Note: My new online course on the Enneagram, Insight to Integration, is now open for enrollment.
Each of us has a unique journey with embodiment, but broadly, it means living our wisdom and values in our bodies and shapes, rather than just it being in our heads. Transformation that doesn’t end at the neck, basically!
Embodiment can be the missing ingredient in our efforts to move away from fixation (unconscious habit) and towards choice (or freedom).
In this article, I am going to pivot between two separate (both legitimate) definitions of embodiment: embodiment as an observable state and embodiment as a set of characteristics.
And because I love to bring in the Enneagram wherever possible, we’ll also be looking at how the ‘gram can support us both to become embodied, and in the task of developmental embodiment.
Embodiment the state – what is it?
The state of embodiment (other than being an amazing fictitious place I’d like to visit in the US) is quite rare to encounter in people.
But don’t listen to me: plug into your own levels of embodiment right now by noticing how and where your awareness is, and whether it is evenly distributed around your body.
Because so many of us lead very head-centric lives, we walk around with our heads slightly protruding, if not physically then energetically. We are often lost inside of thinking, carrying our bodies around like an afterthought.
Becoming embodied as a state means having a lower center of gravity and being connected with sensate and feeling wisdom, in addition to the wisdom of the mind.
How to become embodied
We become embodied through a somatic practice and in particular, practices that help to cultivate mind-body integration.
This needn’t be approached consciously: I believe my own center of gravity has dropped as a consequence of years of practicing yoga, for example. I haven’t always been aware that I am cultivating embodiment.
If you engage regularly in a body practice, then you are already cultivating a degree of embodiment.
What are the benefits?
People say embodiment is like coming home to yourself and I have to agree. Being embodied is very stabilizing.
Adapting our embodiments
Mindfulness is a practice. Like any practice, this practice can be used for the sake of many different outcomes. The same is true for embodiment. Embodying what? First we can ask ourselves, what is it that we want to embody? And is our current embodiment aligned with the life, leadership, relationships and actions we desire?Staci Haines
Let’s switch gears and speak of embodiment as a moveable feast of characteristics.
A person’s embodiment is not inherently good nor bad; it’s just either serving them and what they’re up to, or not. As Staci’s quote indicates, we don’t embody for the sake of it: we organize our embodiment around our current purpose or commitment.
Embodied practices are those designed to support an embodied shift from A to B, with the result of new actions and behaviors.
Embodiments are never neutral
We are always embodying something (or more accurately things). Before we become conscious, our embodiment is likely to be an amalgamation of our personality structure, nurture, and significant life events that have shaped us.
Anyone who undergoes self-awareness work usually learns a lot about what they currently embody, and its connection to the particular challenges they experience. They ‘go meta’ on themselves, maybe for the first time seeing that their embodiment is moveable, not fixed.
It probably bears repeating that embodiments are not inherently ‘good’ or ‘negative’. An embodiment is either congruent or incongruent with a person’s current commitments.
You might need external support in knowing your embodiment. One form of such support is the Enneagram, which I’ll get to.
How do I discern my current embodiment?
Your embodiment is your collection of qualities and behaviors. It includes your physicality but goes beyond that too, including for example your range of your thinking, presence of fixed beliefs and your emotional range.
Your embodiment also includes your ability to feel and sense; your actions and non-actions (for example, things like making a request, having a centered boundary, being able to have a bold vision); and how you relate and make contact with others.
To know what you currently embody, you have to collect information about these things objectively.
Embodiment-informed developmental work
Developmental embodiment is an approach to change that recognizes and uses a person’s current embodiment, and their future desired embodiment, as metrics for progress and change.
We begin with a commitment, something we care about doing or having for ourselves. Then we get granular about our specific types of embodiment/ disembodiment as relating to that commitment. We imagine a new set of qualities that would, when we embody them, enable us to realise our commitment. Then we design practices to cultivate those qualities incrementally, and we practice.
Let’s say one of my commitments is to be a powerful communicator of the Enneagram. And let’s say that an aspect of my current embodiment is that I am not confident when I share the Enneagram with people whom I sense will be skeptical.
The embodiment of my commitment will involve practicing confidence. Other aspects of embodiment that would be useful are being able to engage for extended periods with Enneagram material. Yet another aspect would be ensuring that I am actually using Enneagram distinctions in my own life.
Integration and Embodiment
Integration is the psychological facet of embodiment. It refers to an internal state of coherence.
As with being embodied, the state of integration is not the norm: usually, only those who have done a lot of inner work, erm, embody such a state.
Note that it is possible to embody around a commitment/goal without addressing the aspect of your psyche that led to the current embodiment.
Similarly, it is possible to do psychological integration work without including embodied practice (happens all the time).
Both situations leave the change incomplete. You might even call it a bypass.
The problem is that the new embodiment or integration is fragile. Some unforeseen thing might happen that causes your previous embodiment to come alive again. For instance, there is a threat to your safety, belonging or dignity.
So if you really want powerful lasting change, it is preferable to do psychological integration work (getting insight about your psychology) alongside embodied practice (doing specific practices or engaging in bodywork that addresses what you discover) and vice versa.
Embodiment and the Enneagram
Initially, the Enneagram seems to can tell us a lot about what form our specific dismebodiment takes.
“Oh Sevens go into their heads”, we might say. “Fours get drowned in feeling”. “Eights run around on pure impulse”.
Not so simple though, I believe.
A lot of us disembody by detaching from our feelings and primal sensations and retreating into the relative safety (and false control) of our heads – that is a universal pattern.
Here’s how specifically I think the Enneagram helps:
1. Help with identifying our current embodiment
In terms of getting information about what we embody ‘by default’, the Enneagram can act as powerful surrogate awareness. Many people feel very seen when they encounter a thoughtful description of their Type or Subtype. Note that there are somatic patterns to the Types.
2. Help with deep work on the structures limiting our awareness
The Enneagram can support us with enjoying a more conscious relationship with our Instinctual lives and our Centers of Intelligence. These two are distorted areas for a lot of us, and play a huge role in both our general state of embodiment and factors influencing both our current and potential embodiments.
To work on this level, you do need to engage in a small amount of theory – learning about your type’s Blind Instinct and Buried Center – and a lot of practice – real-time awareness work.
Let’s pivot again back to how the Enneagram helps with changing our embodiments.
Unfathomably, the Enneagram shows us exactly what we need to embody in order to become whole. As in, the actual tangible quality (well two actually) that your type develops towards. These are called the Virtue (the emotional characteristic) and the Holy Idea (the mental characteristic).
My thinking and experience is that the Virtue is not something we need work at directly. I believe the shift towards experiencing our Virtue and Holy Idea happens organically in the process of working to loosen our Fixations and Passions.
The expression of the Virtue and Holy Idea are decent metrics for how embodied we are.
Zooming back out, the Enneagram can support us in ensuring that our embodiment efforts are integrated. They help us to see what not integrated, or what remains in our Shadow (another name for unintegrated psychological material).
As our presence (which is trained separately) deepens, we apply our Enneagram insights and integrate the aspects of ourselves that were previously hidden in real-time.
If you are simply interested in becoming more embodied as a way of being, engage in a form of bodywork that cultivates mind-body integration.
I love yoga for that, but there are many forms of mind-body integration training.
If you are interested in becoming wiser to your own embodiment and/or adapting your embodiment in some way, then I encourage you to engage in the discovery work outlined here. The distinctions around embodiment are something coaches and therapists work with, and everyone can work with alone.
We all benefit from growing our awareness of our current embodiment and really owning all the aspects of that. If you need help with being friendly to yourself (I hear you), ask how the various aspects of the embodiment have kept you safe, or guaranteed your belonging and dignity.
All embodiments are adaptive and they all deserve our appreciation.