Erika Shershun, MA, MFT
Updated: Jan 18
To embody is to recognize how and where cognition is experienced in the body. What physical and emotional sensations do our thoughts bring about, where does the body manifest the experience, and vice versa. In somatic psychotherapy we work collaboratively with embodied experience to help bring about a greater self-awareness, understanding, and integration of sensations, thoughts and emotions, which in turn can impact the way we inhabit ourselves and the way we live in the world with others. Even our words can be worked with somatically, as words have energy patterns that connect with the body, tone, meaning and culture. With our words we can either open to, or close and cut off connection.
I've included two practices to bring awareness to how words and sounds impact us on a bodily level, but first I would like to share a little more about sound, integration, and embodiment.
Speaking, hearing and movement are highly interrelated; each is reflected in the activity of the other two. When we were infants one of the ways our movement developed was in relation to the sound and rhythm of the language caregivers spoke to us. Those of you who are bilingual already know that movement, posture, and gestures will align with each language spoken. In Sensing, Feeling, and Action Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen writes, "It is the integrated patterning between all three activities--movement, hearing and vocalization-- that allows us to express ourselves wholly and honestly and to communicate fully with each other." In other words, our fullest creative expression becomes available and is communicated through the integrated patterning of movement, hearing and vocalization.
The first practice, adapted from Anne Marie Chiasson, MD, can help you perceive how words impact physicality by bringing awareness to a small expansion or contraction within yourself, and into the energetic field around you when speaking three simple words; yes, no, and wow. Chiasson explains that "words are not separate from their energy, and the tone is not separate from the body." Although movement, posture and gesture may shift, the words carry the imprint of their meaning and have the same vibration in the body no matter the language spoken.
Yes, No, Wow
Sit comfortably in a quiet place. Feel your body being held by the chair or floor. Keep your back straight without straining, soften your abdomen and pelvic muscles, and relax your jaw. After reading the exercise through, close your eyes or bring them to a soft focus by engaging your peripheral vision.
Using a loud voice say the word yes a few times. Pay close attention to how your whole body feels.
Does your body feel the word?
Do you feel a sense of expansion or contraction?
Do you sense the energy field extending beyond your body?
Next say the word no in a loud voice multiple times.
Notice how your body feels. Open? Closed?
Say it again out loud using your full voice.
Now try the same with the word wow.
Notice any sensation in your body, and any extension beyound the parimiters of your skin.
Keep your eyes closed and your focus inward. Say it again now.
Continuing to maintain an inward focus, take a breath, relax, and then try all three in a row, yes, no, and wow.
With your full voice repeat them several times and notice how you feel the difference of sensation with each word.
When you are ready to end the exercise open your eyes and reorient yourself to the room.
What difference did you experience in how you felt and how your body felt with yes, no, and wow?
We work with yes, no, and wow to observe that saying yes usually provides an opening and more energy. Yes to anything that's coming, whether it's difficult or something pleasurable, opening to it takes less energy than closing to it.
While saying no is important, often we say no to what's happening around us in all these little ways that we don't need to.
Wow, or reverence, opens the energy field and actually brings more energy in.
You can go back and try the exercise again, and notice - do I feel more or less energy with each of these words?
This second exercise is a simple yet powerful Taoist practice that uses natural sounds to stimulate, energize, and heal our inner organs and their corresponding energy centers, promoting physical, energetic, and emotional healing and balance. The corresponding emotions are labeled 'positive' and 'negative', yet it's important to remember that all emotions serve a function and therefore are of value. I suggest being creative in how and when you use the sounds. The traditional practice is to repeat them every evening before bed.
Lung Sound sssssss - close the jaws so that the teeth meet, with the tongue behind the teeth.
Associated organ: large intestine
Corresponding 'negative' emotion - grief, sadness, depression: positive emotion - courage, righteousness, high self-esteem
Kidney Sound chooooo - lips forming an "O" as if blowing out a candle.
Associated organ: bladder
Corresponding 'negative' emotion - fear, shock: positive emotion - gentleness, wisdom
Liver Sound shhhhhh
Associated organ: gallbladder
Corresponding 'negative' emotion - anger, frustration, resentment: positive emotion - loving kindness, benevolence, forgiveness
Heart Sound haaaaaw - open mouth, rounded lips.
Associated organ: small intestne
Corresponding 'negative' emotion - arrogance, harshness, cruelty, hatred: positive emotion - joy, honor, respect, love, happiness
Spleen Sound whooooo - gutturally and from the throat.
Associated organ: pancreas, stomach
Corresponding 'negative' emotion - worry, excess sympathy, overthinking: positive emotion - fairness, balance, equanimity, justice, openness
I chose the accompanying image because of its expansive 'wow' essence, and symphony of color. I'll leave you with a final quote from Cohen," Our vocal expression (speech and singing) can be improved by enhancing auditory perception and kinesthetic awareness, through listening training and movement training, respectively. Our hearing can be improved by developing greater kinesthetic sensitivity, which leads to improved vocal expression. Finally, our movement awareness can be improved through listening and vocalization training. These activities are synthesized naturally in the arts--in music, song, dance and drama."