PODCAST -E19 - Somatic Chaplaincy ft. Emma Sartwell

September 22, 2023
In this episode of the Red Beard Embodiment Podcast, host Alex Greene sits down with guest Emma Sartwell. Emma is a somatic experiencing person with a background in interfaith and Buddhist chaplaincy. Alex and Emma discuss their shared interests in Buddhism and religious studies, as well as their work in the world through sabbatical work and other endeavors. Tune in to hear their insightful conversation about embodiment practices, trauma healing, and finding meaning in a changing world.

This episode of the Redbeard Embodiment Podcast explores the intersection of spirituality, trauma, and embodiment practices. Host Alex Greene interviews Emma Sartwell, a somatic spiritual counselor and Buddhist chaplain, about her journey into this work and how she supports people going through spiritual crises. Their wide-ranging conversation touches on many important themes around integrating wisdom traditions with psychology and nervous system regulation skills.

Spiritual Seeking in Young Adulthood

Emma describes her spiritual seeking beginning in college when she started questioning her Jewish upbringing. She took classes on energy healing and shamanism, had dreams guiding her diet, and began unpacking childhood patterns. This opened up new questions about working with her mind and emotions. Alex shares about his shift from hardcore atheism to exploring Buddhism in college when his scientific worldview started cracking.

Studying at Naropa University

To explore the nature of mind and reality from various perspectives, Emma went to Naropa University. She studied many wisdom traditions and did an M.Div focusing on interfaith chaplaincy. Naropa was founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche to study contemplative arts and psychology. Emma recounts her chaplaincy internship at a hospital, where she could meet people's emotional and spiritual needs but struggled when their nervous systems were disregulated. This showed her the importance of understanding the nervous system. Alex reflects on how he likes supporting people, not being a moral authority.

Private Practice Integration

Craving more consistent long-term work with people, Emma built a private practice integrating spiritual care and somatic therapy. She works with meditators, trauma survivors, and people having spiritual crises.

Emma discusses optimizing people's nervous system regulation skills before intensive spiritual experiences like meditation retreats. She notes the cultural tendency to romanticize cathartic breakthroughs versus valuing subtlety and titration. Alex talks about agency and choice as useful concepts for spiritual seeker, not forcing breakthroughs.

Emma was part of a cohort trained to edit Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's many unpublished dharma talks. This project helped her study his teachings deeply. Trungpa founded Naropa and helped introduce Buddhism to the West. Emma hopes to do more editing of his work to make it accessible.

Emma's experiences and detailed explanation shed profound light on the concept of 'work' in somatic chaplaincy. It goes beyond mere manual labor and encompasses the physical exertion of supporting and connecting with individuals who require spiritual care. This perspective emphasizes the utmost significance of an active and embodied presence in the caregiving process. By being fully present, chaplains can not only better understand and address the unique needs of those they serve but also foster a deeper level of connection and support that transcends the boundaries of conventional care. This holistic approach allows for a more comprehensive and enriching experience for both the chaplain and the individuals seeking spiritual guidance.


Emma Sartwell and Alex Greene explore the fertile ground between ancient wisdom traditions and modern psychology. Whether grappling with personal trauma or the universal sufferings of the human condition, we need both profound teachings and grounded, embodied presence to find wholeness. Bringing these worlds together in service of humanity's awakening is sacred work requiring diligence, discernment and skillful means.

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