Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Think With Your Whole Body

We like, in Western society at least, to think of our mental or spiritual selves as "me" and our embodied selves as separate, an "it". One effect of that is that we get out of touch with what's going on with and in our bodies, and wander off in our minds--into the future, the past, or some parallel universe that is neither past nor future, but which is certainly not here or now either. And the primary effect of that, I have found, is bodily neglect and abuse along with a good deal of unnecessary tension and stress. 

But what if we treated our minds and bodies as the unified experience that they are? What if we thought of our minds as one with our bodies, and rested and fed it like the organism it is? What if we treated our bodies like part of our minds and attended to what it was telling us about our selves and the world all of the time? Our bodies are powerful sources of constant streams of information and wisdom, and when we only think with the frontal lobes, we're only using a fraction of the potential available to us. 

Next time you are, say, eating breakfast, and notice that your mind is wandering, try bringing it back. Take a nice, normal breath in and attend to it -- really attend to it. Notice what it feels like coming in -- how the air feels passing over your upper lip, into your nostrils, down your throat. Notice the rise of your chest. Can you scent your breakfast? Taste it? Bet you hadn't even noticed your breakfast while you were doing all that wool-gathering!

When you breathe out gently, slowly, naturally, also notice what that's like. Then, what do you see? If you are like me, you might have been completely blind for some time to the look of the morning sun slanting through the trees in your yard, or to activity of animals or people around you. What have you not been hearing that you can become aware of now?  The refrigerator humming? The dog's toenails on the kitchen linoleum? Or perhaps you were numb to the warmth of the mug in your hands, the feel of the chair under your butt or your elbows on the table.

And as you do all this, notice how your body relaxes. I'll bet where your mind was before wasn't fun. You were missing someone or something from the past, regretting something you had done or failed to do, planning your workday, or worrying about something in the future that might not even come to pass. And your body was responding by becoming tense. (All that tension, over time, besides not being much fun is rough on your health.) You may find that 99 times out of 100 when you check in using this technique, your mind was yelling that the sky is falling but when you listen to your body it will tell you that right this two seconds it's actually all quite good. 

And while you were in that place that is neither here nor now, you may have neglected to notice that your body was stiffening in its current position and needed to adjust, or that you were tired, or cold, or needed to pee. That kind of neglect leads to abuse. We don't rest our bodies, or feed us, or clothe us warmly enough, or move ourselves around to keep limber and strong. Or if we do feed ourselves, we eat stuff we don't even enjoy because we're not paying attention to what we have a taste for or when we're full. We put ourselves and leave ourselves in situations we don't like, with people who are not good for us, in the meantime bypassing or at least not fully attending to good relationships and pleasurable activities because we are trying to think our way through life with our frontal lobes and ignoring what our bodies are telling us. We're where we think we should be, doing what we think we should, and we've doped that out with a fraction of the data we need to make genuinely good decisions.

It's a really powerful skill, thinking with your whole body. And although the daily practice of sitting meditation or yoga helps you get better at it, neither is absolutely necessary. You can do it any time you notice that you are all in your head and someplace else: Just take a nice, normal, gentle breath in, following it, and then let it out, again simply being aware of it. And then become mindful of the rest of your body as well. Mindful -- as in, fill your mind with this and kind of let all the thinking activity go for a minute. What's your belly doing, saying? Your feet? Your hands? Your skin? and so forth until you have developed an awareness of all of your senses and parts and systems. Hold all of that in your mind at the same time for a bit. If you do it often during the day, you'll find it becoming more natural to do more of the time. 

Try it. You'll like it.
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mamie said...

I am definitely going to try this instead of checking my mail in the mornings while I eat breakfast. I'll let you know how it goes.

Virginia S. Wood, PsyD said...

It's not just for breakfast any more: Try driving as a whole body experience, for example. Or better yet, sex!

Wendy Burnett said...

Dang! I got a few words in, paid attention to my body, and had to jump up an run to the potty . . . This is a really bad failing of mine, too. I get involved in what I'm doing, and suddenly it's hours later and I've forgotten to eat, or I'm stiff and sore.

I'm obviously going to have to do this a lot more often (maybe setting a timer when I'm working at the computer, so I don't sit too long . . .)