards by which we measure our own attractiveness come from?), to make us enviable. We are the object. Growing up in a female body, I was acutely aware of how sh*tty it felt to be objectified, reduced down to what I looked like rather than acknowledged for who I AM. When we are operating within the dominant fitness paradigm, we are objectifying ourselves all the time! If it feels sh*tty when other people objectify us, then why would it feel any different when we do it to ourselves?!
(photo: Carrie playing with the water spirits. The elements are allies in feeling our bodies: wind on skin, hands in soil, warming by a fire, floating or sinking in water, etc)
If at this point you're saying “Ok, Carrie, this is all kind of 101.” Yes. It is. I agree. So why haven’t we moved past it? Why are we still stuck between judging how we look from the outside and the more recent toxic positivity movement where we just pretend that everything is great but we actually still feel kinda sh*tty underneath the veneer? Because in either case, as Garth Brooks sings, we are still “standing outside the fire.” Revolution is an inside job. Scary as it may be, if we want change, we have to go inside the body.
Ok, so if that’s a toe in the water of how disembodiment shows up, then what does embodiment look like? Well, it doesn’t have anything to do with looks. When we meet someone truly embodied, we can usually feel it. They carry a sense of being rooted in their being, rather than in concepts, a constructed identity, or what others may project upon them. A perfect example of this is Donald Williams, who testified in George Floyd's murder trial. When the defense lawyer tried to claim that he and the crowd that stood witness to Floyd's murder grew angrier and angrier and so had some part to play in its occurrence, Williams replied, "I grew professional and professional. I stayed in my body. You can't paint me out to be angry." I was floored when I first heard his articulation of this. But also shook my head, knowing that the defense lawyer probably had no idea what that meant. When things get dicey and our nervous systems start moving towards fight/flight/freeze, many of us move quickly into disembodiment as a survival strategy. It’s like an airplane ejection seat. So to stay in your body when witnessing murder takes immense awareness and skill.
Another favorite teacher says embodiment isn't something you do, it is an orientation. I see it as a way of being. Certainly we can do embodiment exercises to have more lived-experiences of what embodiment feels like. But then to become embodied we must use our past felt-sense experience of embodiment as a north star - continuously guiding us back to embodied states (because modern culture is always pulling us out of embodiment) - so that the ratio of time spent in embodiment vs. disembodiment tilts in the other direction.
To use fitness as a path towards embodiment, we must focus on how moving our bodies makes us feel. What muscles do we feel working? What sensations, emotions, images, memories, arise when we do certain exercises? What we feel when we work out can reveal the patterns that keep us in pain. How we move can reveal deeply ingrained ways of being that don’t serve us or our relationships. How can we modify the way we exercise so that we feel good rather than ignore and push through pain while doing things the “proper way”? Certain practices such as yoga, qigong, TRE, Clinical Somatics are about cultivating embodiment. But just as you can do anything in a disembodied way, you can also do more traditional fitness (weight lifting, cardio, spin, etc) in an embodied way. It’s a choice. Ultimately, embodiment is something you must enact yourself. No one can feel your body for you. What do you choose? Your body awaits your answer.