Have you ever felt like you were “in your head,” lost in thought, and not really in the present moment?
Maybe you’ve heard a coach tell an athlete to “get their head in the game” rather than focusing on worries, insecurities, or mental distractions.
These are common examples of what results from a mind-first approach. You may lose touch with the important information coming from your body and emotions. Ultimately, you may even feel less human.
Our culture places high value on reason, efficiency, and the quantifiable. However, intelligence and output alone don’t equal well-being or contentment.
While the ability to think, reason, and calculate is essential, there’s a lot more to being human than the mind.
According to dancer, massage therapist, yoga instructor, and Buddhist practitioner, Luisa Giraldo, we can reconnect our mind and our body through simple, intentional practices that focus on integration rather than separation.
This is how we become truly embodied.
Want to know more about what conscious embodiment means? Read on to learn how to get “in your body” and get up close and personal with life.
Conscious embodiment comes from the idea that consciousness is best understood by “being in the world.”
According to this theory, cognition is influenced and even determined by lived experiences that are based in physical reality.
In other words, instead of a brain walking around in a body, the body and brain are both deeply interconnected, constantly engaged in two-way communication.
So what does this mean for everyday life?
It means that connecting to the sensual side of living through touch, movement, and sensation can help you strengthen the mind-body bond. In turn, you can become more engaged, present, and an active participant in your life.
Like mentioned above, the mind is a wonderful tool. At the same time, “being in your head” can lead to missing out on a lot of the beauty of life.
That same mental lens can also lead to anxiety.
Many people have had the experience of analysis paralysis, where weighing the pros and cons of a difficult decision spirals into a stressful tug-of-war.
Focusing on the mental realm to the exclusion of all else can even be a way to escape reality.
On the extreme side, it can lead to mental health symptoms like:
Luckily, there are tools to find balance between the mind and body, which is where conscious embodiment comes in.
From an early age growing up in Columbia, Giraldo felt drawn to the twin fields of physical movement and mental health and healing.
Giraldo went on to study psychology, concentrating on dance therapy and the ways that dance can lead to expression and release. Giraldo also completed training as a yoga teacher and massage therapist.
You could say that touch, movement, and the body are central to her work. To meet external challenges, Giraldo says she pays attention to what’s going on inside of her.
When her body talks, she listens.
You don’t have to have a career in mind-body training to benefit from cultivating body awareness. Below, Giraldo offers several tips for embodied living, no matter your walk of life.
Get curious about your body
Giraldo notes that some people know their bodies well, while others need guidance to reconnect. To gently find your way back into your body, the first step is getting curious.
Ask yourself these questions with an attitude of curiosity, without judgment or needing to “fix” anything. You can also try a number of other exercises to help you feel grounded.
Explore the mind-body connection
“When I meet with someone, I like to understand who that person is and what they’re going through,” Giraldo explains. “A lot of our tension comes from our minds and emotions: things we say, do, and think.”
Sometimes it helps to gently assess the stressors on your body — both from without and from within your own mind.
First, Giraldo asks her clients about their self-care habits:
- How are you feeling?
- How have you been sleeping?
- How is your appetite?
- What have you been feeding yourself?
- How often have you been exercising?
These questions can help you tune in to which basic needs may need more attention.
Then, Giraldo asks about the bigger picture:
- What’s your life situation?
- What are your sources of stress?
- What are you telling yourself about your situation?
- How do you think you’re handling it?
- What are you telling others about yourself in this situation?
- What parts of your body hurt or feel tense?
These questions, as well as how you answer them, can give clues to your sources of stress. They can also help you become more aware of how you relate to stressors.
Find ways to release tension
There are plenty of ways to release tension, including:
Giraldo notices that people look and move differently when tension is released from the body, including:
- breathing more deeply
- walking with a looser stride
- opening their chest rather than hunching their shoulders
- smiling more readily
Once tension is released, these behaviors can help prevent it from coming back.
Touch and be touched
While professional massage can sometimes be expensive, you don’t have to spend money to experience the healing power of touch.
Giraldo says she used to massage her friends’ shoulders and her dad’s feet long before she was certified.
Simply exchanging touch with a friend or loved one can be a powerful avenue to getting in your body. And if you can find a friend to trade full-body massages with, even better!
You can also practice self-massage to reap the benefits of touch. You can try:
When paired with intention and conscious observation of your sensations, this is a powerful way to reinforce the mind-body connection.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool to help you connect to your body and the present moment.
Giraldo attends a weekly in-person meditation at a local Unitarian Universalist church. Otherwise, she uses a meditation app and free meditation resources online.
Many community centers, churches, and social groups offer free or low cost meditations.
Breathe more deeply
Giraldo uses breathing techniques learned from yoga to open and close her massage therapy sessions.
Want to open the lungs, heart, and chest and breathe deeper? Give the exercises below a try:
- box breathing
- 4-7-8 breathing
- alternate nostril breathing
- Buteyko breathing
- anulom vilom breathing
- Wim Hof breathing
Reconnect to the earth
“When we live in cement cities, we forget that the earth gives us life, water, and food,” Giraldo says. “I need to get my hands in the dirt.”
To reconnect with your earthy roots, you can try:
- walks in nature
- forest bathing
- growing your own herbs or food
- going barefoot
- tuning in to the seasons
If you don’t have a garden plot, try planting a few herbs in your window.
“Food is medicine,” says Giraldo. If we plant our own lettuce, tomatoes, even simply our own herbs, we take an active role in nourishing ourselves.
Another way to reconnect to the earth is to go barefoot. A park or an apartment yard will do for this.
Often referred to as grounding or earthing, this practice can be as simple as feeling the dewy grass or crunching leaves under your feet.
Finally, tuning into the seasonal changes can help you connect to the cyclical, predictable stability of nature.
You can look for sunsets, sunrises, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the changing topography from spring to summer, winter to fall.
Giraldo has been practicing Buddhism since 1994. A core tenet of Buddhism is that by accepting suffering, you become liberated.
Giraldo believes that our bodies illustrate this wisdom.
To be human is to live in a body with natural constraints and limitations, such as:
- We get sick.
- We get old.
- We die.
- We lose those we love.
Even if we meditate, do yoga, eat healthily, and look “young,” all of the above is true.
This is known as impermanence in Buddhism and many other spiritual traditions. Accepting this blunt but inevitable truth frees us from fighting against all the things we can’t control.
“About 90 percent of my life is outside of my control,” Giraldo admits.
The more we have compassion for our basic human limitations, the more we can accept the limitations of others and surrender to whatever life brings.
Manage your relationship with technology
Giraldo acknowledges that it’s hard to stay embodied in a technology-based society. For those who live in cities like her, staying connected to nature can be challenging.
Despite the challenges, Giraldo says there are small ways to remember the present even in the concrete jungle.
For instance, you may have had the experience of being on your device and being totally absent from your surroundings. When someone nearby spoke to you, you may have realized you had no idea what they said.
Here are some guidelines Giraldo uses to prevent these missed moments of embodiment:
- When in an in-person meeting, check your phone no more than once.
- Being honest and straightforward when you do check is less disruptive than sneaking a peek.
- See what it feels like to put away your phone one hour before sleep.
- Before checking your phone in the morning, explore your own waking feelings by journaling or recording dreams.
Social media connects people, says Giraldo, but when it’s your default way of interacting, it can also disconnect you.
When we’re disconnected from our bodies, we’re disconnected from each other too. We may drift away from ourselves and our loved ones, thinking constantly about the past and future, says Giraldo.
“Go back to the body, to social connection, to the present, and to peace,” she urges.
This is what conscious embodiment is all about.
Karen Sosnoski’s fiction and nonfiction, most recently in The Temper, explores what happens when people face their limitations through disability, illness, addiction, sports, or other intense encounters, such as art. Her work has appeared in diverse publications including Romper, Culture Trip, The Sunlight Press, Argot Magazine, LA Times, Poets and Writers, Word Riot, Grappling, Bitch, Radioactive Moat, PsychologyToday.com, and on Studio 360 and This American Life. Berkeley Media distributes her documentary film, “Wedding Advice: Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace.”