Body Awareness 101 — Hear the wisdom of your body

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”.

4. Shake

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.

5. Repeat

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.

 

 

 

The Art of Decision Making

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As she got into the car, her entire face lit up. As a mom, I had seen this before and knew that she loved what she saw and how she felt sitting in the car. Her brain, the left side of her brain, that is, had told her to buy the other car. So, we went and drove the other car and well, three other models. If you’re making a decision you might as well be as informed as possible — no arguing that!

It had come down to the Mazda 3 or the Honda Civic. A spread sheet was constructed to carefully balance the money that each would cost, insurance, differences in gas consumption and the ratings of each. Now it was decision time. Money, reviews and reports have a way of making us all feel secure. We are comfortable dealing in defensible facts. The truth is that even if we make the most recommended selection, there is still the possibility of choosing a lemon, having bad luck or simply regretting our choice. Logic does not necessarily guarantee the desired outcome, especially when it is a choice based on enjoyment of a product.

So, when the facts are balanced how do you make the best choice? Stop thinking about it. The art of making a choice occurrs when you cannot make the choice based on facts. You see, the left side of your brain, the part that talks to you all day, commenting on your surroundings, reminding you of appointments, saying things verbally, loves logic. It can compare and contrast, balance and negotiate. But in this situation it was not helpful.

The right side of your brain can be more difficult to pay attention to because it does not speak in words. It speaks in body sensations, “gut feelings” and intuition. The best way to connect with the knowledge that is stored here is to meditate. Never one to sit still and think about nothing for long, I didn’t even bother to suggest meditation to my daughter. So, I tried to help her access this “knowing” of what she actually wanted in other ways. I suggested asking herself first thing in the morning, before she had completely awoken. I tried to get her to pay attention to the reaction her body was having to each choice. In general if you feel loose, relaxed and open your body “agrees” with your decision.

At one point, I flipped a coin. The decision was that the Mazda would be heads. The idea is not to go with the coin, it is to access how you feel in that moment when the decision has been made for you. Are you elated or do you regret the coin toss? These can be subtle reactions or more pronounced but the exercise helps you access what you truly want by letting chance make the decision and allowing you to observe how it makes you feel.

I would love to say that all of my ministrations put her in alignment with her true feelings and she went on to buy the car that I knew she loved. But, the truth is that she picked it because her fella thought it was “ball’n”. What’s a mother to do?

 

What are you Passionate About?

IMG_3673When was the last time that you were so eager to do something that you couldn’t wait? How about stopping to just enjoy the moment, or “smell the roses”? I’m not talking about getting to the end of work so that you can relax, or worse looking forward to retirement, I’m talking about looking forward to actually doing (rather than not having to do) something. This is not “living for the weekend”. I’m talking about actually having something that you love to do.

If you find that you cannot remember the last time that you had that Christmas morning feeling, or even some activity that you look forward to, there could be a few reasons. One of the more common reasons is that there is simply nothing in your life that makes you feel excited or passionate or inspired at all. This can be the result of several factors.

The first factor is that in order to feel emotions we must be willing to feel all emotions. In our Prozac society, feeling bad is often seen as a choice–and not a smart one at that. But I disagree. In order to feel the range of emotions that we are capable of feeling you must be willing to feel the good and the bad.

It has been recognized that shutting out unpleasant emotions closes the door on all feelings. We cannot selectively feel only those emotions we want to feel. When we block some, we block them all.

Anger, fear, pain and loneliness are not pleasant feelings. Many of us have found ways to avoid experiencing this unpleasantness. We eat, smoke, drink take antidepressants, shop, watch television or play video games. We all have our own avoidance mechanisms.

These mechanisms allow us to focus on something other than the discomfort that we are feeling. No one alive can avoid unpleasant emotions forever, mainly because unpleasant stuff happens to everyone, but also because these emotions do not go away when they are not experienced. They get stored up in your body waiting for an opportunity to be expressed and having a detrimental impact on your health in the meantime.

Not allowing ourselves to feel emotions can be likened to holding a door almost shut. When the emotions start to come through the door we lean on the door, not quite able to lock it shut and a lot of effort (or avoidance tactics) is required to hold the door in place. Unfortunately, all of the good emotions are held on the other side of the door as well. Love, passion, joy and happiness get stuck on the other side. We increasingly become disconnected from not only the bad and uncomfortable emotions but we can no longer tap into the good emotions either.

Another factor that can get into the way of being passionate is that we’ve told ourselves that we cannot have what we want. Written this way that seems absurd, but we were all raised in a society that taught us how we were supposed to behave in order to be successful and acceptable. You need to have a job that will give you enough income to support yourself; good parents always put their children first; good little boys and girls do not behave that way; there is not enough time and my personal favourite, if it is not productive it is not worth doing at all.

Many of these beliefs are not even conscious; we have just learned to push aside desire when we know that we cannot accommodate it. I would love to sail, but I don’t have a boat and I don’t live near the water, so when I think about sailing I’ll delegate it to when I retire–for instance.

Finally, we have to be willing to listen to our own hearts and actually dream about what we would like to be doing. This type of activity, or non-activity, is equally discouraged in our society. Someone that takes time to do nothing is often seen as unproductive and I don’t have to tell you how frowned upon that is in our culture. You must be willing to be unproductive, to allow yourself to dream and fantasize about possibilities before you are going to be able to tap into what you really want.

Passion and excitement make life worth living. If you realize that you no longer feel passion at all, ask yourself if you are feeling anything. Have you learned to suppress all of your emotions? What are you doing instead of feeling them?

Take the time today to ask yourself what you would love to do (today, not some time in the future!), pay attention to what you tell yourself about why you can’t do it and consider the possibility that those reasons may not be true. If you can’t think of anything that you would like to do, take fifteen minutes to do nothing. Let you mind wander and see what comes up, it may amaze you.

The Art of Decision Making

20130515-134843.jpg

As she got into the car, her entire face lit up. As a mom, I had seen this before and knew that she loved what she saw and how she felt sitting in the car. Her brain, the left side of her brain, that is, had told her to buy the other car. So, we went and drove the other car and well, three other models. If you’re making a decision you might as well be as informed as possible — no arguing that!

It had come down to the Mazda 3 or the Honda Civic. A spread sheet was constructed to carefully balance the money that each would cost, insurance, differences in gas consumption and the ratings of each. Now it was decision time. Money, reviews and reports have a way of making us all feel secure. We are comfortable dealing in defensible facts. The truth is that even if we make the most recommended selection, there is still the possibility of choosing a lemon, having bad luck or simply regretting our choice. Logic does not necessarily guarantee the desired outcome, especially when it is a choice based on enjoyment of a product.

So, when the facts are balanced how do you make the best choice? Stop thinking about it. The art of making a choice occurrs when you cannot make the choice based on facts. You see, the left side of your brain, the part that talks to you all day, commenting on your surroundings, reminding you of appointments, saying things verbally, loves logic. It can compare and contrast, balance and negotiate. But in this situation it was not helpful.

The right side of your brain can be more difficult to pay attention to because it does not speak in words. It speaks in body sensations, “gut feelings” and intuition. The best way to connect with the knowledge that is stored here is to meditate. Never one to sit still and think about nothing for long, I didn’t even bother to suggest meditation to my daughter. So, I tried to help her access this “knowing” of what she actually wanted in other ways. I suggested asking herself first thing in the morning, before she had completely awoken. I tried to get her to pay attention to the reaction her body was having to each choice. In general if you feel loose, relaxed and open your body “agrees” with your decision.

At one point, I flipped a coin. The decision was that the Mazda would be heads. The idea is not to go with the coin, it is to access how you feel in that moment when the decision has been made for you. Are you elated or do you regret the coin toss? These can be subtle reactions or more pronounced but the exercise helps you access what you truly want by letting chance make the decision and allowing you to observe how it makes you feel.

I would love to say that all of my ministrations put her in alignment with her true feelings and she went on to buy the car that I knew she loved. But, the truth is that she picked it because her fella thought it was “ball’n”. What’s a mother to do?

 

No Pain, No Gain

We have been told repeatedly that we must fight against time; fight against our appetites and fight against our bodies. Actually, wouldn’t it be nice to just stop struggling?

How many people do you know that have themselves scheduled so tight that they barely have time for their family or friends? What are they told? You need to schedule time for yourself. Make dates with your partner so that you don’t forget to stop and talk to each other.
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Think of the programs that are recommended for people that want to lose weight. You manage everything that goes into your mouth. Let’s not forget that you are supposed to exercise every other day for 35 minutes, before breakfast if possible. You should be doing three sets of 15 repetitions at a weight that causes you to drop the barbell on your foot. No that’s not right, but there is a truth there. The same can be said for the advice we are given about every other thing in our lives.

We have been told that our brains can figure out exactly the best way to live. We think that if we just design the right program, the right schedule, and the most efficient way to get things done that some magical outcome will reign.

The message is that we need to be pushing ourselves all of the time. Why? When you look around it is clear that we are not a society that is “managing its time” well. We are very unhealthy despite realms of advice about what to eat and how much to exercise and billions of dollars being spent in these industries.

Here’s a thought. What would happen if we stopped listening to this advice? Would we really become slovenly coach potatoes staring at screens and only moving when absolutely necessary? Would anyone notice a difference if we did?

You see the funny thing about forcing these external rules on ourselves is that it does not respect our own bodies and our own needs. We all know athletes that have trained so hard that they have caused fatigue injuries. We all know dieters that are so strict with themselves that they don’t eat enough to be healthy. We all know people that take on every project that comes their way and end up not doing anything very well.

Let me say something radical. I know that this goes against everything that you have been brought up to believe, but just indulge me for a moment. How would you feel if you stopped working when you were tired, ate only when you were hungry and exercised for enjoyment?

I recognize that many of us need to go to work on a 9-5, or some other, schedule and we don’t have much choice about that without jeopardizing our jobs, but what about all of the other work you are doing? There is no gold star at the end of your life if you are going full out working as much as possible until you die.

Your body has a huge amount of knowledge. Just stop for a moment and appreciate how many things it is doing as you read this. First, it is aware of your entire environment, location and the date and time, but in addition to that, your heart is circulating your blood, your lungs are oxygenating that blood, your digestive system is processing your last meal and your brain is understanding these little squiggly characters on this page, all without any effort.

There are a multitude of cells making proteins, repairing themselves, dividing to provide new cells to replace the old ones; your hair is growing and you are keeping your mouth moist with saliva. Isn’t it amazing that your body can do all of this without you paying attention to it, setting up a schedule, defining goals, allotting times and thinking it through?

I would like you to consider another possibility, even if it seems way out there. Your body also knows when it is most efficient to get your work done, how much you should eat and move. Have you ever pushed yourself to finish something and it took you twice as long because you were tired or unfocused?

Stay with me here, there is one more, outrageous thought! Perhaps, if you paid attention to what your body was saying, or rather your intuition, you would focus on the things that you should be paying attention to instead of what your brain is telling you you should be doing. That opens up a whole new opportunity to just pay attention to your life. Do you feel like talking to your partner, friend or child? Don’t schedule an appointment, talk to them. Do you feel like relaxing? You may even find that if you allowed yourself to relax, you would get more work done!

The most beneficial long term “lifestyle” change would be to actually respect your body as intelligent and knowledgeable. Try it for four days. Check in with yourself about once an hour and see if you can understand the messages that your body is sending you. Tape reminders on the fridge, the dashboard of your car, inside your wallet, on the edge of your computer screen. Stop and do a full body scan.

What did you notice each hour? Is there any pain? Are you hungry? Overfull? Do you feel restless? Is your mind focused or wandering? I think that you would be amazed at how much better you feel if you paid attention to what your body was saying. You never know, you might actually be compelled to listen to what it was telling you and possibly,…..take it’s advice. Or, you could continue to listen to the “experts”. How is that working out for you?