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Come to Your Senses: Presence Through Embodiment

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Everywhere we turn, we are inundated with new technology: sensors, self-driving cars, drones. Times they are a changin'. How do we stay focused, clear and alive to what really matters in all of this?

In other blogs, I've written about mindfulness -- an arcane, if popular, term -- that refers to watching our inner process so that we can see our reactive patterns for what they are -- habits that can be changed. Easy to anger on the freeway? Just a habit. The last to voice that great innovation idea at team meetings? Just a habit. Always on the go? Just a habit.

By turning inwards to study our own "operating system," mindfulness experts tell us, we get to see our thinking patterns and knee-jerk responses to situations and choose new ways to respond. The net-net? We waste less time worrying, projecting, and catastrophizing about events that are long gone or will never happen. And we invest more focus on accomplishing things we never thought were possible, enjoying the richness of our lives, or both. Pretty good trade off.

The real power of mindfulness, however, does not lie in observing our thinking. It lies in connecting with the body -- what we're feeling, sensing, where we are holding tension, and how we are breathing. Why? Because thinking is always secondary. It offers up commentary on, or evaluation of, events as they unfold. Sensation, on the other hand, clues us in to what's actually happening.

The implication? Anyone who wants to build presence -- be it executive presence, or the presence to parent, co-parent or run a civic organization effectively -- will develop it first and foremost by learning how to redirect their focus from thinking to connecting with the felt sense through embodiment.

In this post, I interview Allison Post, an embodiment expert who teaches people how to de-stress and return to world of the living so they can anchor themselves in presence, choice and empowerment.

What is Embodiment?
Embodiment is being able to "sense into the living state of your body so that you can self-regulate and respond to life's events from a place of knowing what you want rather than doing what's expected, stuffing feelings, slinking off, or powering through.

A lot of people feel out of control because they don't know how to self-regulate. They can't sleep. They oversleep. They overeat. They don't feel like their voice can be heard, so they hide their feelings or tiptoe around.

But if you're present to yourself and know how to self-regulate, when someone starts speaking to you in a demeaning voice, rather than tolerating it, lashing out or numbing out, you can register -- physically -- the impact that is having on you and make a choice from there. You won't have to hide. You won't have to react. You won't need to use all the usual crutches people use to avoid making the right choice for themselves. When you're embodied, you know if the people you're spending time with, the places you're hanging out in, and the food you're eating aligns with the life you dream of. And hopefully you have those dreams. If you don't, embodiment helps you remember what they were."

Simply put?

"Embodiment gets you in touch with who you were before someone told you who you are."

What are common signs that you're not embodied?
"Have you been in a car accident or another kind of mishap recently? Is your sleep fitful? Do you have digestive troubles? Do you rarely or ever notice the sensation of your feet on the ground? Do you find it hard to listen to someone without interrupting them or getting reactive? If the answer is 'yes' to any of these, that's a sign that you're not present."

How does one get embodied?
"How you go about breathing allows you to regulate your whole life. To get present through embodiment, start by gently getting in touch with your diaphragm. Know where it's placed in your body and how it moves as your lungs fill with air. Notice how your lower abdomen expands, what the top of the inhale feels like and what the bottom of the exhale feels like. Observe how the nuances of your breath impact your state of mind, level of presence, and sense of choice."

Why is sensing the breath so impactful?
"Consider the nervous system: The sympathetic nervous system is what gets you up and out of bed and keeps you engaged in activity. The parasympathetic, or "rest or digest" system, is what you experience when you're really relaxed or falling off to sleep.

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems aren't communicating well these days.

Everyone has been programed to constantly multitask, do more and contribute more. All of this keeps us in sympathetic breath -- the breath of movement, dilated eyes, and a body-on-alert. Add the stress of culture, politics, honking, and the rest of it. That's a lot of pressure. The hyper-sympathetic activity we're engaged in is not normal. It keeps us in a constant adrenaline rush of fight or flight."

Simply put?

Self-regulation through breathing de-stresses you by getting your parasympathetic function back on line and your nervous system back in balance.

What are the benefits of practicing embodiment?
By slowing down and connecting with the felt sense, you start delighting in your life -- every minute. Even when you are sad. You actually get to feel sad when you're sad. You don't put it off, store it and wonder why three weeks later you feel terrible for no apparent reason. Then of course, food tastes better. Colors become stronger. Sex is more satisfying.

Practically speaking, getting present this way translates into better listening, less frustration, reactivity, and fear-based thinking. So you make better decisions.

You don't stay with a job you don't like. You stop putting yourself in harm's way and instead you align yourself with the people and places that enrich you. When you're self-regulated you don't tank or have the feeling of lack."

Now that's a whole lot of presence, choice and... freedom.