According to social media and especially Instagram, getting embodied is the secret to living well, living longer, and having everything one could wish for, including better sex and more orgasms.
“Being embodied” is what everyone who has a better life than you has figured out, and, as with most trends, it heavily features and centers people who are thin, beautiful, and white. It has become a way to market programs and products, a buzzword used to promise the sort of consumer bliss that was previously (and continues to be) promised by words like wellness and health, and the yoga industry as a whole. As the global health and wellness and now embodiment industry soars to multiple trillions of dollars in value it becomes clear that the body is being handled as a product.
So, what do these words “embodied” or “embodiment” even mean, really? We have bodies. We’re embodied by default.
To be clear, I’m on Team Better Sex and More Orgasms, and I am daily amazed at the capacity of the human body for pleasure and how turning towards this capacity is a crucial aspect of activism and social change (see adrienne maree brown’s new book Pleasure Activism). I also facilitate courses and workshops on embodiment and so a portion of that multi-trillion industry dollar pool is mine. I’m entirely in favor of people being paid for their work, and in fact it is a clever trick of those in power convincing those of us who would fight and reimagine the system that we can only do so authentically if we’re poor.
But if we’re going to talk about going into the body, we can’t talk about the good results if we’re not also willing to talk about the politicized ways the body inhabits space. White supremacy is real, and even though race is not biological, racism has real biological effects, such as increased fatality of Black Americans than their white peers due to strokes and cardiovascular disease, even when adjusted for socioeconomic status and education. And as embodiment, health and wellness are increasingly commoditized, to ignore the economic effects of centuries of racism and how that affects access to health, wellness, and yes, embodiment, is an illustration that the embodiment industry remains focused on the white and the rich.
And so when embodiment focuses on telling people to “just breathe” or to “just go into the body” or even when more detailed instructions are given without also examining the very real systems that create the space these bodies inhabit, then we are not really in the practice of embodiment. We’re focused on what we’ll get as a result: all those better feelings and sensations become commodities in the way we approach embodiment as a means to an end, as well as a justification of the means. Which is to say: mainstream embodiment is another toy of the privileged. It is a way for people with privilege to ignore those our privileged lives are crushing, not because we are calloused but because we are busy being embodied, which requires our full attention, of course.
This is what I call a demineralization of embodiment. Like white sugar demineralizes sugar cane, like white flour demineralizes wheat kernels, mainstream embodiment culture is by and large white, and it demineralizes the art of being in deep relationship with the body by implying or outright claiming that being embodied is outside the realm of politics.
The body is political.
Embodiment is political.
The practice of embodiment must be political.
The body is inherently political, even as it transcends politics. To pretend a practice of embodiment is somehow removed from the political landscape is to blazon one’s privileges on full display, because only the privileged imagine anything as apolitical.
There’s no removing a body from the context in which the body lives. There’s no off-switch for ancestral trauma, or the lived trauma of navigating a world designed on systemic oppression. And yet, mainstream embodiment — demineralized embodiment — approaches the study of the body from a perspective of exclusively learning how to make the body feel better, and enjoying the experience of being in a body.
There is definite benefit to learning how to feel good in a body — to feel at home in our own skin is a gift extractive capitalism does not want us to discover.
But embodiment means next to nothing if it’s only about how good a body can feel.
Embodiment is a practice of returning to the comfort and support of these physical bodies. Learning how to go into the support of the body, and how to develop greater and greater comfort in one’s own skin can bring a pleasure unlike any other.
It also brings resilience. And that’s critical, because we have work to do and we need deep support to be able to do it.
A practice of embodiment is an exploration of the inner world, but it must include an exploration and deep understanding of the outer world.
It is a practice of remembering: We are never separate from the world.
This means as we shift the ways we inhabit and move in our bodies, we are also responsible for shifting the ways we move in the world. It means we are responsible to create social change not for the glitz or the glory, and not because it feels good (it doesn’t always feel good), but because we are in a world that needs us.
Because here is something we cannot forget:
Capitalism, colonialism, fascism, and all systems of social control require isolation and fear. They require we are isolated from and in fear of the natural world and from others, and so we bulldoze and pave and manipulate and control. And this grows out of and feeds into an essential isolation with our own bodies, separation from the literal breathing blood and bones of us.
This lie of isolation and fear runs deep. The belief in hierarchy and binaries and the resulting behaviors of control and manipulation run deep. Unlearning these belief structures requires unlearning patterns that run through generations, while acknowledging not only that these patterns developed, but why they developed. It’s not as simple as just taking a few deep breaths, although taking a few deep breaths is a way to start.
A simple practice:
Breathe 5 long breaths.
Each breath is a beginning.
A beginning can be rooted in a feeling that we are not enough and somehow need to become more, or a beginning can be a joyful embrace of the ways we always have, and always will be enough, even as we are responsible for growing. Hope can be tethered to shame and a fear of what might come, or it can be rooted in the joy that we are alive because our bones are made of old stars, because right now trillions of cells in your body are humming and pulsing to keep you alive. A beginning can be focused on a goal, or a beginning can be a release to the support that holds us, a support that always has and always will come from the earth, however much or little you think you deserve it.
Your body knows this support, because it’s the support gravity has offered us since before we took our first breath. Your body knows this support is not transactional. It’s not something you have to earn. There’s no meritocracy in gravity: no one deserves it more than anyone else.
Your body knows this. Being embodied is the way we remember how to listen.
And then as we listen, we must act.