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Stages of Embodied Practice

by Margie Fargnoli

Our first embodiment workshop was wonderful and I wanted to say how impressed I was with everyone's quality of participation.

After talking with Maggi, I thought it would be a good idea to review the particular steps we're using to explore embodiment from the BodyMind Centering perspective. As I said in my introduction at the workshop, this is not the only way to approach embodiment, but it is, in my opinion, a very good way because it is so clear and so grounded in the body.

Here are the steps we used:

1) Visualization -

This is the process by which the brain imagines aspects of the body and in so doing informs the body that it exists. In ths process there is a director or guide.

By using the senses, vision, touch and sound we clarify the internal geography of the body. Pictures, models, DVD's - anything that will give you an accurate three dimensional understanding of the tissue you are hoping to embody is worth using.

Next, internalize the visualization. Move around with it. See it inside yourself. "Where are my bones?" "What does it feel like to move across the room while envisioning my skeleton moving?" Start making an internal map that you can use to guide you to whatever "location" you're investigating. The visualization helps us understand the location/geography and shape of the location - bones, organs, etc.

2) Somatization

...is the process by which the kinesthetic (movement), proprioceptive (position) and tactile (touch) sensory systems inform the body that it (the body) exists. In this process there is a witness, an inner awareness through movement and/or touch.

Following the map from visualization, I often suggest that we place or direct our attention or awareness in the tissue or system. Our directed attention combined with the visualized "map" guides us, opening us to experience that comes directly from the system or tissue as we move it or are being moved by it. As we are investigating,we are noticing the sensations, feelings, and/or perceptions that arise. Our attention is thus focused toward the direct qualities of experience in a given tissue and we are able to discriminate different qualities of experience between different tissues.

On Friday it became evident that situating awareness in the bones gave rise to a very different quality of consciousness as compared to situating awareness in the organs.

3) Embodiment

is the cells' awareness of themselves. You let go of your conscious mapping. It is a direct experience: there are no intermediary steps or translations. There is no guide , no witness. There is a fully known consciousness of the experienced moment initiated from the cells themselves.

This is a purely receptive sensory state. We attend to the co-arising of experience and the knowing of the experience. We are not managing the experience. This can be a difficult shift for us to make, especially if we have been practicing a cognitively-based styles of investigation that embrace a kind of forward momentum - thinking as a form of motoring. We are very quick to make meaning out of what we experience without understanding the importance of the influence of the original experience - the embodied, pre-reflective experience.

Meaning-making happens so quickly that it's easy to miss the actual embodied state. So embodiment as a practice takes patience and letting go of tightening in the mind (which is not to say a sloppy kind of loosy goosiness, but rather an alert, relaxed clear "seeing". It then may take a bit to language the experience or make meaning from it.

Quotes are from Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's, Sensing, Feeling and Action, (2nd Edition). Copies of this book are availabler at Coffman Union on the Minneapolis Campus or can be purchased online at www.bodymindcentering.com.


Thanks Margie for this helpful overview. Briefly, for further discussion, I'll list some concerns I have with how the work is conceptualized here.

1. Note the modular and dualistic description of what we are doing, e.g. in section #1, "the brain (mind?) imagines aspects of the body". This claims a division of labor and one that is complementary. This is a fiction, isn't it? The brain sends and receives information from our sensing organs through pathways "in the body". The brain is a discrete organ, but is it not also IN the body and connected throughout the body? So note the conventional rhetoric of dualism.

2. "the cells' awareness of themselves"...'awareness'...??? awareness without intervention of a brain AND/OR a mind?

3. In section #3, I am intrigued by the claim, certainly true, that "meaning making happens so quickly", and that there is "prereflective experience", and that there can be a lag to "language the experience or make meaning from it". What if there is no lag...what if thinking, cognition, meaning making is being done simultaneously with input from sense experience? At any rate, that there is a "lag" seems to be a claim that we can not falsify. It is given in faith. Does it matter if sensing and perceiving (or cognitioning) is sequential or simultaneous?

I would guess that psychologists working on perception of sensory experience have talked about these issues before, i.e., the process of transformation of the input from sensory experience into cognition. A place to look might be the research on visual perception in infants and young kids.