November 18, 2014

Why Your Yoga Practice Doesn’t Guarantee Embodiment.


I used to be the yogi who hit the mat every day.

Yoga was my life.

I understood the purpose of yoga and used the brilliance of proper sequencing in my practice. I incorporated pranayama, asanas and sivasana as an ideal three part system of wholeness,  and as preparation for my meditation practice.

Yoga wasn’t the only part of my movement story though. Dance has been a staple of my life since I started ballet at the age of four. Later I moved on to modern dance, various styles of African dance and Afro Brazilian dance as well. My love of dance, moving the body, and my passion for understanding the arts as a necessary language of culture, led me to an undergrad in Ethnodanceology.

Since I come from a yogic family, creating a life for myself that embraces daily and regular practices of awakening, has seemed normal, healthy and even necessary for me and my evolution. My upbringing also helped me understand that the body is a vital resource for one’s awakening, evolution and ultimately enlightenment.

These values hold true for me still. But five years ago, I stumbled upon Body-centered Expressive Art Therapy, and my spiritual views, my body practices, and my movement exploration began to radically shift.

My practice of awakening is still centered around my body and my practice is still daily. But the rest of my process is entirely different.

In the Body-centered approach to art therapy that I work with, we understand that we have more than one body. We have the physical body yes, and we of course have the mental body, but we also have an emotional body. These three bodies are upheld by the spiritual body. (This corroborates with the Vedic understanding as well). Each body in fact has the ability to communicate with us and has a language all its own. In order to be fully embodied, we must learn how to speak with each of these bodies and to harvest their unique wisdom and messages.

The fact is that most of us are working entirely with the mental body- day in and day out. And this is where we get stuck. We let the mental body tell us what to do. What it needs. What it wants. We let it tell us how to behave, what is acceptable, what isn’t. We let it tell us all kinds of stories, and we listen to it! We even let the mental body tell us how to move our body.

This is vital to understand.

When we do yoga asanas, dance techniques, and other mechanical movement practices, we are letting the mental body tell our physical body what to do. This can strengthen the mind/body connection, but it doesn’t guarantee nor imply embodiment.

What is embodiment and why does it matter?

Embodiment implies that we are working with the wisdom and knowledge of the physical body, not separate from it, outside of it or against it. That we are in direct dialogue with the language of the body and therefor harvesting from its immense wisdom. It’s about resourcing from the messages of the body and letting your body speak to you very intimately. Most importantly, it implies the capacity to deeply listen to these messages.

This is why I love somatic and body-centered approaches to movement and therapy. Through a body-centered approach to movement, we are creating a special dialogue with our body and its messages. We have an opportunity to build a relationship with it in very intimate ways. We can resource from the body and the innate and vast wisdom of the body. We are then able to let these impulses of the physical body inform our movements in order for deeper awareness. This is a very big distinction between most yoga and dance practices, and an embodied movement practices. In an embodied practice, the body informs the movements, not the mental body, not the mind.

It’s true, a yoga asana practice and even some dance practices, might make you feel more in touch with your body and its messages as a result of moving it into certain shapes and forms. This is the gift of working with what is known as the “mind body”, but I invite you to take this a step further. In this place of deep listening that may arrive during or after your yoga or dance practice, spend time with your body’s wisdom. Hang out here and harvest. Listen. Inquire. Ask questions. Get really good at asking your physical body what it needs and wants.

Here are some tips for getting embodied with your yoga practice and dance practices:

  • Start with a three level check in. Embodiment begins when we can clearly identify what each level of awareness is offering and sharing with us in any given moment. Check in daily with what is arriving on your mental body level, physical body level and emotional body level. This will get you started.
  • Instead of doing a set sequence of asanas, postures or movements, start your practice by listening to your physical body’s messages. Is there tightness in a certain part of the body? Can you sense openness and space in another part of your body? Go into these sensations and inquire about them. What message do your tight shoulder or hamstrings have for you? Ask and ye shall receive!
  • Notice when you are pushing yourself to achieve an objective or outcome. Do you “push through” your practice even when you are tired or worn out? Do you force yourself into a posture just to arrive into a desired shape or form? Do you notice inner dialogue about what is “right” in your yoga practice and what is “wrong”? Notice where your practice includes “shoulds” and “have to’s” as well as “supposed to’s.” What happens when you release these?
  • Build your movements based on deeply listening to your body’s impulses. Let the impulses that are present in your body, be the catalyst for your movements. This is a profound step towards embodiment and it will allow you to deepen your relationship with the messages coming from your physical body. This is very different than imposing postures onto the physical body.



Embodiment is intrinsically connected to the now. It doesn’t actually require long, arduous physical body movement practices, but it does require willingness to let the physical body speak to you.

Below are four steps to help you become more adept at listening to your physical body’s messages:

1) Sitting, standing or laying down, begin to notice your breathing. Notice the quality of your breathing. Get intimate with the sensation of how the breath feels moving within your body. Feel the breath as you inhale and the chest expands. Feel the breath as you exhale and feel the chest collapse.

2) Notice any sensations in the body that are arriving for you. Is there a certain body part that feels tight? Cold? Energized? Painful? Throbbing? Seek out any sensations that are present for you and let your attention go to this part of the body.

3) Use this sensation for greater inquiry. Does this sensation have a color? Maybe it has a shape or brings with it an image? Perhaps it has a sound? Be curious and ask the sensation to give you some deeper information.

4) Harvest this information. As you gather these pieces of information from your body ask the sensation to answer these three questions: I am, I want and I need.

Based on the answers you receive, you may wish to begin moving with the sensation and let it inform your physical body movement exploration. You may also wish to do a drawing in order to harvest your findings more intimately. I suggest exploring both of these processes in order to awaken your dialogue and start deepening your relationship with your physical body.

I am passionate about embodiment! This is why I offer my clients a very unique synergy of modalities to help them get embodied. Using jyotish insights from your own karmic life map, I am able to prescribe individualized and specialized body part work, in order to maximize healing and transformation. My embodiment prescriptions are ideal for overcoming obstacles and blockages that may be hindering health and wholeness. The body is our biggest resource for awakening, and I’m here to help you awaken through the messages of your body wisdom!

Want to learn more about transforming your life through jyotish and embodiment work? Schedule a session with me.

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Author: Saraswati J.

Editor: Renée Picard

Photos: Vicky Mania / Yohanes Satriatama at Pixoto 

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