I believe that I play my best when I am fully embodied. To be embodied is to live consciously within your body, to be in touch with your senses and have a full acceptance of your body the way that it is. An embodied person is able to listen to messages and cues from their body, and respond to those cues in healthy ways – resting when they are tired, nourishing themselves when they are hungry, energizing their body through movement.
Embodiment refers to being aligned with one’s emotional body as well as their physical body. To be emotionally embodied is to feel our emotions rather than ignore them. It means expressing ourselves when we want our inner voice to be heard, or stepping back into quiet reflection when we feel saturated so that we may process our experiences.
The opposite of embodiment, disembodiment, is when we numb out from the body’s physical and emotional cues. In a disembodied state, we harden and construct walls around our physical and emotional pain in order to protect ourselves. But in not acknowledging that pain, it remains stuck in the body. (What you resist, persists). To live in an embodied way is to be able to soften around that pain, to recognize and accept so that it may move its way through the body.
I am personally striving towards becoming a more embodied person, so that I can both grow as a musician-artist, and feel more at home within myself. Embodiment starts from self-acceptance and self-compassion. It means practicing self-care; taking care of your body, mind, and heart. For the body: are you getting enough sleep, are you eating well, are you getting in daily movement? For the mind: are you being kind to yourself through your thoughts? Are you learning something new everyday and allowing yourself to open your mind to new perspectives? For the heart: are you loving others and letting yourself be loved? Are you able to connect to something greater than yourself? Are you allowing yourself to experience belonging within a community or group? Each question takes time and patience to tackle, and we work towards them through the small actions that make up our daily lives.
Four Tips for Cultivating Embodiment (as a musician, and as a person)
1. Check in
Check in with your body regularly. Listen to the body’s cues, and respect those cues. Don’t ignore or delay responding to them. It might feel it might feel as if you are not working hard enough at first, because we’ve all received the societal message that we are worthy when we are busy or overworked to the point that we become burnt out with stress and fatigue. However, you are able to achieve your best quality work when you are well. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Create a mini body-check in routine before each practice session and during breaks. Take a minute or two to release tension where you discover you’ve been holding tension. (If it helps, do a body scan, starting from the crown of the head and moving down to the bottom of the feet). Take stretch breaks, especially if sitting or practicing for long periods of time, so that you’re not staying in the same position for an extended amount of time. Breathe, let oxygen get to the brain and move through the body.
2. Energy management
Become aware of the things you can do in your day to best manage your energy. We all have peaks and dips in our energy. We can learn to work with them, not against them. Get familiar with the times of day that you feel most energized and capable of giving your best in practice sessions. But as I mentioned in an earlier post, challenge yourself to practice in non-optimal times as well so that you can be prepared for auditions, lessons, or other important events that might fall in this time.
Remember also to treat your body well. See your musicianship as physical training – train your skills like an athlete would. Your physical and psychological health is just as important to your success as your playing ability.
3. Carry yourself with dignity and self-respect
Become mindful of how you carry yourself (your posture) both while you are practicing/playing your instrument, and when you are moving through your everyday life. How you move through the world says a lot about how you see yourself occupying the world. Are you staying small by keep your head down and slouching? That carries a message of “I don’t deserve to be here.” Try taking up more space. Validate your own existence. Carry yourself in a way that says, “I deserve to be here. I want to be here. I respect myself. I respect you, and am open to what your have to offer.” Let your chest expand. Allow yourself to move when you breathe. Lift your head up. This is a shift from closing off from the world to opening up to the world. Moving and holding yourself with dignity and grace translates to treating yourself with dignity and grace. Other people can see that, and are attracted to that. You are acting your way into the way you want to be, and how you want to be seen.
This goes for how an audience perceives you on stage, as well. You are opening yourself up and connecting to the audience with the music you have to offer, rather than closing off from the audience and projecting a message of “I don’t want to be here. Don’t listen to me, I’m no good.” Project an open body language. Take your time. Accept audience applause. Keep your eyes open when playing a memorized piece. Transition from feeling like you don’t belong to the space or don’t deserve to be there into holding the belief that in this moment, you completely own the stage. Allow yourself to take up space when breathing. Give yourself room for imperfections, rather than staying contained within a safe bubble. Be okay with stepping off the cliff. What happens when you step off the cliff? Maybe a bad sound. But no one dies. We are generally not risking or lives as musicians, but sometimes we play so carefully as if this is the case. Stop being so careful. Take risks. You completely own the space. You control the atmosphere. Doing this can be especially challenging in unfamiliar spaces. Try to see if you can visit the space or see pictures of it beforehand. You can visualize the space even if you’re not sure of what it will look like.
4. Allow yourself to feel
We are all emotional creatures. But some of us who consider ourselves more reserved or stoic (hey there) can feel as if we are numbing ourselves off from our own experience at times. Or, we might be so driven and focused towards achieving a goal that we forget to really pause and feel the process of reaching the goal. We forget to stop and smell the roses along the way, if you will. As a musician, don’t forget to get out of the practice room, sit down, and just listen to music. At the risk of sounding a little woo-woo here, don’t try to analyze or form opinions about the music or the performer, just let the emotional experience of the sounds run through you. Remember the reasons you love music in the first place. Take these powerful emotional experiences with you and use them as a tool in your own playing.
I am still discovering and exploring the connections between physical, mental, and emotional embodiment. If you have any other suggestions for how to exist in a body – as a person, as a musician – feel free to leave a comment. We could all use a little guidance sometimes with the ever-perplexing and continual challenge of being human.