The body holds wisdom that is essential to truly understanding both your deepest pain and your strongest capacities. Because of this, it is important to learn how to access and listen to this wisdom. Unfortunately, in an increasingly technological and intellectual world, communication from our bodies has become easily ignored, dismissed and feared. Even basic physiological cues, such as hunger, have become feelings that are to be avoided and mistrusted, rather than acknowledged and honored. This growing separation of mind and body is dangerous, as it has serious implications for well being.
As a dance/movement therapist, I have been trained in guiding people on a journey of connecting to, exploring, understanding, honoring and integrating the wisdom of the body. The body speaks to us in three basic ways: body movement, physical body sensations and somatic symptoms. Today, I will expand on each of these three basic ways that the body constantly tries to speak to us, and I will offer ways you can begin to explore for yourself how to translate communication from your body in a way that broadens your self-awareness.
1. The body speaks through movement.
The way we move through the world reflects who we are and how we feel about the world in which we live. For example, how do you enter a room with strangers? Do you walk with solid footing? Do you move directly into the room or stay along the outside? Do you approach someone or wait until someone approaches you? Each of these answers tells you a little about yourself and about how you have been physically patterned to move through the world. Changing any of these movement patterns will likely be loaded with emotions and anxieties, as well as highlight belief systems that you have learned about yourself and the world. With this understanding from the body, you can choose if there are ways in which you would like to change the way you move through the world and notice the psychological/emotional response to that change.
Start to notice ways in which you move and hold yourself throughout your everyday life and explore what happens when you make a change. For example, if you typically sit with your back super straight and your legs crossed, notice what it is like to allow your spine to rest on the chair and/or what it feels like to let your legs be outstretched in front of you. When you are standing, do you typically have your weight shifted to one side? Notice what it is like to stand with your weight evenly dispersed on both feet. How does this impact the rest of your body structure? Now, you will likely have thoughts like, ¨This is just awkward and uncomfortable. I stand the way I stand because it is comfortable.¨ This is true… AND… it is also likely that you find it comfortable because of psychological/emotional associations that come with holding yourself in that manner. If you stick with it long enough, you will start to have other thoughts that are more about how you feel as a person rather than just how you physically feel in these changed positions. Be curious about those thoughts and continue exploring!
2. The body speaks through physical sensations.
The body is constantly communicating to us about how it is understanding the world around us through physical sensations. For example, have you ever had the experience of walking out of your front door for the day and getting a tingle in your body that tells you that you need to go back inside? When you do, did you find that you forgot to lock the door, or forgot to turn the stove off, or forgot to feed the dog?
This is the body communicating with us that it is picking up something in the environment that our intellectual brains can't comprehend. Some people refer to this as the ¨spidey sense¨ and others refer to it as ¨animal instinct¨ but I tend to view this as body intuition. Regardless of what you call it, I would venture to say that everyone has had some experience where there was no rational reason why you would take a certain action, but something inside your body tells you that you need to act, and it ends up being true. This is not coincidence. This happens because our bodies understand the world in a different way than our intellectual/rational brain understands it. Becoming familiar with our body´s capability in this way can become a really important resource!
In moments throughout the day when you think to yourself, ¨I am overwhelmed¨ or ¨I am anxious¨ or ¨I am really happy,¨ follow that thought with the following question: ¨How do I know?¨ Then, bring awareness to the sensations that are happening in your body that are telling your brain that you are feeling a certain way. For example, ¨anxious¨ could be made up of sensations such as rapid heart rate, tension in the shoulders and butterflies in the stomach. Noticing your anxiety as simply a cluster of body sensations can help you to address the anxiety by tending to your body.
Another way to approach this experiment is to simply pause randomly at a certain point during your day, and take an inventory of the body sensations that are occurring. When you take the time to notice what your body is telling you, you will be surprised at what it is saying! You may discover that your mouth is dry, so you need water. Or you may feel stiffness in your legs and realize that you need to move around the office a bit. Addressing these cues will ultimately help you stay physiologically regulated, present and tend to your body's basic needs.
3. The body speaks through somatic symptoms.
When emotions and experiences are not addressed, the unresolved active energy gets trapped in the body and eventually can lead to somatic symptoms and/or illness. For example, have you ever gotten really angry with someone, but instead of letting it out, you bottled it up and tried to pretend like it didn't happen because you don't want to be an ¨angry person¨ or hurt the person´s feelings? Perhaps an hour, a day or even a week after this event, you find yourself getting unusual headaches, migraines or nausea? Again, this is not a coincidence. Anger is strong and active energy. If it is not released, it does not just disappear! Instead, it will manifest itself somehow and someway within the physical body. This is true of all emotional experiences. All emotions manifest as clusters of physiological experiences in the body, and if you do not allow them to be experienced as they happen, the energy associated with each state must find a different way to exist within the body, which can result in a myriad of somatic symptoms. Exploring the possibility that a somatic symptom is related to emotional/psychological distress often leads to a body-based intervention that will alleviate the symptom.
The next time you are experiencing a symptom that is a nuisance for you, pause and go through the following steps: 1) Focus your attention on the symptom; 2) Get yourself to be curious about why the symptom is happening (rather than critical or intellectual about the symptom); 3) This may sound silly, but the next step is to ask the symptom variations of the following questions- ¨Why are you here?¨, ¨What are you trying to tell me?¨, ¨What energy are you holding for me?¨ and any other questions that your curiosity compels you to ask the symptom; 4) Pay attention to the natural intuitive response that you get! I know it sounds goofy, but you WILL get an answer. Be mindful of that answer, and take action based on the response that you receive.
In summary, the body speaks to us through movement, body sensations and somatic symptoms. I could spend a lot of time digging deeper into each of these ways in which the body speaks to us, and I probably will do so in future writing! However, I hope this leaves you with a basic sense of how you can start to become aware of how your body is constantly and consistently giving you very important information. Please know that, often, what the body has to communicate with us can't quite be translated fully into words. It can be difficult for us to accept that we do not always need words. However, we do not always need to understand something intellectually in order for healing to take place. Do we need to articulate how bones regenerate before a broken bone will mend itself? No! Sometimes, we need to just experience what it is like to move through the tension and stuck energy in our body so that it can be released and regenerated. Body-based psychotherapy allows this process of communication to happen, and guides you into a healthy relationship with your body's wisdom and innate capacity for resiliency.