The Four Bodies
Written by: the Editors of goop
Published on: April 9, 2015
Updated on: April 9, 2015
Reviewed by: Jill Willard
Illustration by Valero Doval
So here’s a pretty compelling and revolutionary idea that incidentally, also makes a lot of sense. According to Jill Willard (the intuitive who taught us how to Trust the Gut), our “bodies” are actually made up of four distinct parts—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual—and while three of them seem intangible and ephemeral, they actually have a physical presence. “These are additional rings around your body…in fact, a lot of extra physical weight is actually in the emotional body—it’s as though the physical expands to eat up the space allotted to the emotional ring.”
Per Jill, each body should be balanced—and make up 25% of our wholeness: “This is the roadmap to health, wellness, and understanding our true being.” To add an extra level of complexity, two of the bodies are masculine (physical, mental), and two are feminine (emotional, spiritual), which further underlines why so many of us are out of whack. “Our culture generally emphasizes the masculine or patriarchal side of things—even religion can be very patriarchal in our culture, which is why religion should not be confused with what it means to be in our spiritual body. When we are solely in our masculine, we are focused on the physical and mental side of things—the doing and the accomplishing, the yang and linear parts of our life experience…it’s a very black and white way of thinking that ignores everything that isn’t concrete or seemingly controllable. Things are becoming a bit more feminine—the emotional and spiritual side of our existence is taking a leap forward—but we are not there yet. The feminine is what synthesizes our experience—it’s a large part of the practice of being in the now and present, of feeling the moment.”
The ultimate goal, she explains, is to be balanced in all four bodies, not forgetting that the spiritual body is as important as the other three. “It is then that you realize that you are never alone,” Jill explains. “You will know that there is something more than our earth/life experience, you will feel a form of unity with a higher force/energy, you will know that something “more” is for you and with you. You will also feel that you haven’t lost the connection to those you believe you have lost.” And perhaps most important, being balanced means “that you realize we are all worthy and whole beyond measure.” Below, Jill breaks down the four bodies, and how to bring each into balance.
What it is: Just as it sounds: Our skin and everything under the skin, the brain, the organs, and everything between the ears. It is the skeletal system, fascia, organs, and blood, veins, and ligaments. We usually know when our physical body is full or not, hurt or not, happy or not, healthy or not. The signs are visible and generally recognizable. Our western medical culture places a lot of emphasis on this body and that it not experience pain or discomfort.
What it represents: Our physical experience in the world, our physiology, our ability to heal.
How the physical body should behave when balanced: We feel open, flexible and healthful, our vitamin and mineral elements should be balanced, and we should be free of pain, toxicity, and acidity.
Masculine or Feminine: Masculine
Quality of someone under-balanced toward physical: The body ages more rapidly, breaks down more easily, and loses elasticity. Organ function is disrupted, there are issues with absorption and elimination, and there’s a feeling of tightness, heaviness, and stress on our skeletal frame.
Qualities of someone over-balanced toward physical: There’s too much focus on physical strength, beauty, and anti-aging. There’s also doubt that the body can heal itself, and an over-reliance on outside factors like drugs, surgeries, and injections to bring the body’s radiance and worth back. There’s a tendency to bypass elements of nature (whole food, water, air quality, yin time, quiet, physical touch, uninhibited sexual experience, balanced movement) for the sake of the fast and immediate.
How to bring the physical into balance: Simple movements and slow, balanced repetitive sequences, meditation, walking, massage, barefoot or bare hand earth play (dirt, water, soil, sand), yoga, stretching, and weight bearing exercises that let you feel the strength in your own body and the union of all things physical.
What it is: The nervous system, hormones, touch, water and water release (tears), and water absorption (bloating or clutching from not letting go, feelings of lack, and trying to hold onto/control things too closely). Some believe that the emotional body extends a few millimeters or inches around the body. How we are doing emotionally is represented by how calm or rough the waters are in our thoughts and our dream state.
What it represents: As the bridge between the physical and the mental, it is where our experience of the world is synthesized and interpreted. It represents our feelings and relationship to all things (i.e., how we react, interpret, and respond to situations and outside energies, particularly anything that’s not factual—like how we feel when people look at us in a certain way, or how we respond to something they might say, etc.). The connection between the mental-emotional body is the reason why there are always different sides to a story or situation—if the bodies are unbalanced, those situations can be greatly misread and misunderstood. When balanced, it represents centering and acting from the heart space.
How the emotional body should behave when balanced: Inclusive, empathetic, open, honest, less or non-judgmental toward others, and generous with help. There is a desire to give without expecting or wishing to receive something in return. Cortisol, insulin, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone will be more balanced and even, blood sugar is more regulated, the heart beat even and slow, and blood pressure balanced. The body does not retain water, nor is the body over-dehydrated.
Masculine or Feminine: Feminine
Quality of someone under-balanced toward emotional: A general lack of emotional intelligence, trust, and very little intuition or ability to read and understand people. There’s also a lot of fear and neuroses, as well as concern for the self and less empathy for the experience of others. This can manifest physically as holding water in the limbs, joints, and face (especially from hormone imbalance), dehydration or bloating, inflexibility, and joint stiffness. Lack of sleep from emotional stress presents similar symptoms. Mentally, it manifests as self-doubt, projection, and thinking others have a better life, which again, causes us to lose sleep and increases the physical symptoms of imbalance. Ultimately, it means that we are not using the mental or physical body, either by talking ourselves down to a point of being rational, or using the lungs and breath to calm the heartbeat.
Qualities of someone over-balanced toward emotional: Oversaturated, passive then quickly aggressive, obsessive, irrational, extremely irritated, depressed, overly anxious, often with feelings of drowning or hopeless conclusion of relationships or situations. This can manifest as weight gain (even while dieting) and too much water in the aura and system, where the body is behaving like a sponge. Alternately, if someone over-fires their nervous system, one can dry out the emotional body, which also manifests as being under-weight, dehydrated, or desiccated. Hormones are key to our health. The heart might feel heavy and the menstrual cycle might be heavy as well. The throat may feel closed, which also adversely affects hormones.
How to bring the emotional into balance: Anything that releases emotion, tension, stress, and anxiety—this will create clear, running waters with fewer rocks or less damning of the stream. Depending on the person this might require something like meditation, dance cardio, a comedy club, or breathing techniques. Ultimately, the emotional body comes into great balance when we learn how important it is to balance our hormones. Yoga, especially restorative and hatha, sauna, light detoxing or fasting (with adrenal and liver support), more touch and intimacy are key. Forgiveness and acts of forgiveness are also crucial. Learning the value of emotional intelligence and not only mental intelligence is central to empathetic and adrenal wellness.
What it is: Our thoughts, attitudes, judgments, and prejudices—also how we perceive our worth and value in the world. Some believe it is about a foot out in diameter from the physical body, some feel it is inches.
What it represents: All things intellectual, including analytical thought, how we process information, how we learn in school, and how we use our words. Also includes focus, clarity, direction, and contributions to creation and society. It is a key element in thoughts becoming reality.
How the mental body should behave when balanced: Proactive problem solving, concise communication, innovations coming into fruition with clarity and ease, and the ability to solve emotional or physical issues in a direct and supportive way. There’s very little waste, nonsense, or going around in circles. Instead, a balanced mental body offers direction that points true north (and benefits everyone).
Masculine or Feminine: Masculine
Quality of someone under-balanced toward mental: Confusion, brain fog, ideas lost quickly, lethargy, lack of purpose, neuroses, doubt, a lack of work ethic, feelings of low esteem and low worth. Physically, it manifests as a lack of a menstrual period and little self-care.
Qualities of someone over-balanced toward mental: Ego-centric, excessively driven, sociopathic, narcissistic, and having little or no empathy especially when it comes to work or success. In a less extreme way, it’s doing too much or frequently being on overdrive. This manifests physically in headaches and jaw aches.
How to bring the mental into balance: Kundalini yoga, moderate cardio, talk therapy with an emotionally intelligent leader, and being in touch with emotions and spirituality for balance. The type of person living mostly in the mental body tends to overthink and overdrive, and doesn’t let go of emotional strife or forgive easily or often. They might need to re-root (i.e., work through old emotional issues from the first years of life) and often need a mental release, which most frequently comes from strong emotional support or handing the reins over to a mentor who can lead them through positive thought mantras or positive stress releasing actions.
What it is: Connection to all things, including the earth/self, to what we call God, the universe, the beyond, the divine, or higher self. This provides protection, union, help, and guidance from an outside source as well as from those who have passed on. It connects us to all that is. Many do not understand or acknowledge this aspect exists. It has little to do with what we believe culturally when it comes to religion or spirits—it is more the element that no one and no situation stands alone, that there is no one fault, that we are all connected, and that it always takes more than one body to create all that exists in life. It is the most outside ring in our aura or energetic field.
What it represents: The unity of all living things, including the union between our soul, life experience, and destiny. This is not about going to church. In fact, it has little to do with religion.
How the spiritual body should behave when balanced: Calm, fearless, highly creative, and operating without limits—paired with the fortitude and support to create action from ideas. Along with this comes the acknowledgement that there’s a higher force guiding and protecting the project, and that there is something bigger at play than you. The spiritual body represents the synthesis and balance of the other three—it is very similar to the idea that we are greater than the sum of our parts.
Masculine or Feminine: Feminine
Quality of someone under-balanced toward spiritual: Disconnected from the understanding that we are all one and feeling or thinking that we can do things on our own or alone. That we are not co-creating our existence, that we are victims of fate (or the health care system, the government, or the media) and most often (or entirely) dismissive of listening to the gut. This person generally separates from being an active or conscious member of community or society, and feels deserving and expectant of others’ energy or time. They also feel left out, or like they have not been seen or heard. There’s also a tendency to put a high emphasis on how things look or how they appear instead of focusing on transparency and honest heart communication. There’s also a heavy focus and over-reliance on doing, controlling, and the grasping of an exterior reference or relationship.
Quality of someone over-balanced toward spiritual: Head in the clouds, not turning ideas into reality, a false god complex, a lack of unity between action and behavior, a lack of connection to interpersonal responsibilities (relationships, physical health and wealth, respecting other people’s bodies, paying bills, debts). There is generally a feeling of entitlement and being overly deserving.
How to bring the spiritual into balance: Meditation, meditation, meditation. Breath work. Gratitude, humbleness, generosity and the act of giving—seeing others as you see (or wish to see) yourself, and acting accordingly. Also it’s key to connect personal gain with universal oneness, and to understand that heaven is within, that you are always in caring company, and no one physically holds your key to ultimate, consistent joy.