56 – The Embodiment of Ikigai with Jamila Rodrigues

Butterflies in the stomach? Vibrations? Ready to take flight? How do you feel ikigai in your body?

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Jamila Rodrigues about the deep connection between our bodies and our ikigai.

Ikigai as a body and mind experience

“The way I see it, ikigai is a body and mind experience that occurs when participants reflect on it and connect it with certain aspects of their lives. The body is both a natural pre-reflective self and an important medium for reflexivity, therefore, thinking, perceiving, imagining, and feeling ikigai experience are all parts of bodily knowledge. 

If we are to study phenomenons like ikigai and its experience, we need to place the body at its centre, because this experience comes from people's perceptions, orientation and engagement with the world and requires body knowledge to embody and make sense of itself and its interrelated dimensions.” - Jamila Rodrigues

Jamila Rodrigues

Jamila Rodrigues - Ikigai

Jamila Rodrigues is an anthropologist focused on well-being and crisis management. She completed her Ph.D. in Dance Anthropology and Sufism embodied ritual practice at Roehampton University in London in 2017. She worked as a professional dancer and traveled to different countries, such as the UK, South Africa, and many other countries for 12 years.

She is a visiting researcher at the Marine Climate Change Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and a JSPS fellow at NICHIBUNKEN, International Research Centre for Japanese Studies, in Kyoto. Her current research is on Embodied ikigai: Japanese women’s narratives on well-being in times of crisis


Academia - Jamila Rodrigues

Podcast Highlights

Jamila’s loss of ikigai

Some years ago, Jamila was involved in a car accident that nearly killed her. At the time, she was passionately pursuing her career as a professional dancer. Due to her injuries, she lost her source of ikigai, dancing professionally.

Discovering ikigai

Jamila stumbled on ikigai during her involvement in an international research project focused on the lived experience of the pandemic. Collaborating with a diverse group of experts from various fields, Jamila and her team conducted a comprehensive survey involving 2600 participants, including 500 Japanese individuals.

As Jamila analyzed the survey data, she observed a distinct coping pattern among the Japanese participants - the importance of maintaining a sense of purpose and well-being in their lives. Intrigued by this finding, Jamila's curiosity led her to delve deeper into the concept of ikigai.

Jamila draws a parallel between ikigai and the Portuguese term saudade, which is commonly understood as a nostalgic feeling brought about by distance from something or someone. Like ikigai, she notes that saudade lacks a concrete definition due to its cultural roots.

For Jamila, ikigai is culturally rooted and can encompass various meanings such as a way of life, a sense of purpose, or a general sense of well-being and zest for something.

An embodied perspective of ikigai

“I recognize my life mission when I feel a certain sensation in my body, and my body gives me the knowledge that I need to navigate the world.” - Jamila Rodrigues

Life mission

According to Jamila, embodiment is how we experience the world and the interconnections between sensory, cognitive, emotional, and corporeal dimensions. She believes that our body provides us with embodied ways of knowing ourselves and our surroundings.

Therefore, it is imperative to position the body at the center of the study of ikigai, as the experience of ikigai is shaped by individuals' perceptions, orientation, and engagement with the world. It requires a deep understanding of the body and its interconnected dimensions to truly embody and make sense of the essence of ikigai.

The somatic process

In her paper, Jamila proposes that ikigai should be studied as both a somatic and embodied process. Somatic practices can be anything that relates to the body and mind. For instance, therapy and walking meditation can be both considered somatic processes.

Somatic processes involve letting go of analytical thinking and simply experiencing the present moment. Jamila wanted to explore how this type of process correlates to ikigai. From her interviews, she developed a framework of embodied ikigai.

The framework consists of several interrelated dimensions.

  • Self - through ikigai, you have a sense of who you are

  • Others - finding ikigai through your relationships with others

  • Ecological - how you can find ikigai through nature

  • Mental state - when you think about your ikigai, you tend to become calmer

  • Cognitive - how you perceive inner changes

  • Culture - finding specific symbols and values for yourself

  • Social - your relationship with your community

Below is a visual representation of Jamila’s somatic ikigai model.

Embodied Ikigai

Figure 1. Conceptual framework of Embodied Ikigai.

I often describe ikigai as intimacy. You can have this intellectual, spiritual, creative, or emotional intimacy. - Nick Kemp

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Feeling ikigai in the body

“It’s this connection to others, the connection to society, or the connection between people. Ikigai is about interpersonal relationships.” Jamila Rodrigues

Connection to society

In her interviews, the participants shared diverse perspectives on how they experienced ikigai in their bodies. Some described it like a vibration or fluttering butterflies in their stomach emanating from within.

For one, it was the serenity of walking in the mountains that invoked a sense of ikigai. For another, it was the profound connection with God and nature that stirred this feeling. Yet, for someone else, it was the state of tranquility that they reached, which they associated with ikigai.

Additionally, a participant spoke about experiencing ikigai in a social context, describing it as a gratifying sensation that arose from supporting others. However, what struck her the most among the responses from the participants was the poignant description of ikigai as the profound love that exists between human beings.

“If I had to describe what it (ikigai) feels like in the body, my ikigai seems to excite me. I have this kind of buildup energy. It’s almost as if I’m Superman, I’m about to take flight. That’s how it kind of feels.” - Nicholas Kemp

My ikigai

A guide to ikigai sources

By reflecting on the diverse experiences that bring you a sense of ikigai and expressing them, you cultivate a heightened awareness of your somatic self. The sensations and experiences of your body deepen your understanding of the intricate interplay between your body and mind.

This bodily awareness can serve as a guide to identifying more ikigai sources.

“When you let your body take over, you can tune into yourself, and you can tune into the body as the main channel for representations of life meaning or feelings that arise from having a purpose in life, whatever that purpose is.” - Jamila Rodrigues

Tune into yourself

In Jamila’s words:

Let’s say we take a moment to reflect on the lived experience of ikigai, or what is our notion of well-being. When we take time to reflect on these ideas, verbalise them, write them, express them outwards, we may become aware of the somatic self. In other words, I sensed that my participants, by connecting their bodily felt sensations to the meaning that they give to ikigai, they attain bodily awareness.

Such awareness can lead to interpretations, imaginations and meaning construction. When their bodies take over, people can tune into them as the main channel for representations of life meaning or the feelings that arise from having a purpose in life, whatever that purpose is.

Reflecting on how ikigai feels in the body

To understand how ikigai resonates within your body, it's important to take the time to know yourself on a deeper level. This means gaining a thorough understanding of your essence, your likes and dislikes, as well as your positive and negative traits. Delve into the reasons behind these traits, exploring them with curiosity and introspection, to gain a comprehensive understanding of yourself.

This can be similar to the naikan process, where you spend your time in introspection.

Jamila’s ikigai

Jamila describes her ikigai as alchemy, a transformational process that involves helping others heal. She sees it as a way to share her thoughts and make a positive contribution to society. For her, ikigai is like putting the puzzle pieces together, as she finds joy in bringing people together.

Ikigai, to her, is a vibrant force. It surges from within, expanding beyond her physical being. It flows outward like water, reminding her that she is merely a piece of something grander than herself.


Ikigai is a deeply personal and profound experience that resonates within us. It is not just a concept or an idea, but a sensation that we can feel within the core of our bodies. The journey towards discovering our ikigai is intrinsically linked to our connection with our physical selves.