Featured Article: Embodied Intelligence: An Integral View of the Body, An AQAL Model of Embodied Phenomena and Practices

Mark Walsh

Mark Walsh

Mark Walsh

What is exactly is physical intelligence? What are some of the ways your body can be experienced, employed and developed? How do we make sense of the multitude of embodied practices now available to do this?

This paper is intended for those with at least a passing familiarity with Ken Wilber’s integral theory and interested in the body. In it I lay out some of the fundamentals of an integral theory of the body including the embodied intelligence line and how to develop it, challenge some of the integral orthodoxies in this area and show who the theory applies to some practical applications.

Fundamental elements of embodied “line” of development

We are all smart in different ways – this is the basis of multiple intelligence theory by Howard Gardner and the notion of “lines” or “streams” of development in Ken Wilber’s integral model. A line of embodied/somatic/bodymind or just physical intelligence is intuitive, but has not been mapped in the same way as IQ, emotional intelligence or values development has. Discussions of this line in heady integral circles are often reduced to saying certain sports stars have it, which for me misses the critical aspects of what it is to be “body-smart”. Athleticism is just one small slice of how the body can be a part of life. The following attempt to outline a more complete list of aspects of embodied intelligence is partly modelled on Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. The quadrants below not to be confused with Wilber’s quadrants.

At the most basic level embodied intelligence involves being aware of and managing your own body, and being aware of and managing (influencing) others’ bodies. This gives us the following simple map of embodied intelligence:

Figure 1: Map of Embodied Intelligence

Expanding upon this we can see there are actually many skills within each area:

Figure 2: Skills and Embodied Intelligence

Competence in a wide spectrum of these areas constitutes embodied intelligence. Each mentioned is progressive. Taking centring as an example from the self-management area – a toddler having a tantrum has little capacity to “get themselves together” and manage emotions and their embodied distress response but a martial arts master can do it under great pressure, quickly and effectively. The space between these two extremes constitutes development in this one aspect of embodied intelligence.


I hope to develop the essential elements of the intelligence outlined above into a full developmental model. Mapping the vertical stages of an embodied line is a challenge. II would love some assistance with so if there is any integral theorist/researcher who would like to get involved – perhaps using dynamic skill theory or the Lectical Assessment System, please get in touch).

Other lines of development all have embodied correlates and as ever all four quadrants are involved in any developmental progression. For now, here is a light summary of how the values line is embodied as an example. I first had a sense of this while walking behind a plainly dressed person and knowing intuitively by looking at their body movement that they had a green “centre of gravity”. (Dylan Newcombe also has a more complex system for mapping Spiral Dynamics for those who are wanting more depth.)

Attitudes to the body and corresponding embodied states across value sets (shown with Spiral Dynamics colour mapping)

Prior to the red meme there is little differentiation between the self and the body to have an attitude “towards” it, red onwards are also the bodies I have had the most chance to observe.

Note that Spiral Dynamics levels fluctuate between agency and communion and these are embodied in very different ways, in width of attention and therefore embodied state, for example. Overall relaxation tends to increase with development as does sensitivity as a result (tension is numbing). From yellow structure is bought back in too, as by green people can be overly “floppy” and lose power as a result (I have seen this in aikido many times – first strict form, then no form, then a form with freedom as people develop). Symmetry and balance also tends to increase up the spiral – Buddhist monks for example are almost dancer-like in their poise. The former group however show that one needs to be careful assessing developmental altitude from embodiment as one can build a particular body purely for performance or athletic purposes. Or to put it another way, playing football like David Beckham does not make you enlightened! In discussing symmetry and balance it is also worth noting the trap of beautiful = good; which prevails in culture and discriminates against people with disabilities, the elderly, etc, as these factors must also be considered. Here are a few rules of thumb:

Figure 3: Spiral Dynamics Levels

As embodied intelligence develops how we experience and relate to our bodies also changes. I believe that relatively low lines of embodied intelligence in large swathes of the integral community have led to it being seen is “magical” terms outlined later. It is perhaps enough for now to ask how might your own level of both values development and embodied intelligence influence how you see the body.


People and their corresponding bodies come in different types. Take men and women, it’s relatively easy to spot the difference from even small embodied cues (transvestite and transgendered friends for example tell me of the huge skill and practice it takes to make this shift convincingly). Gender as an example may seem obvious but think about it, it needn’t be. There are many ways to gain insight into people’s subtler types using the body as any personality type for example always comes in a matching physical form – we can’t help but be embodied! There are several advantages to looking at embodied types over traditional psychometrics – it is quick, cheap and readily available (a potential date or mugger is unlikely to want to fill out a form for example). We are all doing these “somatic assessments” unconsciously whenever we meet someone anyway so we may as well become more accurate at it.  The best way to do this is to have some good models and then to practice.

Some of the embodied typologies that have already been mapped:

  • Insults to form – dense, motile, porous, rigid (Kelerman)
  • Ecto/endo/mesomorphic (Sheldon)
  • Laban types
  • Rhythm of excitement – awakening/increaser/container/completer (Strozzi)
  • “Towards”, “away from”, “against” – stress patterns as types – (Strozzi)
  • Masculine/ feminine – Yang/yin (e.g. Deida/ Newcomb)
  • Head/heart/hara (belly) “leads” as types (Palmer)
  • Hakomi “strategies” (Kurtz)
  • Embodied version of other typologies, e.g. Myers Briggs and the Enneagram. Integration Training created a simple embodied version of Myers Briggs (see article here)
  • Etc.

NB: testing the reliability of somatic assessments against established psychological measures such as OCEAN would be relatively straightforward for any psychological researcher looking to work on a novel area. If that’s you please get in touch.

There are also a number of systems that work with combinations of dispositional qualities (sometimes called “energies”) in the body, while not strictly types as they are not discreet, are worth including here for a fuller picture. For example:

  • Various embodied archetypes models (e.g. lover, warrior, fool, monarch – Newfield coaching’s application of Jung’s work is a good starting place)
  • Uzuzu – fellow embodied integralist Dylan Newcombe’s highly developed model combines yin and yang in various combinations modelled on the I Ching’s hexagrams to produce 16 ways of being.

An integral understanding is reinforced by intimacy with 2-3 embodied typologies (both theoretically and experientially) and I would recommend this for making sense of your own and others behaviour.


When people have states (waking, sleeping, dreaming, altered, meditative, etc) these happen in the body as much as in the mind. The two are in separable. Further, all “mental” states have whole-body embodied (upper-right) correlates. Not just bio-electrical brain correlates but postural and movement patterns too. See the recent neuroscience work by the likes of Damasio on how emotion effects cognition and on the heart and gut “brains” (e.g. Michael Gershon).

The mind-body link works both ways meaning that the body can be used to induce and manage states (hence sitting up to meditate and lying down to sleep – possible but very tricky to do in reverse). Doing this with drugs for example is one way of effecting states via the body, however a much more versatile/subtle/safe/legal approach is to use the established bodymind techniques of Eastern traditions and newer Western systems. “Centring” is one very useful and versatile form of state management I outline later in this paper. It would be possible to systematically test various embodied state interventions against traditional objective measures such as pulse rate. (If any researchers out there have an interest in this, again, please get in touch.)


One set of states critical for motivation and all forms of human interaction including intimate relationships, business leadership and general communication are the emotions. There has been a tendency to see and study these as internal (e.g. to examine and express them through meditation or poetry) or see them as purely external and reduce them to neurotransmitters and chunks of the brains. Another way of seeing them is through the experience of the body. I developed the map of emotions below in order to help people understand emotions in a bio-mechanical but still very personal way. The sketches below show the direction of different emotions and if they contract the body and take it off balance (e.g. fear and anger). It is an example of how states are embodied on a macro (i.e. not just neurotransmitter or chemical) level. The beauty of the working with this macro-level of embodiment is that it is accessible, responsive and easy to monitor. Link to video on embodied emotions for a full description of this.

Figure 4: Moods

As well as emotions longer-term “moods” are also critical. They can be defined as “predispositions for action” (Strozzi-Heckler) meaning that they are vital states to be aware of and manage in order to lead a conscious life. Moods limit our choices by behaviourally “leaning” is in particular directions. Being stuck in an embodied mood of resentment for example will open and close very different doors from if you are living in a mood of ambition. A light example of how moods are different from passing emotions are the characters from Winnie the Pooh. Eeyore is miserable and Tigger up-beat no matter what happens. I’m sure you have friends like them, but what is scary is that your own mood is invisible as you have habituated to it, like a pair of old shoes you no longer feel.

The model below is of four basic moods and was introduced to me by the Newfield coaching group – it is is a good place to start if you are new to looking at moods as long-term states (but not stages) which predispose behaviour and cognition. Again, don’t be confused by the four boxes it’s not about quadrants in the Wilberian sense:

Figure 5: Newfield Moods

Power and Love  – A core state clarification

Paul Linden, as accomplished bodymind teacher as exists, makes one core state distinction that I think is critical for the modern world. Culture has artificially separated power and love and presents them as practically mutually exclusive states. In this way, nice guys finish last, you can have will or be compassionate and people leave their values at home when they go to work.  In his work he demonstrates through brief embodied experiments that in fact they are inseparable sides of the same coin (the martial art of aikido is based on this in fact). Power (or effectiveness if you prefer) and love (as in kindness) are one state, a state that is optimal for much human activity, in terms of I, we and it aspects.

The Body Across the Quadrants

Wilber states that phenomena always arise in four aspects of reality and we miss something significant if we ignore or attempt to reduce any one of them to another. They are singular and collective, exterior and interior – “I” and “we” are about internal consciousness and culture, and “it” and “it”s” about body, behaviour and environment and systems respectively. More on quadrants:

Figure 6: Wilber's Quadrants

While the body as normally understood is external/objective singular (“upper-right” phenomenon in Wilber’s model) it is also worth looking at the other quadrants in relation to the body to understand it more completely. These are always at work both causing the body to be shaped in a particular way and shaping it as detailed in the table below.

Figure 7: The Body and the Quadrants

Note that while there is mutual influence between the quadrants that “tetra-arise” as Wilber says, they are not to be confused and each correspond to a different area of knowledge – the good (culture), the true (it/its) and the beautiful (I). These each have different methods and standards and were only separated out in the Renaissance (Wilber discusses this as “the gifts of modernism”). Before this the church for example could tell you what was allowed to be true, and separating them was quite a leap forward. Unfortunately, since the sixties many alternative embodied postmodernists have unwittingly started to confuse these crucial distinctions…

”Energy”, Chi and Three Body Dogma

The most misused and misleading word in many alternative green-meme circles is “energy”. In alternative health, martial arts and now even some business training groups this word is banded around with either no or multiple meanings. As many of these relate to the body I’d like to make a few distinctions and clarifications.

As a way of talking about subjective feeling the word “energy” is meaningful to me. I feel “energised” or “have sluggish energy today” for example. Visualisation where one imagines “energy” as some kind of electricity, fluid or light also has it’s uses. There my be a significant effect for example of imagining healing energy around an injured muscle – such body-mind links are well established in scientific literature, I have used them myself many times and seen people achieve results with them worldwide. Imaging such energy has a very definite effect on the body, for example aikido “energy arm” aka “unbendable arm” where it becomes very hard to bend a person’s arm when they imagine water or light running through it. The image of energy flowing may align the body in a desirable manner, but here’s the thing, all such tricks are explainable using biomechanics, and the “energetic” image is merely a useful short-cut to what could be achieved through standard physical movement. Here the difference between “gross” and “subtle” is more literal – big and small, and many phenomena describes as involving “subtle” energy are just subtle in the sense of involving not very big movement shifts (which can lead to big results). I have worked with how attention and intention (two more phenomena thrown in the “energies” bucket) for some time and these produce micro-movements within the body and other subtle changes in physiology. These changes are tangible just small and hard to spot without training – I recommend Paul Linden’s “magic pen” exercise if you’ like to start exploring them in a systematic, logical and rigorous way. Many “energy” systems like Reiki work with this – the images produce a real physiological change (usually relaxation and warmth) which is then picked up by the recipient through body mirroring (if you relax and then touch me or I see you I relax), combined with a powerful placebo effect. Placebo effects are really very large which is why evidence based medicine controls for them so rigorously, and also attest to strong body-mind links.

Another use of the term “energy” is group mood and the changes that happen again through unconscious mirroring of other bodies. It is not magic when you walk into a funeral and suddenly feel bad – your mirror neurones are empathising in an embodied way with the other people in the room, which may at a subjective level feel like being “hit” with a wave of “energy”. This type of event is not energy like electricity—which is why it has not been measured (the upper right truth test). Because humans are social animals and evolution has strongly selected those who respond to even very subtle changes in a tribe’s mood, these effects can be very powerful subjectively and what is causing them often below the conscious radar only surfacing as intuitive “gut” instincts and powerful feelings.

There are of course tangible measurable electromagnetic energies in the more traditional sense emanating from a human body, and it may well be they interact in some way at close range, but let’s not imagine all of the phenomena I have described fit into this category! People keen to promote “energy” in the nonrigorous sense will often steal terminology like “wavelength” and “frequency”, as well as some dubious misunderstandings from quantum physics, in order to sound legitimate.

Orthodox integral theory postulates a “gross,” “subtle” and “causal” or “very subtle” bodies. I would argue that these latter “bodies” seem pretty subtle because they are not bodies at all in the upper-right sense of something that can be measured, poked and chucked around, and it is therefore misleading to call them bodies. I have been told there “must” be an upper right correlate for the feelings interpreted as chi etc, but are neurological or electrical changes in the brain (measurable in respond to acupuncture needles for example) not enough? As a martial artist this is not just a theoretical question to me, I want to know how to kick you in the causal balls or bite your causal nose off? I can’t, so it’s not upper right. Incidentally, Google “energy vs MMA” or “George Dillman fraud” to see what happens when “energy” action men believe their own advertising – it’s not pretty. The evidence for a subtle body from acupuncture for example is very limited indeed aside from a placebo and endorphin mediated effect on pain which is well documented, and studies on acupuncture on horses that I was once convinced by but now seem to be flawed too. Evidence for the causal body as an UR phenomena is even more limited and I suggest we dispose of such ideas as pre-modern baggage, or at least become “energy agnostic” so we can examine body-mind phenomena with more rigour and move the field forward. Perhaps there are three bodies, but the evidence doesn’t support this and it is often not a helpful belief for working with the one that’s evident in my experience. I have been quote reluctant to come out and say this as both as on examining the evidence I had to let go of some of my own cherished beliefs from my embodied education and because I have experienced quite a back-lash from a community that holds these notions with a religious fever. The time however has come.


That which we repress, deny and project is often presented as a cognitive affair but this is not the case. The body is the repository of the unconscious – some somatic psychologists would go so far as to say the body IS the unconscious. This is why traumatic stress for example, can get “stuck” in the body and why after deep shadow work the body often realigns and feels very different. I remember after one psychological breakthrough on a personal development course how I started breathing differently for example. Working with shadow via the body – and this needs to be done carefully as things may be repressed there for a reason – can be very powerful as it gets straight to the material. Practices which express the body in a less structured, freeform and creative way such as five rhythms dancing and improvisational comedy, as well as more explicitly psychotherapeutic group and 1-1 bodywork techniques like Authentic Movement (Jungian), Focusing (Gendlin) and bioenergetics can all be ways of working with shadow. Working with the body just using techniques that manage or alter the body without also engaging in some of these “freer” practices can lead to people getting a bit odd and uptight. At least have some wild sex and dance like a lunatic from time to time to balance all that yoga, Pilates and Japanese martial arts, and let things work there own way through the system.

An Integral Technician’s Embodied Tool-kit

For anyone to operate in an integral manner I would say there is a minimal set of embodied practices and tools to include in an integral life practice. Exacts forms and routines will vary greatly to suit types and lifestyle however I would recommend the following as a base:

A regular body awareness practice

If you are not aware that you have a body are practices are impossible so this is pretty fundamental. This can be built through body scanning types of meditation, yoga, tai chi or even doing regular sports with awareness. Anything that brings your attention to the body regularly will do, though I recommend movement practices over static awareness as the body is best understood through motion. Such practices translate better into emotional awareness, management and other areas.

NB: Of the London integral salon members I know – a devastatingly cognitively clever and lovely group of people –  I would guess no more than half have the basic body awareness I would expect from a junior dancer or karate orange belt. I also regularly hear the integral movement criticised for being “too heady” and while this can simply be green-meme feeling-obsessed anti-intellectualism, I believe it also contains valid feedback worth listening too.

A regular relational movement practice

The body in movement with other bodies is where a lot of the learning is at – life isn’t a solo sport. Anything that involves prolonged contact can be used, and both cooperative and competitive arts are useful. Partner dance, mindful sex and aikido are three personnel favourites.

Centring techniques

“Centring” (aka “centering” to colonials) is something of a bucket term that encapsulates numerous techniques involving grounding, relaxation and balancing the body that manage and optimise state, helping people “get it together” under pressure and operate from their true level of development. It is no good being great on the meditation cushion or typing integral theories at home if when the shit hits the fan you lose it and revert to more primitive modes of operation. Having done aikido with a number of advanced meditators and other spiritual practitioners I’ve noted that without centring techniques they revert to fight or flight as quickly as others (and often get quote nasty due to shadow). Centring is also very popular in the business environments I work in as it is a demonstrable “quick-win” that makes people measurably better at whatever they do. It is fast at least to learn, though like anything it takes practices to master. It is taught as part of many martial arts and there is a video on centring here and a centring article here if you’d like to learn it now.

A simple and effective centring method is the ABC technique:

  • Become aware of you body
  • Balance your posture and attention making it as symmetrical as possible
  • Relax your centre-line – eyes, tongue and jaw, abdominal muscles and pelvic floor

NB: Organisations can also “centre” around their core commitments, values and purpose, though this is often attempted in an unintegrated and inauthentic manner without true alignment.

Emotional awareness, empathic and Intuitive practices

Being aware of your feelings and underlying needs and those of others is a critical skill. Emotional intelligence can in fact be seen as largely a sub-set of embodied intelligence as emotions are such embodied phenomena. An emotional awareness practice may simply mean “checking-in” with yourself twice daily when a I-phone chimes (reminders are critical for practices), or at the start of meetings if you are trying to build organisational EQ. It may be listening to your partner for 10 minutes when they come home form work or children from school. Dual awareness on your own and another’s body is key. Interpersonal intuition is also related to this area as are somatic assessments—assessing types and levels through the body.

Embodied Techniques for influencing and inspiring others

Where do you need to influence or inspire others? In some way we are all sales people, parents and leaders. What embodied techniques do you have for this? Centring and emotional awareness are a great place to start, as is knowing how you embody your virtues. One model and technique I particularly like is called “length. width and depth” from Richard Strozzi Heckler. It involves:

  • relaxing down so your bones not muscles hold you up, then rising up into your full length
  • allowing yourself to take up space left and right in your full width
  • and balancing the front and the back, being aware of both and your depth

A video on impact and influence including this is here.

A regular embodied shadow practice

As mentioned in the shadow section  – Gabriel Roth’s Five Rhythms, Authentic Movement, improvisational comedy forms or Focusing all have value. By spending a little time each week listening to “body wisdom” in a non-directive way, years of expensive psychotherapy can be avoided! Good 1-1 body centred psychotherapy or group dance therapy are of course other ways of exploring shadow through the body.

Ethics, Environmentalism and The Body

It has been my observation that building awareness of the body in all it’s beauty, power and vulnerability leads to greater compassion. Conversely, it is through not feeling our own and other people’s bodies that cruelty is possible. In my work in conflict zones, I have not met someone who has experienced trauma without physical and emotional numbing. There is a direct connection between disembodiment and war (and violence can be effectively addressed through interrupting embodied trauma and distress response cycles), the brutalities of modern corporate work life and environmental destruction – all of which involve not feeling and not being connected to out primary reality as embodied creatures. Embodiment is not an add-on but a matter of survival as a species that is why I feel so passionately about it and would like a greater understanding, and more importantly higher level of practice, engagement and embodiment in the integral community.

In Conclusion

The body is central to any integral vision as it is not only the vehicle we do everything else “in”, but is a core part of who and how we are, and what we are practicing. My claim is that the body has been badly misunderstood and neglected in the emergent integral community and this can and should be remedied if we are to develop ourselves, influence the world and sort this bloody beautiful mess out. The future, if there is one, is embodied.

About The Author

Mark Walsh has loved his own body and playing with other bodies since quite by accident he was born in one. At university he studied psychology and aikido and did his dissertation combining the two. Later he worked in outdoor education teaching climbing, archery, trampolining, snowboarding, etc. He went on to work for a non-profit that used aikido and aikido principles for peace and education working in areas of conflict worldwide. He now leads a stress management and leadership training company specialising in embodied learning, is based in Brighton UK, and works with businesses worldwide. He also leads the Achilles resilience training initiative helping people in insane places stay sane, dances tango, five rhythms and contact improvisation, and enjoys being exploited by a niece and a cat.



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  2. Julia Smith MD on March 24, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Mark, I’m thrilled that you are advocating for conscious embodiment to have a place in the Integral scheme of things!

    I too hold that ‘somatic literacy’ is its own line of development. Quite beyond the kinesthetic, psychological or spiritual lines, there is a unique sensibility to growing an in-the-moment awareness of the coherence between cognition, emotion, body disposition and behavior. If our awakening consciousness is ultimately to be of benefit to others, then inhabiting these dimensions of the body/mind and learning to wield (and yield!) the ‘instrument’ of our incarnate form as a vehicle of spirit, seems imperative.

    Thank you for the great summary,

    Julia Smith
    Seattle, WA

    • Mark on May 27, 2011 at 5:13 am

      HI Wendelin, hi Julia

      Thanks for your encouraging comments – I’d be happy to talk on the phone. Contact me if you’d like this.
      All the best,

  3. wendelin on May 20, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Hi Mark,
    your thoughtful and intriguing article shows the wisdom of the body and embodiment.
    I sense that these insights are based on experiences!
    It would be worthwhile to consider the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty also for linking the outlined different spheres of living bodies.
    Embodied awareness and learning is urgently needed in organisation (and leadership) indeed!
    Agreeing with you that the body is central to any integral (en)visioning and its enactment, the future indeed needs to be an embodied one!
    I would be very interested in hearing more about your experiences with companies (and its stressed leadership) with regard to your ideas here!
    all the very best
    Wendelin Kuepers (Auckland, NZ)

    • Mark on May 27, 2011 at 5:13 am

      HI Wendelin, hi Julia

      Thanks for your encouraging comments – I’d be happy to talk on the phone. Contact me if you’d like this.
      All the best,

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