Are you in your body? You might be saying, Of course I am. But are you fully present in your body? In this moment, how do your hands feel? Are they cool or warm, heavy or light? When you are happy, anxious, or angry, where do you feel this in your body? Are you aware of how certain thoughts trigger emotions and sensations in your body? If you are perplexed by any of these questions, you are not alone. Learning the importance of the body has been part of my life journey.
Our bodies are constantly sending messages related to our health and well-being. Being fully present in our bodies enables us to recognize and learn from these messages. It helps us feel more alive and more in touch with our true Self; it also helps us access the sweet spot of deep well-being that enables us to navigate the challenges we face.
Compared to people in other cultures, where rhythm and movement play a vital role in the health and well-being of their people, we tend to be less in our body. In addition, many of us have stressful lives and tend to suppress our feelings, which then become hijacked by the emotional and thinking parts of our brains. This produces a disconnection from our body, which can cause us to lose touch with who we really are.
Our exquisitely designed bodies store imprints of joys, disappointments, and fears we’ve experienced. Imprints of negative experiences and traumas early in our lives may be triggered much later by stressful situations or outright trauma. In some cases, even everyday events bear some likeness to the original experience and may cause us to react in irrational ways or feel irritable, angry, or numb. We may ruminate, judge ourselves negatively, feel hopeless, exhibit extreme behaviors, or develop an overwhelming need to be in control.
Befriend your body
The body is alive with energy, cells constantly dividing and reproducing. Yet, stress, from whatever source, can remain stuck in the body, which is then manifested as stiffness, tightness, pain, or some other ailment. Ignoring these messages doesn’t make them go away and can result in chronic conditions. It’s well accepted in the medical community that our immune systems can be compromised when we don’t learn how to deal properly with our stressors. If we don’t find ways to release the negativity in our body, we’re unlikely to experience harmonious health and well-being.
The extent to which we free and alive in our physical body is reflected outwardly in our daily living and the way our life unfolds. In our culture we tend to live in our heads or thinking minds vacillating between memories of the past (positive and negative) and longings for the future. Being present in our whole being tends to be an ephemeral experience at best.
Our emotions and perceptions often arise spontaneously, and they ebb and flow as if out of our control. The word emotion comes from the Latin “emovere,” which means to move out. Instead of being driven by our emotions and perceptions (or misperceptions), we can ask what they need. Is there some action we can take that will provide direction? This befriending of our body helps energize us and integrate these fragmented parts of ourselves.
Emotions need to move and flow like the blood in our veins. Suppressing or denying our feelings can drain our heart of purpose and passion. It can cause inertia and shield us from joy. Darwin observed that the purpose of emotion is to initiate movement. This restores an organism to safety and physical equilibrium. We are barely conscious of the movement going on in the body as it goes though cycles of nourishment, repair, release, and rest—all in an effort to rebalance. So, when we feel emotionally or physically off kilter, initiating movement may be exactly what we need. Even as I’m writing this, I’m periodically getting up and moving; then I can return to my desk feeling refreshed.
Our bodies are like a sensitive musical instrument that needs constant tuning, not only to help us release old patterns of behavior and emotions that affect our functioning, but also to allow our life’s music to flow.
Being in the flow
It takes enormous energy to repress emotions, and it’s energetically depleting when we over-react emotionally. The natural function of our bodies is to seek harmony and balance. When physical tension is released, so are our emotions. Although we can’t always be in perfect balance, finding ways to visit our harmonious sweet spot regularly makes it easier to return there.
Being in the flow of life and allowing the spirit of life to flow through us are enhanced when we engage all the senses. Our bodies are designed to move, play, and be touched. Let’s take sound as an example. We should all take time to listen for the vibrations of sound waves in and around us. Listening to and feeling the rhythm of our favorite music, or of our own voice, will move our spirit. Rhythmic sound has a harmonizing effect that has always enriched the human spirit. Participating in drum circles and singing in a chorus enable people celebrate being with others.
Rhythmic movement adds another dimension to befriending the body. It helps us breathe more deeply—a powerful way to release tensions, calm the body, and create equilibrium. Simple walking or jogging can be easier when you allow yourself to be fully present and feel the rhythm of your movement and breath. Creative play and dance can take you out of daily life and refresh your spirit.
Touch is an essential part of feeling alive. Touch validates us and helps us feel cared for. Hugs bring our hearts together, which has been shown to increase our well-being. Social dancing has many beneficial effects. In fact, Argentine tango, my favorite dance form, has inspired research on its many health benefits, including mindfulness. One Australian study even showed a greater reduction in stress after six weeks of tango classes than after the same number of mindfulness meditation classes.
Many body-oriented practices, such as martial arts like tai chi and aikido, have harmonizing effects on the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga, of course, incorporates breathing, postures, and mindfulness, and has more and more documented physical benefits. iRest® Yoga Nidra, which I teach, is a meditation practice that not only guides you through the landscape of the body, but also helps you befriend sensations, emotions, and thoughts so you can connect with that harmonious place within.
Discover your pathway
Find something you enjoy that feels natural. It’s less important what the activity is than how you experience it. Allow yourself to become completely absorbed in whatever pathway you choose. Take your problems into the activity. Have the intention of allowing them to be solved as you become motivated to handle each circumstance with an appropriate response. When you join with the currents of life rather than resist them, you will move with greater ease. You will become more open to an inner experience that helps you regain a sense of who you are.
Riding the rhythmic waves of the body moves us towards feeling more whole and complete. This connects us to a deep felt sense of Self and the Ultimate Source of life itself.