What is embodiment and how can it help with sleep?
Welcome sleep enthusiast. So you’ve seen that embodiment is a core aspect of Restful Sleep coaching, or maybe you’ve heard of embodiment as a wellness practice and you’re curious to find out more? This article goes into what embodiment is and how it can be used to improve well-being and sleep, as well as exercises you can try for yourself.
11 min read
How do you practice embodiment?
As a sleep coach and embodiment facilitator, these are some of my favourite topics to talk about. There’s lots to cover and this article introduces some of the key concepts and practices that I offer in one on one sleep coaching. So if you’re ready to get a feel for what embodiment is, I invite you to take a deep breath in and out… do that once more, but this time feel your belly expand and contract as you do so. Ready to dive in?
Embodiment in a sentence and as a practice
For clarity, there are a couple of ways that embodiment can be referred to - a definition from the Cambridge Dictionary is 'someone or something that represents a quality or an idea exactly', for example 'she is the embodiment of strength'.
There is also embodiment defined more broadly as a state of being in itself. A practice that impacts well-being, and so can be supportive for sleep. This is the embodiment explored in this article, with insights from how embodiment is used in Restful Sleep coaching as well as ideas and exercises for you to try.
What embodiment is not, aka: disembodiment
It can be helpful to consider what embodiment is not. In short, it is not being able to hear yourself and the messages from your body. That can be due to living with a sense of numbness that gets in the way, which is very common with the demands of modern life keeping us busy, as well as not having the chance to learn the language of the body.
An example of being disembodied could be drinking alcohol every night (even if it’s just one glass of wine) to relax and unwind. Whilst a drink may help with falling asleep, being disconnected to the body's response to alcohol could mean that we fail to see how it disrupts sleep and our physical state. The next day fatigue and grogginess can be explained away by age, stress, the worries of the world and more, rather than making the connection between what we do to our body and how the body then feels.
It happens everywhere and anywhere. Even in yoga, a well-known embodiment practice, that literally means ‘unity’. Having gone through the all poses, lay on the mat at the end - whilst the mind is caught up in racing thoughts: how to fix that issue at work? What to eat for dinner?
Do those examples sound familiar? To be disembodied means to not listen to yourself and it’s not surprising that a lack of connection between the mind and body is incredibly common when we hear supposedly encouraging phrases like ‘mind over matter’, ‘power through’, ‘grin and bear it’, ‘suck it up’, ‘you’re a machine’ and more to deal with the demands and stresses of modern life.
Practicing embodiment opens us up to an alternative way of being, where we can hear the language of the body and respond to our needs from that place.
What is the definition of embodiment?
Positivepsychology.com defines embodiment as ‘explor(ing) the relationship between our physical being and our energy. It involves the interaction of our body, thoughts, and actions.’
Embodiment practices fall under the umbrella of somatic psychology, which assumes:
Events impact our physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual being as a whole.
All events must be processed through our sensory systems.
Thoughts are physiological and occur throughout the body, not just the mind.
Embodiment practices often use dance or movement therapy, visualization, sensory awareness, and progressive muscle relaxation. Using embodiment practices in psychotherapy might involve a client identifying sensations as topics are explored in session to expand the healing process.
With Restful Sleep coaching, the invitation is to bring awareness to our mind-body connection - how the mind influences the state of the body and the body influences the state of the mind. As well as being free (and brave!) enough to change our states if we so wish.
What does being embodied look like?
This is a question I often encounter when my passion for embodiment comes up. It’s a difficult one to answer with words, because ultimately embodiment is not something that you can fully understand intellectually, or think your way into. It is an experience and way of being that calls for slowing down, to be felt in the body.
Embodiment impacts us on every level, as Martha Beck said, ‘how you do anything is how you do everything’. In working on embodiment in sleep coaching, I guide clients to increase their awareness about how they show up in the world, inviting more connection with the deep inner guidance and wisdom that comes from bodily intelligence.
What may start out as a whisper from the body eventually evolves into clear guidance that can inform how we live our daily lives. You might start noticing how caffeine has an impact on anxiety levels and changes to your mood. Or feeling when you are entering into a sleepy state, so make your way more readily to bed, instead of pushing through with three more Netflix episodes.
Moving into a more embodied way of being can bring changes on many levels, some key ones I see with clients include being able to better tolerate stress and their choice to respond to it. As well as making decisions with clarity and enjoying connecting more deeply with others. Some examples of embodiment in everyday life can look like:
Knowing how to navigate and ground yourself when processing challenging thoughts,
Noticing agitation and having the resilience to stay calm when external events bring uncertainty,
Having the clarity to give a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’, a gut decision as they can be called,
Knowing and being able to speak your truth, as well as setting boundaries,
Giving yourself the mental space for choice around resting and taking a break,
Living a more joyful life with more presence for everyday sweet moments, as well as the challenges,
Having greater awareness about how daily eating, movement and sleep habits impact your energy levels,
Having the energy to fully participate in your day, so you drift off to sleep with ease.
How do you practice embodiment?
So how to practice embodiment and bring in more connection to our bodily wisdom? The good news is that there are many simple and accessible ways to practice embodiment. And just because they are simple doesn’t mean they are easy! It is ultimately about participating in the wholeness of life with our whole being - aligning the mind and the body, rather than just physically going through the motions.
An easily accessible way to start trying out new ways of embodiment can be to join a class - a safe opportunity to experiment in a guided learning environment, where the focus is on how it is to try a new way of being.
Examples of embodied activities and the different states they invite include:
To practice discipline and form you could take up a martial art form or ashtanga yoga,
For more spontaneity, humour and lightness with speaking up in the moment, try clowning or a form of improvisation,
To bring more assertiveness and leadership into your life, karate could help,
For interpersonal communication, there are options like acroyoga, partner dancing and authentic relating,
For slowing down and getting more grounded, practices such as gardening or mindful, barefoot walks in nature.
To build embodiment, these activities require presence and intentionality to avoid approaching them in a disembodied way (like doing a yoga class and allowing your mind to wander). Really, anything can be an embodied practice if there is intentionality for what you would like to explore and develop.
In Restful Sleep coaching, clients are supported with short embodiment exercises in sessions, as well as with finding activities to practice more. They are also guided on how to track their state before, during and after the activity to stay present and aware in their body. That way there are greater chances of insights from these new experiences being integrated and applied into everyday life. Until eventually life itself becomes the practice.
How can I practice embodiment right now to help with sleep?
The centring exercise below is a great way to check in with where your body may be at, soothe any fight or flight response left over from stressful events and send a signal to the body to let it know that we are not actually at risk and the body can relax now.
When you get familiar with the simple (not easy!) exercise and build your mind-body connection capacity you will find you can start to draw on this skill when life throws you challenging moments. If you’d like support in your growing embodiment, you can find out about how one on one Restful Sleep coaching could help you here.
How is embodiment used in Restful Sleep coaching?
In Restful Sleep coaching sessions, clients are guided to start to explore their own mind-body connection through short embodiment exercises. We also explore what kinds of reactions their body may be trying to send to them during moments they find challenging in their everyday lives. From there, we can understand more about the type of qualities they may wish to develop and find an embodied practice to support them.
In being supported along the embodiment journey, clients have a guide for navigating what's often a new discovery of themselves. They also have reference points for when it comes to tracking their state before, during and after their embodied activity practice to stay present and aware in their body. Each session is tailored to the client's needs, drawing on embodiment practices, along with those from CBTI and holistic sleep coaching.
All of this is supported by mini check-ins between sessions, homework tasks related to their goals and other relevant resources to support growth. If you'd like to find out more about how embodiment could support your sleep, you can book a free consultation call today.
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