Author’s Note/Acknowledgment:In addition to the specific research hyperlinked below, I could not have written this piece without the insight and accompaniment of three body-wise women: Lori Ann Arsenault, TRE trainer and facilitator; Carol Martin, spiritual director; and Terri Monroe, faculty and mentor.
My current learning centers around one, sometimes embarrassing, revelation: most of the time, I have no idea what is going on in my physical body. Walking around with what somatic healers of the Tension Release Exercise (TRE) call “locks”, I jut out my jaw or hyperextend my knees, cutting off consciousness of any sensation below that joint.
As a former dancer and avid yogi, it is not that I don’t have a relationship with my body. Rather, I’ve developed a way of being that doesn’t properly attend to it. Aside from activities designated as pleasure only, my mind is so busy and my self-protective mechanisms so activated that I walk through the world disconnected from my own wisdom-center. I ignore the signals my body is communicating, limiting the feedback loops from which I reflect, lead, and act.
My true presence is inhibited when my awareness is scattered and floating outside of myself. Since beginning to practice a few somatic exercises, the phrase “to be present” has taken on a new meaning as I consciously reside within myself.
This new awareness has significant ramifications for leadership. When I am aware of my body, I observe triggers that I unknowingly reacted to before. As these unconscious motivators surface, I can self-regulate and choose how to respond. This gives me more data to work with to analyze what might be happening within the system (group, organization, movement, etc.). This awareness is also a powerful tool for interventions; if I am in a meeting and my heart is beating rapidly from something a colleague said, offering this can make my feedback personal as well as relatable.
Body-awareness honors our most primal instincts for survival. In this modern, lopsided world of privileged thought, these are a significant— and often neglected— channel for wholeness.
Here are some questions to cultivate body-awareness:
How grounded are you?
Noticing how present or distracted you are without judgment can often be grounding, as the observation itself brings you inward. Are you swimming in thoughts above your head? Are you vacillating between your heart-center and mind’s eye? Are you conscious of physical sensations and connected to your lower abdomen? According to the ancient study of chakras, our sacral is our feeling center and thus a helpful assessment tool. Or, use a 1-10 scale to periodically assess how present you are.
What do you feel in your body?
Performing a body scan from your toes to the crown of your head or taking a few moments to connect with all five senses helps you to drop into yourself. When feeling panicked or particularly stressed, noticing any physical sensations also helps you stay in the moment rather than dissociating, a habitual escape to your thought cloud.
Where are you holding tension?
Paying particular attention to tightness or any locking and clenching is a tremendous source of information. When you identify tight areas, you often begin to release them simply by shifting your gaze toward them. From there, choosing softness opens up greater space within which to reside.
How is the quality of your breathing?
Breathing is a vehicle used to yoke our intelligence centers from head to heart to body. When you focus on slowing down your rate of breathing, it initiates a physiological response that supports mindfulness. This re-activates your parasympathetic nervous system and regulates your body, moving you out of fight/flight/freeze and into a peaceful surrender to the moment.
What is happening in your back body?
Feeling the movement of your breath along your back lets you inhabit yourself more fully. It moves you from a forward (futuristic) orientation and into a more balanced vantage point. As you pay attention to your lungs expanding toward your spine and the space between your shoulders growing, sit up straighter and feel the place from which you observe center itself.
Where are you connected to the Earth?
Bringing conscious attention to the point(s) where your body is making contact with the Earth is a great tool for supporting presence. Rub the pad of your foot and then your heel back and forth on the ground. While sitting, envision roots growing from your tailbone into the crust of the Earth. Any figurative or literal engagement with the ground allows you to connect with where you are physically.
Here is the brilliant thing about these questions: they don’t ask for understanding. I didn’t add, ‘where is this coming from?’ Insights will reveal themselves, but our first task is to trust our body intelligence without putting our thinking brain into overdrive. Instead, notice. Release. Breathe. Remember your back body. Root to the floor. As you do this, may you access greater mindfulness within yourself. May you come to live more consciously inside the skeletal structure, muscular system, and neurological pathways that make up— and best support— beautiful you.
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