"Trust your gut instinct"... "I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do"... "I just had a feeling"... Our language reflects our understanding that the body has real wisdom and knowledge. Why, then, do we spend most of our time trying to override its signals?
Can you remember a time when your stomach knotted up in fear, your heart raced before an exciting challenge, you intuitively moved closer to a new love? Can you recall how your mind interpreted what your body felt? Did it berate you for being so weak (or cowardly or childish or out of control), ignore the sensation, and make your body do the exact opposite of what it knew was right?
What Is Your Body Telling You?
Right now, in this very moment: What is your body telling you?
* Is your stomach tense with anxiety, or warm with relaxation?
* Is your forehead furrowed in concentration, or are your eyes wide with wonder?
* Are your feet happy in your shoes?
* Is your breathing substantial yet tranquil?
* Are you comfortable inside your own skin?
* Are you looking out through your eyes, taking in sound through your ears, feeling the temperature with your skin, inhaling the scent of the air?
* Are you living in your body right now?
The human body comes equipped with an innate ability to intuit real danger, and a brilliant physical response system that knows when to run and when to fight -- even when we are actively not listening to the information we are receiving from our senses. The body also has the inborn ability to know when we are safe, to know who can nurture us emotionally, and to bond in love and support with others.
That's right: We are born with an innate instinct to survive and prosper, to love one another. One of the intrinsic ingredients that allows us to thrive is the experience of pleasure. However, when we are not actively listening to the information we are receiving from our senses, when we are taught that the language of the body will get us into trouble, it is much more difficult to respond naturally, to bond in long-lasting satisfying relationships with others.
Engaging Life with Senses Wide Open
Feeling fully alive means engaging life with our senses and instincts wide open. Touch is the mother of the senses. It is born with the oldest, largest, and most sensitive of our organs, the skin. Ashley Montagu, in Touching, his wonderful book about the significance of the skin, says:
"The skin is the mirror of the organism's functioning; its color, texture, dryness, and every one of its other aspects, reflect our state of being, psychological as well as physiological. We blanch with fear and turn red with embarrassment. Our skin tingles with excitement and feels numb with shock; it is a mirror of our passions and emotions."
The skin covers our entire body. It is the foundation on which all the other senses are based. Our skin is the interface between our nervous system and the environment in which we live. It connects the outside to our insides, and vice versa. Neuro-anthropologist Andre Virel says, "Our skin is a mirror endowed with properties even more wonderful than those of a magic looking glass."
The skin is an essential player in the conundrum of our existence, in our striving for radiant well-being and connection to all things. It is our skin that allows us to differentiate between sandpaper and marble, glass and water, hot and cold, pain and pleasure. When we add taste, smell, sight, and hearing to this biological equation, a magnificent symphony of feeling and sensation informs our experience. Without our senses we are like stick figures -- without sense and sensibility, forever ensnared in the modern disease of cerebral reasoning.
Unfortunately, most of us learn at an early age that the life of the mind is the real life, the important life, the body's high commander. The fullness of life -- sensation and emotion -- are subjugated to what we think at any given moment. Without the full palette of sensual input, life is reduced to a monochromatic dimension that has little room for the colors and sounds and smells and tastes and sensations that enable us to experience genuine pleasure and delight.
Humans Have Self-Awareness
When we are warm and safe and well-nourished, our muscles relax, our blood flows easily, and we feel a sense of well-being or authentic pleasure. When we are in danger, cold and hungry, we feel anxiety and fear. Our muscles tense up, our breathing gets shallow, and we get ready to run.
Animals move freely, effortlessly. They drop down for a nap when they are tired, they eat when they are hungry. We envy this natural state, but it is not ours. Being human means we have self-awareness. As human beings we are born with the unique ability to consciously observe and control our own behavior. Sometimes this is what gets us into trouble. Sometimes our minds don't like what we see, or we fear what might happen and we override our bodies' messages.
Yet this awareness can also work to our benefit: We can train ourselves to move and think and hear and see and feel in ways that bring the world to life in infinite, unseen detail, much as a trained violinist can make a violin sing in tones that are beyond the reach of the student.
The Language of the Body
Conscious awareness naturally includes the language of the body. It helps us respond more honestly to what is happening in the moment. It helps us filter out neurotic thinking. I know this is true because I see it every day.
For more than twenty years I have worked with hundreds of disenfranchised human beings who are in search of their bodies and don't know it. Like most of us, they suffer terribly from our culture's mixed messages. Many of them are full of guilt and shame, trying unsuccessfully to reason their way through life. They have very little real information about the nature and function of their bodies' desires, illnesses, knee-jerk behaviors, and pleasures.
Instead, their minds have developed elaborate mythologies about what might happen if they let go and allow their bodies to speak to them. Surely, they think, they would lose control sexually, or hurt themselves, or do something they would regret. Their fears are deep and powerful and keep them in the dark about how the body actually works. Paradoxically, they take their health for granted.
Your Body is Your Constant Resource
The last four decades have been characterized by a frantic search for self-improvement and purification: We join programs to give up smoking, drinking, and drugs. We train our bodies in gyms. We eat carefully controlled diets to starve our bodies into submission. We buy books on how to improve our sex lives. We live hard and fast, seeking excitement, and then recover by meditating on inner peace, chasing out-of-body experiences and longing for a less corporeal world. We spend billions of dollars on diet, fitness, entertainment, and religion, and we are still not satisfied.
The simple truth is this: In seeking to perfect our bodies, tire them out, or escape them altogether, we have forgotten a fundamental point. We can't go anywhere without them, even though we try. The body matters. It's a resource, not an object to whip into shape. It is you.
Having a body is what being a human is all about.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Ulysses Press, Berkeley, California.
Senses Wide Open: The Art & Practice of Living in Your Body
by Johanna Putnoi.
Senses Wide Open shows readers how to be at ease with themselves, feel more balanced emotionally, think more clearly, and experience genuine pleasure in their physical connection to others and the world. Through illuminating personal stories, deep movement exploration, bodywork basics, and step-by-step exercises, author Johanna Putnoi shares the knowledge she has gained from her years of experience teaching people to develop a personal awareness of their body's natural intelligence.
About the Author
Johanna Putnoi is a dancer, writer, and somatic educator who lectures and leads workshops, seminars, and trainings in applied somatics, the movement arts, and the enneagram. She teaches throughout the United States and Europe and is a somatic counselor and popular workshop leader at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. She also teaches Somatics and Healing at Stanford University. Visit her website: www.sensesopen.com
The Secret Language of Your Body: The Essential Guide to Health and Wellness
by Inna Segal.
Listening to My Body: A guide to helping kids understand the connection between their sensations (what the heck are those?) and feelings so that they can get better at figuring out what they need.
- Ying Hui Tan
Studio: Skinned Knee Publishing
Label: Skinned Knee Publishing
Publisher: Skinned Knee Publishing
Manufacturer: Skinned Knee Publishing
This engaging and interactive book guides children through the practice of naming their feelings and the sensations that accompany them. Engages children in easy, kid-friendly mindfulness activities.
Helps kids build on their capacity to be mindful, self-regulate, and develop emotional resilience.
Listening to My Body is a wonderful tool for parents, counselors and teachers! Free resources to accompany this book can be found at bit.ly/gabigarciabooks.
(Available in Spanish as Escuchando a Mi Cuerpo.)
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Studio: Shasta Gardens
Label: Shasta Gardens
Publisher: Shasta Gardens
Manufacturer: Shasta Gardens