Appearance and health usually top the list when we discuss our bodies. Perhaps sexuality comes in there a bit, but really, most people do not think about their bodies much more than that. We have been raised in a society where the brain runs the show. There is an understanding that everything should be based on facts, “Just the facts ma’am.”
Even when we are trying to make decisions, the first thing that comes to mind is the classic ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ list. We all know the drill. You take a piece of paper and write ‘pros’ on one side of a line down the middle and ‘cons’ on the other. Then, you describe in words the good and bad aspects of any decision. Sure, fine, whatever…
Unfortunately, this method excludes a huge amount of knowledge and information. Consider for a minute, you are reading this blog. Your brain is likely focused on this, or perhaps someone or something in your immediate environment also vying for your attention. Your brain might be drifting off thinking about other, possibly more interesting things.
Whether you are paying attention or not, you have sensory perception in your skin, your digestive tract and your muscles. Your ears can hear (my apologies if you are deaf), you can taste your mouth, see with your eyes, smell with your nose etc., etc. This information is sorted and what is considered the most important is presented to your awareness by your brain.
Everyone has experienced noticing an odour when you walk into a room and then it seems to disappear. The odour is still there it is just that once it was acknowledged, there was no more need to think about it and have it at the forefront of your awareness, unless the smell is outrageous or is tied to food, pleasure or some other meaningful information.
What we tend to forget is that all of that data was collected and sorted through even if our brains did not prioritize it and make it important in the moment. This vast storehouse of experience and information is not necessarily something we can put into words. Think of a bad smell. If you tried to describe it, without referring to other smells, it is almost impossible. Words fail us. It is not possible to capture the full experience or meaning of something with words alone.
But, we have decided to restrict our decision-making process to providing arguments, which are words, for and against any choice. Let me suggest another alternative.
By learning how to listen to your own body, you can tap into all of the information that is there that may or may not be part of your conscious experience. Your body speaks to you through sensations. These might be felt as heat, cold, shaking, trembling, tightening, loosening, aching or tingling. There are many more ways to describe body sensations, but that list gives you a taste of the diversity. Just like the bad odour, we largely ignore these sensations until we run into problems.
Tightening of the shoulders can lead to headaches, muscles trembling can lead to being exhausted and tightening of the digestive tract can have all kinds of digestive consequences. This is when we are forced to acknowledge the way our body is responding to the situation, but we can learn how to pay attention.
*Special note to Martha Beck, this is based on her body compass
This is how to tune into what your body is communicating to you:
1. Get into a relaxed position
It doesn’t matter if you are sitting, standing or lying down, but you need to be able to relax completely. You will not get good results if you have to adjust yourself and move around during the exercise.
2. Remember a bad memory
When I say remember a bad memory, I’m not talking about telling the story you have written about the event. Let me illustrate. Say, your dog ran out in front of a car and you saw her get hit. The story would be the last sentence I wrote. I do not want you to rehash this story, perhaps adding in the type of car or how your dog happened to be on the road. What I want you to do it “be” there.
Remember the day, the weather, the lighting. Think of whether or not there was a breeze. Were other people around? Were there smells? How did you feel right before it happened? Were there any sounds? Get right back into the memory, relive it. This exercise may bring up unreleased emotions. It is always good to let them out. If you find yourself crying, be happy that you are releasing emotions. Go with it. Let them out.
3. Scan your body
Now that you are re-experiencing this memory, scan your body. Start at your toes and notice anything. Are they cold? Do you feel the floor, or your socks? Go slowly up your legs and notice anything. If they are completely relaxed notice that. If they are uncomfortable notice that. Continue up your body. Notice everything. Be sure to not miss any body parts. Is there any tightness, coldness, pain? Make note of all of the sensations coming from your body. This is how your body says “no”.
I mean this literally. You have built up negative energy in your body. Get up, shake, move around, dance if you feel like it but physically move your body until it no longer feels like you are re-experiencing the bad event. The emotion attached to the experience may hang around still, but you want to move your body and let that part of the energy go.
This time use one of your favourite memories. The same thing applies. You do not want to tell the story of how wonderful the day was, you want to re-experience the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere.
The only mistake I have seen people make here is they go to one of the classic, “BEST DAYS” of my life which is often a wedding, or the birth of a child, or winning the award. These may work if you are being interviewed about the best day in your life, but often a wedding is stressful, there can be a lot of fear, pain and worry during childbirth and winning that award, took a lot of work and a lot was at stake, so these are not good examples.
What you are looking for is a day when you felt loved, happy, or content. One of the times when you were completely at peace and things were OK.
6. Scan your body
Repeat what I described above. Start at your toes and look for any sensation in your body. Make note of what you feel. This is how your body says, “yes”.
7. Using the information
Now that you have an idea when your body is trying to say yes and when it is trying to say no, you can apply this to everyday life and decision making. Instead of setting up ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ on a page, sit and picture yourself making one decision and check in with your body. Then, picture yourself making the opposite and see what your body has to say.
Learning this technique will allow you to tap into what your body knows and what it is trying to communicate to you, even if it can’t be expressed in words. If you practice paying attention, eventually this information will be available in real time. Like when you are asked if you want to go to a party, check in and see what you really want to do, your body will know.