An Embodied Toolset
Embodiment is not just about the shapes you make with your body, but really about what comes up in the moment: sensations, emotions, thoughts, and how you respond to them. So here are some tools to help you develop more embodiment in your practice.
Mae West once said "Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly", and here's a lot of wisdom to that. Mindfulness does not at all require slowing down, but it's really helpful. Slowing down is probably the best trick there is.
"Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly"
Slowing down movements can help calm the mind. With fewer distractions, there's more room for experience and curiosity.
Slowing down helps you get a sense of what parts of your body are involved in the movement. You have time to scan joints and limbs and the relationship between them.
Slowing down also changes some of the dynamics of movement, because sometimes you're relying on momentum to carry you. You'll need to use other muscles.
You can also slow down your breathing to match the rhythm of the movements, but try to stay within the range of natural breathing. It can take a lot of effort to maintain a very slow breath. You still need enough prana to move easily.
Stillness & Taking Pauses
It may sound paradoxical, but stillness is essential to a movement practice.
Classically, you can hold an asana for any length of time, staying with open awareness, checking in with yourself, making small adjustments to expand further into the pose.
But it can also be interesting to freeze at any point during a movement. There's a fun element of surprise in holding something that's not a known asana and seeing how you react.
Finally, it's great to take a real break from a sequence when you notice you're getting a bit out of breath or tired. It gives you time to re-centre yourself and start again with a fresh attitude.
Inquiring & Visualising
Scanning different parts of the body in movement or stillness and listening to the different sensations (stronger or softer ones) will help you develop knowledge about your body. It's not just about how you do a pose, but really more about what you feel in it, what comes up.
And rather than backing off or being annoyed if something feels off or uncomfortable, it's great to take a bit of time to also feel that sensation and get to befriend it.
It might be helpful to try to formulate a question in your mind as if you were asking someone else. "OK honey, what are you feeling in your right hip?" Going down to the level of thoughts can prevent you from bypassing sensations. As one of my teacher said "Sometimes we move to avoid feeling" but in our case we want to feel more when we're moving!
"Ok honey, what are you feeling in your right hip?"
I also particularly like questions like "What's the attitude here?", "What's driving me?", "What am I avoiding?" They help me get off autopilot and back into the present moment.
Another great set of questions is about relationships, such as:
- How is my left arm moving in relation to my left shoulder?
- How does my right foot move in relation to my left hand?
- Can I imagine the arcs and curves my right hand is making around my head?
There are 4 simple patterns for exploring the spaces around a pose that come up a lot in our classes:
- Wiggling: small movements in any direction
- Pulsing: larger repetitive movements, usually along one axis
- Waving: undulations of the spine, optionally extending to the arms in a folding-unfolding movement
- Wandering: using a pose as a base for exploration, as a starting configuration, and choosing a part of the body to lead the movement. For example, on all fours, you'd lift a hand off the floor and move it around, pulling the body in different shapes.
Wiggle, pulse, wave, and wander...
There are many more tools to help you develop embodiment in your practice, but I think these are pretty fundamental.