Have you ever faced a problem where the solution seemed so complex, you just couldn’t wrap your head around it?
Or a confusing situation where things didn’t seem to add up, and you spent lots of time and energy thinking around in circles with no progress?
Were you trying to solve the problem only with your thinking (your mind)? Did you ask your body?
The Wisdom of Your Body
My body? you might ask. What does my body have to do with the complex situation I’m facing at work? Or the social relationship that is perplexing me?
Your body knows quite a lot, actually, because it’s you. Descartes did us a huge disservice when he wrote the famous: “I think, therefore I am.” While it’s not entirely his fault — western culture has long prized a separation between mind and body, for a wide variety of reasons — the idea that thought is superior to any other sense is just plain wrong.
Trust Your Body
It’s true that intuition and feeling can sometimes be clouded by misperceptions, biases, or other baggage from our past. We don’t have to make decisions entirely in this way…but we don’t have to rely totally on our thinking “mind” either!
In the Alexander Technique world, we have sometimes fallen victim to the “thinking is everything” bias. One central idea in the Alexander work is “unreliable sensory awareness” — meaning that our kinesthetic sense is calibrated to our habits, and can sometimes perceive things a bit inaccurately as we work to change those underlying habitual patterns of tension, strain, or collapse.
While it is useful to learn about and refine our sensory awareness, it doesn’t mean that ALL feeling is unreliable. It just means we need to use and trust our whole self — body and mind — together, and recognize that we can think with our whole self, too!
We can trust our “thinking body” even as we unlearn our habits and refine (or recalibrate) our kinesthetic sense
Sometimes, our bodies seem to know things that we are not consciously aware of. Fortunately, our bodies have a “language” of their own!
I recently perused a number of books about non-verbal communication, or body language. According to pioneering researchers in that field, more than half of our communication may be taking place non-verbally!
Usually, we might assume that non-verbal language applies only in interpersonal communication. But what if we applied it to ourselves? What if the ways that we use our posture, our facial expressions, and our tone of voice could help us understand things that might lie just below the surface level of our attention? The words we say — to others, and importantly, to ourselves — may not be the only communication we’re receiving. Trusting in the wisdom of our bodies helps us to understand a situation more fully, whether we are communicating with others, with ourselves, or both.
Practice Listening to the Wisdom of Your Body
Here’s one way to explore intentional listening to your own body’s communication.
1. Begin in a balanced standing or seated position. Take a few moments to pause, to allow gravity to take you on the surfaces supporting you, and to allow a “lightening up” that begins all the way from the floor.
You can think into your three-dimensional space by asking yourself:
“Where’s the ground? Where’s up? Where’s the space behind me? Where’s the space in front of me?
Where’s the space to my right? Where’s the space to my left?”
Notice your easy breathing, without pushing or pulling on the breath. Allow your face and jaw and shoulders and arms and hands to soften, but stay buoyantly upright in your sitting or standing.
2. Now, bring to mind a mildly confusing, challenging, or complex situation. (In kindness to yourself, and for emotional/mental safety, please start with something that might be annoying or frustrating, but not something intensely serious).
What changes do you notice in your body? Do you notice stiffening or tightening? Collapsing or bracing? Where? As you continue to notice those changes, what kinds of thoughts do you observe? If you feel comfortable vocalizing those thoughts, try saying them out loud, and listen to the tone of your voice. Is it light and easy? Heavy and dull? Forceful? Aggressive?
If you like, you can imagine seeing yourself from another person’s perspective (or watch yourself in a mirror). If you were in a conversation with someone who was using their body and voice in the way that you are, what kinds of nonverbal communication would you be observing? Is this person angry? Worried? Confident? Afraid? Relaxed? Defensive?
This is your body trying to tell you how you are feeling. It might even be telling you things you weren’t even aware of!
Listening to the wisdom of your body helps you clarify what you feel, what you know, and what you don’t know (or are not able to know). Sometimes just acknowledging those things can help to shift our energy around a situation.
Invitation to Shift
3. As you kindly and curiously observe your responses, you might choose to quietly invite yourself to let go of what you noticed changing in your body’s poise.
For example: If you arched your back and stiffened your neck, try inviting your back to widen and your head to release up from between the ears. If you clenched your jaw, perhaps invite your jaw and neck to soften. If you balled up your fists, perhaps easily let your fingers uncurl.
Now, notice your thoughts. Did the energy around your confusing or complex situation change? Are you able to see if from a different perspective, after listening to the wisdom of your body? Is there new information you know, or that you would like to know?
4. Then, the next time you notice yourself using your body in the ways you just noticed (in real time, even with others around) you can not only observe, but gently invite (direct) yourself into stronger, softer use of your whole self, opening into the space around you, and matching the response you wish to have to the situation at hand.
While this practice isn’t a traditional part of the Alexander Technique, it follows the same process that we use in any other situations: non-judgmental observation, non-doing/allowing, and directing. We work on ourselves — that is, strengthen these skills — by taking the process into a variety of challenging situations. These could be lower-stakes situations, like sitting and standing at a chair, to something more complex like playing basketball, meeting someone for coffee, and dealing with stress in the moment wherever you are.
Because the mind and body are not separate, we can help our whole self by listening to the wisdom of the body, bringing an attitude of awareness, non-judgment, and gentleness.
If you tried this practice and would like to discuss what you observed, or would like to learn more about how the Alexander Technique can support you in all the activities of your life — yep, all of ‘em! — I’d love to hear from you.
For another exploration of how your body and mind work together (though really, they are the same thing!), here’s a fun experiment in a blog from 2018, and an invitation to make an “appointment with ease.”