Embodied Awakening


By Anne Douglas
Originally published in Yoga Bridge - AUTUMN 2022 VOLUME 22 ISSUE 3

The path of yoga is a path of meditation. It can be said that its ultimate goal is to end suffering by stilling the mind in order to realize our divine nature that is eternally at peace, regardless of circumstance. Some schools of yoga offer a dualistic pathway to self-realization that is world transcending, to know yourself as awakened consciousness that is separate from the body and thereby unaffected by life’s tumult. Other schools offer a non-dual pathway that is world embracing and recognizes everything and everyone as expressions of the divine and thereby celebrate all of life as holy. Regardless of a dual or non-dual path, the gift of all paths of yoga is the reference to the body as a vehicle for self-realization.

In the non-dual path of Kashmir Shaivism, our body, with all its sense perceptions, is used as a most excellent pointer to the enlightenment that is said to be already and always present, without any need for cultivation. The practice, then, is not to change anything, but to come to the direct perception of this truth.

We can begin by experiencing the aliveness and wakefulness that is in every cell and atom of our body. In any given moment there is a symphony of activity being orchestrated by an unseen intelligence that dances the more than 7 octillion (that’s a 7 with 27 zeros!) atoms in your body towards harmonized functioning.

This animating force is the same intelligence that creates, maintains and dissolves universes, guides the turning of the seasons, drives the rhythms of oceanic tides and turns day into night.

Your body is already awake. Even when it is asleep it is awake, performing essential tasks such as muscle repair, detoxification, and filing experiences and information as memories. But underneath or within all of that activity is a silent, still, awake consciousness that, unlike the body, is beyond time, space and causation.

When we attune to our body’s natural intelligence and awakeness, we open ourselves to the consciousness that pervades everything and that has been here all along. Enlightenment is not something that we are waiting for in some future moment of profundity, but is ever present and available now. It’s just that most of us aren’t oriented to this experience.

As humans, we experience the world from a view of separation and duality. We see other people and things as separate from us. This dualistic view is hardwired into the human experience by way of our binary brain and five senses that cause us to perceive separation. In the embodied practices of Kashmir non-dualism, we are expanding the limited view of ourselves and the world. We are reorienting to the fullness of who we are that includes but isn’t limited to our body. One of the primary resources for this reorientation is selfinquiry, a somatic or felt inquiry.

There are some forms of meditative inquiry that are intellectual, but the use of the mind with embodied inquiry can be counterproductive, because of its default perception of separation. With embodied inquiry we bypass the mind by inquiring into the felt sense of our direct experience. For example, when our eyes are open, we perceive the clear boundary of our skin as the outer edge of self and anything beyond that as other. However, if we close our eyes and simply feel our body, what at first feels very solid with a clear sense of periphery, gradually begins to feel more and more spacious, expansive and without border. The localized body feeling can gradually give way to the felt experience of open spaciousness. Continued inquiry in this way can awaken the direct experience of being unbounded awareness.

Additional somatic self-inquiry practices can include unique forms of meditative movement (yoga) and breath work (pranayama) in which we continue to sensitize to ever subtler layers or koshas (sheaths) of self-experiencing. As we attune and harmonize with our most essential self, we develop discernment between the impulses that arise directly from source and the impulses that are rooted in conditioned thinking. Gradually, the naturalness, spontaneity and freedom of our true nature shines through unobscured.

The body speaks the truth. It cannot tell a lie. When we move in tune with our body wisdom, we move with the intelligence of the Universe. This inner intelligence can be likened to music that moves the body in a divine dance, and as its dance partner, we can choose to join and move with it as one. Similarly, with the Kashmir Tantric Yoga practice of Tandava, also known as The Dance of Bliss, we are invited to join with the natural inner currents of breath and the subtle source energy known as spanda or the divine impulse or tremor. The tantric text entitled the Spandakarika, informs us that this divine pulsation is the stuff of all creation and that we can sense it within as a shimmering effervescence of blissful aliveness.

As we meet, feel and embody the awakening that is already present, we become like quantum scientists exploring the atomic dimensions of our bodies to discover that what at first appears as matter, is actually mostly space. And we ARE that space! Through sincere embodied inquiry, we can come to the first-hand recognition of being unbounded, infinitely spacious, consciousness that pervades all.

In the dance of embodied awakening, we move about our days as if a separate someone, all the while knowing that life is a dance of ONE. We don’t wait for a future moment of enlightenment; we simply stand in the awakeness that is already and always present.

Anne Douglas, YAA Senior Teacher, has been teaching non-dual Yoga and Meditation for over 30 years and leads trainings, workshops, retreats and private sessions. She is the founder of Anahata Yoga Therapy, practicing in the beautiful mountain town of Banff, Alberta.

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