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Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Filtering by Category: Embodiment

On St. Patrick, Snakes, and Irish-ness

Katie Gordon

I have a little something different for you today. Well, different perhaps than what you're used to reading from me, but I'm actually going to share with you a part of me that I've grown quite used to...

Image from  Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

"I f*cking hate St. Patrick's Day."

My roommate at the time looked at me, confused. "Aren't you Irish?" she asked.

I was in college in Boston in those days, studying medieval Irish history (yes, I got crap from my family for choosing that as my major 😉 ). I was learning a lot about the spread of Christianity and conversion of pagan tribes to Christian kingdoms. But I think part of me was also attempting to uncover the mystery of my roots. Who were these people I felt so drawn to learn about? What about Celtic culture spoke so deeply to me? And why did I so badly feel the need to connect with the physical land of Éire?

My grandmother recently passed away, but before she did, she did a DNA test that showed she was 98% Irish. I knew most of my family had come from there, but had no idea the extent. Growing up, I didn't hear much about my Irish immigrant ancestors except that they never talked about Ireland. They never talked about the journey over, why they came (we all assumed it was the famine/genocide), or what it was like there.

I always felt a huge disconnect. Like someone had literally cut a thread between my ancestors and me. I needed to know them beyond the little bits and pieces I knew from the family stories.

Since college, I've been in what feels like a deep dive to learn everything I could about the land, the people, the culture, and what "Celtic" actually means. I saw a major split while living in Boston for many years between what I felt to be Celtic and how "Irish-ness" is so often represented in popular culture. I'd end up feeling frustrated when having conversations with people who didn't understand why I had a problem with celebrating St. Patrick's Day getting by wasted and honoring a man who "drove the snakes from Ireland."

Snakes being the representation of the Goddess, the pre-Christian traditions, religion, and customs of the Celts. 

Now, most of my work is in traditional western herbalism, in particular European herbalism, in an attempt to find my own connection to the land of my ancestors and the cycles by which they lived, while remaining in communion with my own place. After all, how can I be present and a steward of the land I'm honored to inhabit if I'm always wishing to be somewhere else (which I spent a long time doing)?

Why am I telling you all of this?

A few reasons. One being that I think it's important for us to ask sometimes-difficult questions about who, what, and how we celebrate + honor. This isn't a dig at St. Patrick, we don't actually know much about him given that history wasn't written down much at the time, and most of what we do know about him are stories told much later. This is simply an invitation to look at what we currently accept as okay and think about how we might honor our ancestors AND do better. St. Patrick's Day doesn't have to be an opportunity to further solidify cliche, stereotypical images of drunken Irish and little men with red beards and green hats. It can be a time to reconnect with your roots, the land, history, and a people whose depth is immense and ancient.

But a huge part of my work is also in guiding folks to remember and embody who they are. So another reason I share this is to encourage you to learn more about the land you come from, who you come from, what their customs were/are, and how can that guide you to be more present where you are. 

It's the medicine of place. Place can teach us a lot about embodiment + presence, as can our ancestors. Listen. Sense. Open more than you thought you could, more than you dared to in the past, to how your ancestors are still very much alive in you and how the work you do in this time, this place, can echo back in time.

Happy St. Patrick's day from my wild heart to yours,

Home for the Holy Days

Katie Gordon

The Holy Days are fast approaching. 

As it's a time of year that has traditionally been hard, I've been preparing myself and doing some deep work to unwind the patterns of WHY I had such a hard time during the holidays. When I say that, it sounds like I've just begun, but really it's been years of preparation. Years of deep digging and diving, uncovering, understanding, asking questions, and softening. Always softening. 

You see, for my whole adult life I've been learning about the emotional body. Whether it was through herbalism, massage + bodywork, craniosacral work, yoga + movement, or shamanism, for me it's always been about why we feel the things we feel and what we do about it.

The way I dealt with challenging emotions from a young age was to leave my body. My close family and friends always commend my good memory, but there are very poignant events that happened in my life that I don't remember. Vacations I've forgotten, memories I've blocked out, experiences I've erased.

The thing is, we don't actually erase any of it. It's still there, buried in our bones, vibrating within our cells.  But one of the best ways our psyches have of dealing with experiences and emotions that we don't have the tools to deal with is to leave. That isn't a bad thing! It's a truly wonderful defense mechanism we have that only means we're functioning optimally. 

As a kid, I felt EVERYTHING because I could feel everyone. From a young age, it was apparent to me that many people couldn't handle their own emotions, so unconsciously I decided I'd take them on instead. In the midst of divorce, death, fights, upheavals, I took on their anger, grief, anxiety, and sadness. It was an enormous weight and once I took it on, I didn't know how to give it back.

Photo by  Matt Howard  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

To hold back this enormous wave of emotion from overtaking me, I built a tall, strong wall around myself and left my body. 

Slowly, gradually, I noticed that the things I used to love doing felt flat, unalive, distant. Or rather, I felt distant while I was doing them. I was on the periphery of whatever was happening. It felt as if I always just needed to make it to the next thing. Then the next. And the next. I only had to make it through. Like I was crossing them off a to-do list.

I didn't actually enjoy doing the thing I was doing, even if it was something I would have normally loved. It felt as if I had to keep going, otherwise whatever it was I had been avoiding for YEARS (that wave) would catch up with me and I'd have to look it in the eye and feel the things I had so brilliantly blocked out for so long. Which was okay. I could live like that for awhile, right? It wasn't so bad... 

Except it got to a point when there wasn't anything I absolutely LOVED doing anymore. I never felt overjoyed. Ecstatic. I never got so wrapped up in anything that I completely lost track of time. Everything was so contained inside me, safe, untouchable, that the whole world was going on without me.

And it sucked.

Because I WANTED to feel overjoyed. I so badly wanted to feel ecstatic. I desired to know delight again. But I was so afraid of the grief I knew I was being held back by that wall around myself. That wall that had kept me safe and not overcome by the wave of feeling.

I realized awhile back I had been preparing for this moment. In all my trainings, in all that time I thought I was learning new things to help other people, I had actually been collecting tools to heal + bring myself back to wholeness. And at the core of every single one of those practices, philosophies, and modalities?


I had to invite my awareness back into my body. I had to invite myself back home.

And yes, it really is an invitation. You can't force it if it's not time. That's another thing I've learned. Timing is a real thing. And if you haven't allowed yourself the time, it ain't happenin'.

So, I began to invite my awareness to rest in my body. To notice simple things like how my bones move when I breathe. To notice if I'm even breathing. To notice how certain herbs interact with my body. How foods make me feel. How emotions feel in my physical body and where I feel them.

What happens when I don't get enough sleep, and what if I allowed myself to take a nap? 

You see, our bodies are always there, always advocating for us, always talking to us. Always. It's the thing we have that ties us to this beautifully alive Earth. Our bodies inform us about our experiences. And that's what I was so desperately craving: to have an experience. To live. To feel. Because I had cut myself off from feeling for so long. 

As I began to invite it all in, I did feel it all. I cried (and still do) about the smallest things. I cry out of joy and grief. In moments of ecstasy and despair. A lot of the things I was afraid of feeling and the memories I was afraid of remembering have come back, and I'm still alive. So, I've got that going for me. 

Sometimes it does feel like too much. Sometimes the memories I've blocked come back and I remember the pain of that moment in life. Sometimes I still find myself taking on the things that feel like too much for others. (Yep, I'm still working on my own boundaries.) 

Its a practice. 

Sometimes it's easy to navigate our emotions and those of others around us, sometimes it's not. But the more I allow people to have their experience, the more I allow myself to mine, the more I build trust in myself. 

And I've found moments of joy. Lots of them. I've felt more alive, connected, vibrant, and part of the world again.

Photo by  Jordan Whitt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

The other day we went to pick out a Christmas tree. In the midst of the festivities of the tree lot, families, kids running around, people having a good time, I realized it was a moment in which I would have checked out. But it felt different. 

I felt HERE. I could feel the cold air around me. I could feel my feet firmly planted on the ground. I could feel the rain drops on my forehead. And I could feel the simultaneous wave of joy and grief at the same time. Joy at the simple tradition of picking out a tree with my love. Grief that I had missed out on moments out of the fear of feeling anything at all. 

Slowly, gradually, I've invited myself back home. I've invited my awareness back into my body to notice the simple things, and then the not-so-simple things. And yea, I still feel A LOT, but I'm beginning to see what a gift that is too.

Wisdom Within: What is embodiment?

Katie Gordon

Often when I teach public classes, I see people going deeper and deeper into a stretch or into a pose as if there was a place to get to. In many movement practices, we view the deep stretch as the opening we need or the opportunity to explore intensity.

The more I observe this happening, the more I realize we often lean into physical sensation, desperate to feel something other than the intensity that's already there: our emotions and thoughts. The things we may actually need to feel and acknowledge.

As cliché as it may sound, you've got to feel something to "heal" it. And while the physical sensation may feel oh-so-good in the moment, most often it's a distraction from real embodiment. From presence. And from the scariest thing of all: our own power.

Our bodies can lead us right into the heart of our own light, our beauty, our shadows, our innate wisdom, if only we'd stop pushing and pulling, and simply feel how exquisitely intelligent the human body is. How much we can learn about our souls when we pay attention to what is already deep within us, waiting to be seen.

When I work with clients, we may explore some of those same things that bring you to yoga: tension, chronic pain, injury recovery, building strength, and flexibility. But that's not what this work of Embodiment really is.

You'll discover strength and space within yourself that you never knew you had! But it won't come from "hip-openers" and finding ever-deeper backbends.

Photo by  Zé Zorzan  on  Unsplash

Photo by Zé Zorzan on Unsplash

You'll dismantle paradigms and transform the way you relate with your body and soul. But it won't come from doing a 20 minute headstand, getting into the perfect heart-opener, or finally learning that one stretch that will relieve that tension in your neck. 

It will come from committing to tending to your body + soul. It will come from presence. It will come from deep listening, learning how to translate the innate wisdom of your body, trusting and, most importantly, taking action around what this incredibly wise body has to tell you.

It will come from feeling the way every single bone in your body is in motion and where that motion gets stuck.

It will come from feeling the way grief has settled into your left ovary and before it will unwind, a story needs to be told.

It will come from exploring your boundaries and what it actually feels like in your physical gut to say no to things that are not for you.

The transformation that comes from embodiment only comes because you are constantly choosing that which will bring you from the old into the new.

How do the sensations speak to you?

This is the journey I've been on for 10 years now. 

Join me.