Monday, March 7, 2011

Change #21 Embodied Teaching

Dear Birth Peeps,
I am in Seattle, on my way home to Albuquerque today. I gave a talk at the REACHE conference, the Regional Association of Childbirth Educators, and also a few small talks to the public on Birth as a Hero's Journey and Birth Story Medicine. It was great to spend time with Carrie Kenner, Angie Dobbins and all of the BFW Mentors in the Sea/Tac area.

At the REACHE Conference, I talked about Embodiment, and that it has its own intelligence. Embodied learning is that which cannot be learned from a book, video, power point, or the internet. Embodiment is a way that allows the Word or Image to become Flesh.

We live in our bodies. We birth in our bodies and our emotions. We express and access our knowing through our bodies, non-verbal expression and movement. And this kind of knowing is more direct than any other kind of knowing or learning.

To be an embodied teacher, we must live what we teach, not download it from someone else's knowing (evidence-based information). Although this may be a piece of the inspiration or motivation to learn, it is not the terminal gate of embodied learning!

To be an embodied learner, we must be alive in our emotional and feeling body, and in our imagery. Rather than being in a hyper, note-taking, tense state, (that of rapid beta brainwaves), we must be in a relaxed and receptive state, that of the alpha brainwaves (slow).

Western culture (from kindergarten to professional training as adults) is primarily focused on "disembodied" learning and teaching. Learning to be an "embodied teacher" and to present material in such a way that the receiver is "embodied" is not something we know in our bones. This kind of learning and teaching has literally been "bleached out" of our bones. But anything learned can be unlearned, if the motivation and vision sustains us long enough.

When I began midwifery school, I started in my heart. I had a vision, hope, and trust that filled my being. Of course, every journey begins in Innocence, Trust and as the inner Child, and and some of the initial naivety and innocence is modified in any worthwhile journey. But it was beyond a wholesome modification and maturation. By the end of my training, I was midwifing from my head, disconnected from intuition, and, over time, far from being intact in body, mind and spirit. From my own disembodied being, I taught childbirth classes to parents, from my head to their head. I gave them mixed messages about trusting their body, but separated them from their body with all the heady information. It makes sense that I gave birth the first time from my head, "evidence-based" all the way to the operating room.

It took almost a decade, with constant effort, experiments, and attention to bring my attention, trust, and knowing back down into my body. And to unite what I knew and trusted in a rational way with what I knew and sensed in my body.

The essence of the hero's journey is about learning; it is about embodied learning. It is not about adventures, or getting something.

We begin learning (or begin the Hero's Journey) lop-sided. We are either too much in our Feminine, or too much in our Masculine; we begin too much in our heads, or too much in our senses; too independent or too dependent. As we go through an Ordeal that often takes years (not a three-day weekend, or an "aha" moment, or a few months), we must cultivate and utilize the intelligence, qualities and energies of the "undeveloped" aspect of our self. This is a long, meandering process. Most of it occurs beneath consciousness, beyond conscious intention, and we may not see that it is happening until it "has happened." And then we are "suddenly" able to do things we could not do before, or think in a way we did not understand before.

Through the hero's journey of embodied learning, we do not forget the first learnings, or even abandon them. Rather, our knowing, learning, and capacity for learning, teaching, and problem solving is expanded.

I will continue this thread. But I have not connected with you--my Birth Peeps--for a week, so I wanted to send you my thoughts before I board the plane.

To really change birth in our culture we must prepare parents and birth peeps in a completely new way, which means all of us must unlearn and learn a new way of being, teaching, and learning.

In Seattle...


  1. Thank you so much for coming to Seattle! I am still buzzing with all the energy, ideas, changes and healing that I experienced this weekend. Your work is revolutionary and is making an enormous difference in my life! Thank you!
    -Barrie Rein Thunemann

  2. This is soooo good! Thank you.
    ~ Britta

  3. So interesting, this lack of embodied teaching is probably why we have the ivory tower syndrome-with what is taught in every university major being completely disconnected with the real world.