Embodiment- why does it matter for organizations?

Ashish Arora

July 18, 2023

A beginner’s take!

The first time I noticed the word embodiment was in September, 2022 when Greaterthan (GT) was launching its second hike*. I was new to Greaterthan (only 3 months into it); I was effectively the only one from India; and, there were so many new terms that I was already grappling with. So, I thought embodiment was yet another one among them!

Very soon, my own embodiment journey began with the hike initiative called ‘Embodiment Revolution’! The aim of the initiative was ’to inspire an internal movement in GT towards adding embodiment practices in the way we work together’.

Connecting it with my Buddhist training, I realized that I had been doing a form of embodiment for many years, but mostly in a passive way. In the (Buddhist) practice of Vipassana, I had learned to scan the body sensations and develop equanimity in relation to them, so as to train my mind to stay equanimous and realize the impermanence of all phenomena. There was a component of embodiment in it, yet the intent here was not ‘to go to the body for the body’, and give it center-stage — seeing it as sacred, as an entity that holds so much wisdom, and that also stores trauma, wounds and memories, pleasant and unpleasant alike.

Almost a year has passed since I first encountered the term. In the meantime, I have had the opportunity to participate in many embodiment sessions and also observe a number of conversations about the topic. This article is my attempt to highlight how all of what I have learned is important for organizations, particularly when it comes to creating a safe space or inspiring people to collaborate.

As you continue reading, please keep it in mind that I am not a certified embodiment professional, which is precisely why I believe this article can be a worthy read for you :)

Embodiment helps to feel the conflict within

So many times, we find ourselves in inner conflict — the conflict between our body and our mind, of our intellect and our emotions, or simply, of our head and our heart. It happens in our personal lives — say, when we wish to say ‘no’ to going out for dinner with a friend but instead say yes — and in our professional lives — when we wish to not pursue a role/job but are stuck with it.

Basic embodiment practices, such as taking a few deep belly breaths or simply scanning the body sensations to locate the discomfort, can support us a long way here. The best immediate outcome is, we come to know that we are in conflict. We come to know that our bodies are giving us different signals through the emotions or discomforting sensations while our rationality might be directing us somewhere else.

Becoming aware of this conflict is of vital importance, as it might help prevent further escalation. There is a chance that recognizing our inner conflicts early on can save us from future guilt, bigger conflicts or even drastic failures both in our internal and external environments.

Embodiment helps to identify the gap between our walk and our talk

Many of us set goals often according to our ideals. We love to talk about our visions. Yet in our daily lives, when we walk towards our ideals, goals or visions, many of us fall short.

It does not always happen because we are hypocrites, or because we don’t really wish to achieve those ideals or visions. It might simply be happening because we are not paying close attention to the body. Mainly for those aspects which are only in our heads but are not a part of our embodied wisdom.

Okay, let me take an example from my life.

For the past few years, I have been idealizing generosity as a priority value. In my thoughts, I keep telling myself that I should be supporting more social initiatives, and donating a portion of my income to charities or simply to people in need around myself. And yet, in spite of so much thinking, there is very little movement across my bank accounts. All this money, which is well beyond my regular expenses, is still sitting in my deposits. Why am I not able to let it go?

In one of Greaterthan’s embodiment sessions, which was not particularly directed towards this theme of money or generosity, I had an insight. I realized that my body still lives in scarcity. At the level of my emotions or sensations, I still feel that I do not have enough. There is still an insecurity about the future, especially about a regular income in the future.

That was an ‘aha’ moment for me. That was the moment when I simply stopped pushing myself, acknowledged the wisdom of the body, and decided to wait until I started feeling comfortable about practicing generosity at the level of my body.

The best outcome for me: peace!

I now know the gap between my walk and the talk, and I also am at ease with it. I know that the value of generosity is not diminished from my priorities, it is just that my whole being is taking its time to embrace it fully.

Embodiment helps to collaborate, make long-lasting decisions and resolve conflicts

Embodiment can come in handy in collaborative situations. When team members choose to make decisions together, checking the body for emotions and sensations can really help to notice if there is any discomfort that someone might not be able to put in words.

Our bodies are wise. They are often a step ahead of our minds. What our minds bring forward through our thoughts, our bodies bring up first through sensations. Just last week, in one of Greaterthan’s Solstice Jamboree campfires, I learned from John Buck, founder of GovernanceAlive: “You have consent if it feels right emotionally. If people are still upset, then we need to probably explore more.”

And then, there is this piece of conflict resolution. How often do we find ourselves in conflicts where we are not actually able to put in words what we are upset about? We do mention some causes of upset, but then we keep circling around and this feeling of restlessness remains. It might be happening because we are not able to put in words and thoughts what we are feeling in our bodies. In such cases, it really helps to talk about the sensations, or even simply sit with them in each other’s presence. There is power in silence, and in co-holding sensations. Deep relationality, the feeling of heart-to-heart connection, can simply emerge in such spaces.

Embodiment is one of the fastest routes to inner transformation

So, we talked about identifying the gap between our walk and our talk. How do we bridge it? That’s the obvious next question.

I have realized that embodiment can actually support us here too. In one of the sessions, JD Nasaw guided us through an embodiment exercise that could help us ‘cut through’ various conflicting situations in our lives, such as ‘false harmony’, ‘emotional violence’, ‘overwork and burnout’ etc.

The idea was for us to imagine that there is something in our path and we cut through it by feeling it in the body. We were guided to sense the body while we moved our bodies to:

  1. Underextend: not really entering the situation, maybe we are dissociated, or protecting ourselves, or being overly cautious
  2. Overextend: pushing forward too quickly, more energy/force/words than necessary, being drawn into the situation so much that we lose our center, not reading the situation
  3. Enter/cut from center: feeling the difference, front & back of the body at the same time, holding our dignity, grounded in love

I hope I was able to explain it well. For more depth, you may choose to reach out to Greaterthan’s JD Nasaw trained in Somatic Coaching, Anna Kopacz trained in Sensual Somatic or Melinda Varfi trained in Holotropic Breathwork.

Also, I hope you could sense (it might not be at the level of your thoughts yet!) how this embodiment exercise was actually designed to work directly at the level of the body. No head-work involved here ;)

Okay. I am done. I hope this article was helpful. If not, kindly excuse me as I am anyways on my learning journey. But if it was, then you might consider giving embodiment a shot in your organization.

For your rescue and further learning, here are a few useful links:

*Hikes in Greaterthan support various internal initiatives that we wish to develop. The objective of these initiatives can be many — to develop academy courses, to strengthen GT’s internal processes, to improve the effectiveness of our client offerings, or to simply have more fun while we work together. We use the tool Cobudget to collaboratively decide how to spend a portion of our collective’s (surplus) funds on different hike initiatives. The hike is also a part of how Greaterthan organizes itself as a global company without employees or job titles.

About the Author

Ashish Arora (Linkedin)

Ashish supports people to follow their hearts and organisations to create transformative cultures. 

Most of his work has emerged in the Personal, Systemic and Organisational Transformation space. He organises a) retreats for youth to understand their hearts’ calling, b) facilitates workshops for people to collectively explore the limitations and possibilities of transformation of our mainstream socio-economic systems, and c) works with organisations to transform their culture and processes in alignment with the Teal paradigm.

Ashish is an associate at Greaterthan. He is also a co-founder of Sahaj Foundation and The Vriksh Initiative.

Photo by Kyle Szegedi on Unsplash

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