I didn’t know how very much I needed this book until I opened it — one of the biggest gifts for a reader, and for a person who seeks understanding. That word bodyfulness is instantly recognizable as a side-stepping of mindfulness, but you’re wrong if you think it intends a substitution of body for mind.
As you would expect from a book published by Shambhala, it embraces a much more comprehensive understanding of the lived experience. The book includes lessons on how to be centered within yourself in a moment-to-moment way and how to find and hold on to yourself when the winds are buffeting. A very interesting element of Caldwell’s approach to bodyfulness is the understanding that bodyfulness has political implications: racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism separate us from our bodies and define many of our bodies as wrong or insufficient. In so doing, we are separated from our bodies and become bodyless.
Dr. Caldwell founded the Somatic Counseling program at Naropa University, is a practicing psychotherapist, and is an advanced student of Thich Nhat Hanh — impressive credentials that give her the deep knowledge and compassionate understanding that permeate the book. Whether you are someone who is interested in the general topics of mindfulness, meditation, body-centered attention and wisdom, or a practitioner or counselor who wants to expand your understanding and use of these techniques, you’ll be right at home in this carefully designed book.
The book is structured in three parts: 1) The body of bodyfulness; 2) Bodyfulness practice: Presencing bodyfulness; and 3) Bodyful applications and actions. It’s a useful structure. The first part centers you squarely within the body, but not in an Anatomy 101 way. Instead of graphics that depict the 27 bones of a hand, for example, the first chapter explores eight basic principles of bodyfulness, including oscillation, balance, feedback loops, energy conservation, discipline, change and challenge, contrast through novelty, and associations and emotions.
This is a completely different orientation to “the body,” but one that corresponds quite immediately to your own lived experience. I don’t know my trapezium from my trapezoid, but I do know something about balance and feedback loops because I live with them every day. The second chapter does a bit of a dive into cells, tissues, organs, and systems, with a focus on the living enactments of the themes of bodyfulness. By the end of Part I, you have the information you need to move into the themes of Part 2: breathing, sensing, moving, and relating.
One of the strengths of this book is the inclusion of truly wonderful and accessible practices. You don’t have to carve time out of your schedule to find your cushion; instead, for example, try brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand as a way to explore energy conservation. In addition to the easy practices scattered throughout each chapter, Dr. Caldwell provides a list of practices at the end of each chapter that pull together the lessons that have accumulated in the book. Some suggest small practices you can do throughout the day (eg, check in with your body sensations before making a choice) and others can be added to an existing practice.
Parts 1 and 2 provide a deep foundation to the concepts, along with a great list of practices that will help you expand your bodyfulness, and Part 3 moves beyond those specifics into applications. Chapter 7 (Body Identity, Body Authority, and Bodyful Stories) will be invaluable for readers with traumatic histories, and those whose body authority was violated. Practices will help readers work with the past, present, and future.
Chapter 8 (Bodylessness and the Reclamation of Bodily Authority) explore the inverse of bodyfulness: ignoring the body, seeing the body as an object or project, hating the body, and making our own or others’ bodies wrong. Understanding these habits, and finding our way around them, allows us to suffer less, feel more pleasure, treat others better, and experience fewer challenges in living our own self-reflective lives.
As Caldwell notes, “Bodyful activism begins with loving our body. But it doesn’t stay there….As our inner experience of justice grows, our outer actions have an experiential template from which to make use of our power, together, for all of us.” with her concept of bodyfulness, Caldwell is proposing nothing less than a political reorientation.
Chapter 9 (When Being Here Takes You There: Change and the Body) explores change in all its directions: where it comes from, our motivations for change, and advanced forms of change. As always, the practices are specific, enlightening, and sometimes fun, like the last one of the chapter titled “Goofing around together.”
The last chapter of the book (Chapter 10: The Enlightened Body) pulls together the lessons of the book to explore “what our watery body does that we can make use of in order to be more awake and happier, as whatever body we are.” The practices that end this chapter, and the book, are among the most creative, as they ask you to incorporate all you’ve learned and take them out on your own.
Three appendixes, a notes section, and a more lengthy section titled “Additional Notes and References” add ballast to the book and give interested readers a wealth of resources to explore. I enjoyed reading this last section on its own. The bibliography of books and articles could be used to build your own library for additional understanding.
This is one of the best books I’ve read in the last year, and I will recommend it to readers who meditate, have a yoga practice, or want to supplement their therapy — or, for that matter, anyone who is interested in the political implications of our cultural approach to bodies.
Bodyfulness: Somatic Practices for Presence, Empowerment, and Waking Up in This Life
Shambhala Publications, November 2018
Paperback, 304 pages