Have you noticed the term "embodied" being used more and more recently? I see it show up on Facebook groups, in book titles, and social events such as:
... the list goes on.
If it seems obvious that we use our bodies to dance or do yoga, isn't it redundant to call these activities "embodied"? And unless we use some kind of media to teach or lead, how could human activities such as teaching or leading not be embodied? Just what does "embodied" mean in these cases and why is it important?
Traditionally, the word "embodied" has been used to point to a concrete example of an abstract quality as in, "she was the embodiment of strength." The way the word is used more recently, however, calls attention to our sense of self, specifically our view of mind and body.
Thinking about mind and body as two separate entities has a long tradition in our culture (most often ascribed to Descartes in the 17th century but stretching back even to some ancient Greek philosophical ideas). One historical argument for this mind-body dualism-as it's been called-was that consciousness was the eternal, indivisible, higher, more god-like part of us whereas the body was mortal, divisible into parts, and lower, more animal-like part of us.
So not only were the mind and body viewed as distinct from one another, but importantly the two entities were ranked with lofty mind favored over rank body. And within the body parts there was a similar ranking: mind aligned with brain which therefore ranks over all other body parts and functions. We've inherited this dualism and the many biases that arise such as favoring "thinking" jobs (white collar) over "laboring" jobs (blue collar) or valuing thoughts over feelings.
But does this mind-body split accurately reflect our experience?
Recent studies in philosophy, psychology and neuroscience are challenging the idea of the brain as the sole site of "cognition" (see Embodied Cognition). Researchers are finding as much or more "thinking" or communicative signally from the heart to the brain (see HeartMath) and within the gut (see Polyvagal Theory). And perhaps we've known this all along? as evidenced by our figurative language: having a gut reaction, knowing something in our hearts.
So instead of seeing our mind as separate and simply housed within our body, there's a shift to understanding our mind as arising out of the conditions of living through a body. But how are these really different? Is this just a matter of semantics? Or is there something to be gained by this distinction?
I think there is. I think turning away from mind vs. body dualism to an embodied consciousness is an important step away from objectification culture. Mark Walsh of Embodied Facilitator defines objectification culture as the dehumanizing notion that we're things not people, such as when workers are seen as just "cogs in a corporate machine."
Objectification, especially of women, is the foundation of rape culture. Objectification encourages us to treat one another impersonally and without a human, compassionate connection. Embodiment invites us to feel connected to the planet and all living things.
Large and complex social problems cannot be solved by using a simple word like "embodied," but shifting the culture starts by shifting our consciousness. And shifting our consciousness can start with the words we use.
Notice when you refer to your body and try referring to your self instead. My body is tired? Or I'm tired. Notice when what you call "thinking" is actually something you are feeling or sensing. I think I'll go outside? Or I feel drawn to go outdoors. Notice when you privilege your brain over the rest of your thinking, feeling, sensing self. And notice the metaphors you use that belie your embodiment: that's over my head, he doesn't have a leg to stand on, get something off my chest...
Embodiment is not just a concept but a way of living a more aware and engaged life.