Embodied Healing and Shadow Work

Healing and integration is considered integral and necessary for the path of Awakening in Life, to both feel at home in our life, our relationships, communities, and the world, and also to more fully respond to life.

Here emphasis is given to practices of embodied healing, but can incorporate any modality of healing one finds meaningful and effectively heal in ways that lead to more felt presence in oneself and in life.

In Awakening in life, embodied healing is done on and through the foundation of nondual embodiment, making particular use of Judith Blackstone’s Realization Process and technique of realizing constrictions in the body.

It’s important to have an understanding of how nondual meditation can be a support for healing, and how healing can help us more deeply embody presence. At the end of this page you will find a few practices to begin or deepen this journey for yourself.

Below you’ll find three explorations of embodied healing and shadow work:

  • Ryan Oelke’s interview with Judith Blackstone on Buddhist Geeks discussing the connection between embodiment, nondual realization, and healing, and how all three help deepen one other, as well as how to heal and release patterns of constriction held in the body, so that we can allow ourselves to more deeply inhabit our physical experience, release the grip on ourselves, so that we have a more fluid experience of life

  • Excerpts from Judith’s website and her book, Trauma and the Unbound Body: The Healing Power of Fundamental Consciousness

  • Commentary from Ryan on what is meant by embodied shadow work, its importance and relevance in our daily life, and how to approach this type of work, which requires patience and compassion

You will then find two meditations to begin or deepen your own embodied healing and shadow work:

  • Attunment to Fundamental Consciousness (inhabiting the body)

  • Embodied Shadow Work Meditation

Note: the constriction technique mentioned above from Judith is most effective when facilitated by a teacher, and as such this practice is guided and taught in private sessions, group trainings, and retreat. This allows for more personal guidance for experiences that can sometimes be quite difficult to navigate on our own at first.

Buddhist Geeks Interview with Judith Blackstone

Listen to Ryan Oelke interview Judith Blackstone on Buddhist Geeks discussing her book “Trauma and the Unbound Body: The Healing Power of Fundamental Consciousness”.

Here are a few selected passages from Judith’s website and book that illuminate the process of embodied healing:

From the Judith's website:

“The Realization Process Healing Ground applies the realization of fundamental consciousness to personal maturity, psychological healing and the release of trauma based patterns from the body.

In this aspect of the work, the main Realization Process practices are combined with verbal process and a unique, precise method for recognizing and releasing the subtle holding patterns that constrict the body, energy and mind. The release of these patterns heals the chronic fragmentations in your own being and between yourself and your environment, and helps remove obstacles to nondual realization. It frees, deepens and integrates all of your human capacities, so that you can know, feel, sense, perceive and respond with your whole being.

The embodiment of fundamental consciousness is the basis of self-confidence, safety, authenticity, and spontaneity. It opens you to the innate qualities and functions of your being, including sexuality, love, personal strength, understanding, and self-expression. Specific practices facilitate grounding, and resilience to sensory and emotional stimuli. These practices can be of particular help for people who are spiritually sensitive to live more comfortably in the world.

The fundamental ground of your being has never been injured. As you attune to it, you can become free of depression, anxiety, bitterness and confusion. You can experience the spontaneous upwelling of compassion for yourself and others. You can find within your body an innate, ever-present source of equanimity and happiness.”

From Judith's book:

“So far, in this book, I have looked at how trauma disrupts and fragments our experience of our internal wholeness, and our openness and connection with our environment. I have defined trauma as any event that is too overwhelming, too painful, or too confusing for us to fully experience and to remain present to with our whole body, heart, and mind….I described how we constrict our body against the impact of trauma, binding within these constrictions the memories and emotions of the traumatic events. We also constrict our body in order to suppress behaviors, such as crying or expressing anger, that might evoke traumatic encounters with other people. We constrict ourselves in order to mirror the patterns of defense and openness of our parents and to comply with parental demands, such as not to be ’so smart’ or to be less active or noisy. And we harden ourselves into shapes that compensate for the limitations caused by these constrictions, for example, by jutting out our chest to mimic power when we have constricted and diminished our actual power.

I descried how, when repeated over time, these movements into constriction either become well-worn habituate reactions to circumstances that remind us of the traumatic events or even harden into rigid immovable binding within our body. I also wrote that, even though these movements into constriction are spontaneous and unconscious, there is still an agent of movement, our own will, along with the feeling of our mentality at the age when we first constricted ourselves, that is also revealed as we release this binding.”

“As we become free of these constrictions in our body, we are more fully able to inhabit our body. We do not just become more open as we release these patterns; we also gain more inward contact with ourselves and with the innate qualities of our being.”

“Because this consciousness is experienced as pervading ourselves and others at the same time, it can open us to the pleasure of experiencing oneness with another person without losing the safety of inward contact with ourselves.”

What is Embodied Shadow Work?

Before we dive into an embodied shadow work meditation, let’s first define what embodied shadow work is so that you have a much more tangible understanding when cultivating a meditation practice for this.

Embodied shadow work can be defined by working with somatic constrictions that are held within your body in direct relation to what we often refer to as ’shadow’. ’Shadow’ is more of a metaphorical word to evoke a visceral understanding, but more specifically we might define ’shadow’ here as habitual emotional pain and painful behavioral patterns that operate unconsciously in our life.

For example of a ’shadow’ and how shadows show up in our bodies: someone might find that they habitually freeze up when collaborating creatively in groups. Perhaps they don’t speak up or say what they really want to say. This behavior happens automatically and unconsciously, even if consciously we are aware that it is happening. Behind the behavior there might be hidden believes and thought patterns. Even more likely, there was a point in our life where we went from feeling safe to naturally express ourselves to having a genuine need to protect ourselves from real or perceived pain, for example criticism from a parent. This might have been a single powerful experience or perhaps many experiences that slowly but surely wore down our sense of safety. Nonetheless our protective response to this shadow and pain was to constrict our voice and wisdom - if I don’t speak up, I can’t be criticized.

Now, where embodiment comes into shadow work is that it is certain that there will be a corresponding somatic experience that has rigidified over time and has some momentum to it. In this example of not speaking up in groups, we might experience a tightness in our throats, constricting our voice, or we might feel ’spacey’ in our mind and head, constricting our ability to understand and know thing (or really here, to express what it is we do in fact know). We habitually experience those constrictions repeatedly in those situations, even to the point where the somatic constricting might feel as if it happens before we even think or feel anything overtly. But the beauty here of embodied shadow work is that your body is a powerful source of wisdom and memory. Because our body includes a fundamental, whole, uninjurable quality, we can rest in and from which we can begin to lovingly work with with these painful, habitual experiences.

By working directly with your somatic experience in embodied shadow work, you can both more deeply and quickly bring these shadow painful experiences into the light, and more successfully release them and shift your experience for good. I have seen many times with myself and others that we can gain incredible cognitive clarity about our shadow experience and yet still not experience much change in terms of our lived, embodied experience. This can be very disheartening since we seem to have clarity about what is happening, but we’re not experiencing real change. In other words, cognitive awareness is not enough for transforming our experience. The shift here is that we come home to our bodies, embrace our lived experience, both from the past and in the current moment, and apply the wisdom and love of our bodies to those constrictions that have emerged in our somatic experience, slowly but surely freeing ourselves from painful habitual patterns, and also freeing our innate capacities to deeply feel our lives and to respond with our full being.

Foundational Embodiment Meditation: Attuning to Fundamental Consciousness

Before doing embodied shadow work, it’s important to first have familiarity with inhabiting our bodies and attuning to the inherent spaciousness of our body, to fundamental consciousness, that part of us which is fundamentally whole and unbroken and can never be broken. You don’t have to have mastered this at all. What’s important is that you have a sense that there is safety in your body, even if you’re not feeling this wholeness equally throughout your whole body yet. By feeling some sense of wholeness in your body, you will feel safer to look more directly at unconscious holding patterns within, and to begin to feel them with consciousness.

The following meditation is a simplified version of “Attuning to Fundamental Consciousness” and is highly recommended to all practitioners of Awakening in Life prior to the embodied shadow meditation below.

Embodied Shadow Meditation: Inviting Somatic Constrictions into Awareness

Beyond cultivating the experiential attunement to fundamental consciousness, it’s helpful to approach embodied shadow work and healing with compassion for ourselves and patience. Holding patterns in our bodies can be vulnerable and tender, and those parts of us not only need our compassion, love, and patience, that is how they are understood and released. At the same time, know that feeling this for ourselves might not come so easily! In fact, we cultivate more compassion and self-love by doing this practice. However, when things are difficult, it can be helpful to take a brief moment to bring a feeling of love and compassion for ourselves, much in the same way we might for a child having a hard time.

This meditation is also a nice bridge between the foundational embodiment practice and the constriction release technique discussed earlier. The main difference here is that we are cultivating an awareness of the constrictions in your body, but we are not yet going in to the constriction and releasing it. However, this is very powerful and this alone is often the first step in releasing constrictions and shadows.

As I mentioned, we have to have patience and compassion for ourselves because these shadows have often been held and operating for a long time. And honestly, my experience is that if we try to bulldoze past them, we unconsciously say ’no’ in our bodies because these patterns are protective, and so nothing much will really happen. Instead, we have to slowly befriend and embrace our somatic constrictions, bringing our shadows slowly into the light with love, and to listen to them with curiosity. When we listen to our bodies and our pain with curiosity, we reveal the wisdom they hold. From there we can work to unwind these patterns, to reclaim the fullness and wholeness of our bodies, and to free our creative being in our life.

The following meditation is one I’ve uniquely crafted to help you begin your journey of embodied shadow work. It’s inspired by Judith Blackstone’s approach and I’ve intended it to help you transition into her constriction release technique that can be explored in private sessions, group training, or retreats.