The mind and body both talk to us, but in very different languages.
Does your dog greet you when you come home at night with “Hi Darling, how was your day?” or “What the hell are you doing here?”
They’ll run up, tail wagging jumps up and try and lick you all over, or they will run in front of you, growling and baring their teeth.
Well, we’re mammals too and just like dogs, can communicate powerfully with our body. Just as that posture and approach sends a powerful message to others, it also sends that message to ourselves.
When “Darling” comes home, they’re clear on the reception. And we’re clear on how we feel about seeing them. In fact, our body response will also tell us a lot about how we think about things all through the day.
It will tell us about the food we see in the cake shop window -which one to choose, how we feel about the work we are doing, the people we are thinking about emailing. As we go through our tasks for the day, we will be filtering many body signals about what IT thinks about the task.
Often I have to sit with people who are unwell and need treatment -but which treatment, and what is the upside and downside of treating and leaving? It gets complicated pretty quickly. I list Option A, B and Z, and the risk-benefit that goes with it as accurately as I can.
“What would you do?” they ask me.
I pause. I’m imagining it’s me with the problem, I’m consulting with my gut. My shoulders slump, as I try the disease on for size and all the angst that comes along with it. My mind runs a little movie of me with the illness. Aww, shit, I think, a feeling percolates up in response to me taking on the illness -it’s half worry, and half a knot in my stomach -mmmhhh, this is serious!
I look up with a new resolve. I’d take option B. You really do want to sort this one. Yes, it’s a bit of a nuisance, but…really, you have to get a bit serious about it!.
You see, as a doctor not only do I know the facts, I’ve met the disease – countless times. I’ve sat with people bearing its burden, lived it with them. So when I consult my body, it’s a lived knowledge, complete with heartbreak and triumph.
That’s a very different answer. I ran it past my body, tuned into the body signals for the answer and felt pretty clear on the decision.
Body Signals good at Survival, not so good at Maths
There are caveats on body signals. They’re vague, vibey and based on what the body has been through before. Our head may have gone to university and can solve complex math, our body has gone to the university of life; “Mmmh, I have a bad feeling about this” it signals.
It figures this out by comparing this body feeling to that body feeling from the past situation. Did it end well or badly?
It checks -that information is held in the emotion that the past experience is tagged with. Joyful feeling? Scared feeling?
So, if we think of those different languages of the mind and body -one is physical sensations and pictures, the other is a narrative and told in words. They’re both important.
We need to speak both languages
If we do really well with this post we will learn to be bilingual. What that will allow us to do is to go deeper, and understand and factor in some of the more complex stuff that bubbles down below, inside of us. Now this is suddenly getting airy fairy and shrink-speak, so, if I was explaining that to a prisoner (which I have to sometimes), I would say:
“Mate… I know there’s stuff that happens in your head that tells you what’s going on, but there’s info coming from your body -where things don’t feel right”
We need to tune into both because sometimes they’re not adding up. I’m afraid you’re good at bullshiting yourself so you feel better, but your body is in the job of survival and it’s trying to give you some really important truths about this situation that it’s time to face”.
The kind of conversations that our example prisoner might have in their head is “
“It’s all good mate, he was an f-wit anyway and deserved a good flogging”
The gut might send up a kind of sick heavy feeling that signals, “Mmate you f-cked up again and really damaged that guy, (is he alright?), and now you’re back in here –idiot“.
Once we’re aware of the two conversations, the head may be more ready to acknowledge that beating the shit out of someone, because they’re pissing him off, is maybe not “all good mate”, and it’s time to look at controlling anger better and finding better options. That’s growth and healing.
Survival & Tribal Wisdom
The body holds a kind of ancient wisdom. It’s spent its life, and all the lives that came before it, focused on surviving. When we are not traveling well -feeling a bit fragile because things have been tough it, it will hold stuff in deep storage. But when we’re doing better and seem to be on the up it will release some of the painful stuff it had put on hold! I used to do long work shifts -14 days straight of long upsetting days, and dream about my first day off. I got through, got to the safe ground of the weekend, and that dreamed of
I got through, got to the safe ground of the weekend, and that dreamed of first day was always a disappointment, where I felt terrible -physically and emotionally terrible. All the stuff that my body had held onto, to allow my mind to figure out how to forge through, got released. Once I sat with it and experienced it as a kind of collapse, then I could go out and have some fun.
All the stuff that my body had held onto, to allow my mind to figure out how to forge through, got released. Once I sat with it and experienced it as a kind of collapse, then I could go out and have some fun.
Sometimes there are unrepaired traumas from the past that are getting in the way -holding us back. If the body feels that being held back is not a good idea, it will send a package of emotional work to work through the past trauma to then get on with your journey.
It’s easy to learn a language you’ve been listening to all your life!
So we have to crack on with teaching you how to read your body. And we’re going to start with the real basics of telling the difference between when your body feel under threat, and when it feels like it’s ready to rock.
Once I’ve taught you how to read your body, and we do it in lots of different layers, then I’ll teach you how you can use this new understanding of your body to actually reset it. Here’s the crazy thing… Once you’re fluent in body signals, not only can you Track what your body is saying, but you can Reset it to a much more useful mode.
If you are feeling down and tired, and lacking motivation, you’ll be able to figure out -is it because I didn’t get enough sleep or is something’s up? You’ll tell because after Tracking that something doesn’t feel right, you’ll locate it, get the vibe, see if there are any memory pictures that give you a clue to what’s bugging you, and then be able to reset into a much more energized and positive body mode. One that helps you get through whatever is bugging you.
I’ll go into the detail how to do this later, but first, we’re going to cover the basics and that’s how to read your body I call these bodies signals.
Fleeting, Flagging, Nagging, Alarming
The first job when there’s a bit of a different feeling in our body is figuring out is it simply physical -like having too much capsicum in your sandwich, or not enough sleep, or is it a body signal of a problem -more emotional?
Often it’s not obvious.
When a young baby is crying the mother may not know why. Are they tired, hungry, do they have an upset tummy, are they sick. The baby can’t tell, they can only signal their distress. So we go through our “common things occur commonly” checklist and see if anything makes it better. That’s what we kind of do with body signals.
One of the things that helps sort this out is the intensity of the signal. A fleeting signal may well be the capsicum. If it’s getting a bit of a consistent pattern, such as, I always feel a bit weird and sick when I go to X. The next level up can be something that is nagging at us, trying to get our attention, getting in the way. Each time I have to write I get this unpleasant buzzy feeling in my stomach and want to go and lie down. The longer I put off booking the airfares for my next job, the more I get this repeated tug that somethings wrong and I really do have to get going on it. That’s when it hits alarm level, where it’s starting to freak us out. Do something and do something now.
So the first step when you Track a body signal is to figure out if it’s the first message or if it’s screaming at you?
Skeleton to Smile Audit
Finally, it’s time to open your eyes to the language of your body. You’ve been living with it all your life and taking it for granted, and now we going to pay great attention to it.
Let’s try and lay it out in some kind of order I call this little list Skeleton to Smile, where we look at the body in layers from our posture, muscle and gut, to our facial expression and gaze. It’s just breaking the body language down a bit.
- Skeleton: Posture -Shoulders slumped and recoiling from the world, or leaning in?
- Muscle tension, all over us or in a focused place such as shoulders.
- Energy level of muscles – supple and ready to go or floppy and heavy or feeling like we’re not even there
- Gut feeling – sick feeling, tight feeling, butterflies…
- Along with this comes a kind of emotion (See Below).
- Smile -how we communicate how were feeling to others, this can often include where we direct our gaze.
There are lots of emotions, but when we’re thinking about body signals it helps to start with these ones:
We have the most basic emotions:
We tog body feelings with an emotion, like above, which adds a bit of a story and meaning to it to remember for later. It can be a “vibe” about the body feeling. The thing is, these feelings can be vague, but or can be screamingly powerful -but we’ll talk more about later.
In the initial phase we just locate where the feeling is in our body what kind of emotion goes with it and rate out of 10 of how strong it is, so we can notice if it changes.
What are we going to do with all this information once we’ve got it?
We’re going to Put it together in a body story. Head stories are these complex and detailed explanations of the world, body stories are movies or pictures.
So it’s a picture of us standing slumped looking scared with low energy.
Or may be it’s an image of us in our mind, champing at the bit, smiling and grinning rubbing our hands ready to go.
It may even be a bit more specific than that, where it’s a freeze frame of a real event held as a memory.
What all of these pictures do is
My first Skeleton to Smile Audit
OK so next time you’re feeling weird, where you’re not sure if it’s physical or emotional,
Do a little Skeleton to Smile Audit, where you locate the weird feeling, maybe rate it out of 10. Then go from skeleton to smile starting with your posture, how your muscles and gut feel, and what expression your communicating to the world and finally, see if there are any body emotions floating around?
The rule with body signals is they’re often vague, and if they’re not, it’s an alarm bell ringing.