Listening to What Our Bodies Are Telling Us – By Beth Offenbacker, PhD
Have you ever been unsure how you feel about something?
As I’ve gotten older, I find sometimes I live more “in my head” than sometimes I want to.
And as someone with a brain preference for Rational data (see the Brain Brief Profiles), when I spend too much time using that preference, it has the unintended effect of disconnecting me from myself.
This is where the concept of body awareness or intelligence – somatics, as it’s called in the literature – has been so important to me in knowing what I’m feeling. I’ve learned that having a physical practice that takes me away from my computer regularly is essential for me — physically as well as emotionally and spiritually.
Why is the body connection essential for us in knowing our feelings? We often think our feelings are something we know “in our heads.” When in truth, as Six Seconds notes, feelings are electro-chemical experiences between neurons in our bodies.
Our Bodies as Highways of Knowledge
And studies show that neurons on our bodies are not confined only to our brains. Our bodies are highways of knowledge in many ways.
Our brains have 100 billion neurons, and our hearts have neurons too — approximately 40,000 of them. “These neurons can deliver pain signals and other sensations to the autonomic parts of the brain (which are largely unconscious), as well as messages to brain centers involved in conscious thought and emotion,” science/health editor Ed Decker writes on the ReWire Me blog. “Contact with the ‘executive’ part of the brain can influence perception, decision making, and emotional responses.”
Our stomachs also have neurons. Decker notes there are 100 million neurons in the gut, also known as “the second brain.” “It turns out that ‘butterflies’ and that ‘sinking feeling’ in the stomach have a neurological basis,” he writes. “Neurons lining the stomach are filled with neurotransmitters, chemicals that help nerve cells communicate with one another.”
Our Bodies and Know-Choose-Give in Action
All of this gets to the three ways we can use our EQ via our bodies. When we make decisions that include our head (the knowledge we’ve accumulated over our lifetime), our heart (how we can contribute positively to the world), and our gut (what we feel or know intuitively), we are able to make more balanced decisions. When I stay in connection with my body, I am better able to do that.
This is a central part of the Know-Choose-Give aspect of the Six Seconds EQ in Action model.
How can we actively “hear” what our bodies are telling us, to Know ourselves?
Meditation is one way we can connect with our bodies, as this video from the Center for the Contemplative Mind describes. “Empathy, ‘gut sense,’ and improved attention skills are all enhanced by somatic attention practice, especially the somatic attentional components of mindfulness meditation,” the center notes. In the video, neuroscientist Catherine Kerr, PhD, with Brown University, highlights these connections.
Before I began my meditation practice in 2015, it was difficult for me to sometimes know or name my feelings. Now that I practice at least once a day, sometimes more, I’m able to notice what’s going on for me, and pause to put a name to what those feelings are.
That engages the problem-solving part of my brain, and it prompts me to take positive action to move that feeling if it’s a feeling of discomfort – to Choose myself and Give myself. Other ways that I stay in touch with my body is by walking, dancing, and running. They all open the door for me to what I am feeling on many levels and allow me to begin to get beneath the initial feelings and explore what might be going for me.
How does your body speak to you? How might movement be a way for you to connect more fully with your feelings?
Beth Offenbacker, PhD, is a Certified Six Seconds Practitioner and an Emotional Intelligence Coach with Waterford, Inc. Her True North blog with articles and resources about emotional intelligence in action is at http://www.waterfordinc.com/blog.