Bodyfulness (Book Review)

Bodyfulness: Somatic Practices for Presence, Empowerment and Waking Up in This Life by Christine Caldwell

Reviewed By Jacob Kyle

Christine Caldwell’s latest book, Bodyfulness: Somatic Practices for Presence, Empowerment and Waking Up in This Life, pushes back against the current mindfulness craze in the name of “bodyfulness,” a contemplative principle that focuses on attunement to one’s lived experience of the body. She offers this as an antidote to mindfulness because, as Caldwell argues, mindfulness “cannot avoid reaffirming the cultural bias that mind is superior to body” (Caldwell, ix).  

The book is structured in three parts: (1) The Body of Bodyfulness, (2) Bodyfulness Practice: Presencing Bodyfulness and (3) Bodyful Applications and Actions. 

In the first section, Caldwell unpacks the eight principles of bodyfulness: oscillation, balance, feedback loops, energy conservation, discipline, change and challenge, contrast through novelty, and associations and emotions. If any of these principles sound abstract, not to worry – throughout the book, Caldwell weaves in practices designed to aid in an experiential encounter with the concepts she introduces, making this book an intellectually engaging and  deeply practical manual. 

In part two, Caldwell discusses the four central themes of bodyfulness practice: breathing, sensing, moving, and relating. Many modern contemplative practitioners will recognize the first three themes as regular entry points into the experience of yoga-āsana and meditation as they are practiced popularly today. The portion on relating, however, is an important and refreshing reflection on our experience of embodiment, because it challenges the assumption that contemplative practice is an isolated, “navel-gazing” affair, autonomous and separate from our relationships. Caldwell points out that our experiences in community with others can be contemplative, an insight that is important in a cultural context where “inner” contemplative practice and “outer” social engagement are often positioned at opposite ends of a spectrum. 

In the final part, Caldwell steers further into areas of cultural critique, looking closely at socialized conceptions of identity and attitudes about the body that we internalize. She thus importantly addresses the fact that bodies are both personal and sociocultural. Part of the task of bodyfulness is thus waking up to those cultural forces that encourage a habituation of what she calls bodylessness, which is characterized by four conditions: ignoring the body, seeing the body as an object or project, hating the body, and making one’s own or other people’s bodies wrong (Caldwell, 164). 

Caldwell’s book is an illuminating contribution to an emerging literature that integrates contemplative wisdom with modern approaches to somatic psychotherapy. Throughout the book, she takes a cue from her teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Buddhist tradition more generally; it is thus an excellent illustration of not simply exoticizing ancient traditions but rather distilling their perennial wisdom through the lens of contemporary challenges. This timely approach – one that we wholeheartedly endorse at Embodied Philosophy – is undergirded by the question: if ancient wisdom cannot integrate with our modern world and aid us in facing the problems of embodied life, was it truly wisdom after all?