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Understanding the Language of the Body

Understanding the Language of the Body

One of the areas of my coaching I'm most passionate about is supporting clients to gain fluency in the language of the body - it's the most valuable skill I've learned over the last 20 years and serves me well every day.

It's hard to see physical pain as anything but ‘bad’ but we’ve evolved to have this feedback from our environment - it keeps us safe and avoids damage. If your hand was touching a boiling hot radiator you would need a loud and clear prompt to remove it, a soft or gentle nudge just wouldn’t work!

So, what about other messages from our body - how can you tell if your job, relationship (or indeed any life situation) is serving your highest interests? Whether we are listening or not, we are constantly being sent messages from our body (or even from our higher self) - but how well do we understand our feelings and correctly interpret what’s being communicated to us? Maybe because there is an expectation that we ‘should’ feel happy the whole time, the moment we experience anything we’d label as ‘bad’ our reaction is to want to get rid of it, block it out, or numb it. And in today’s world there has never been such a wide range of substances or activities available to avoid ‘feeling the feeling’ – alcohol, food, drugs (including prescription), workaholism, mobile phones, social media, etc.

At school, we learn foreign languages, and this helps us when we travel abroad, making friends, or doing business. But when were we ever taught to become fluent in the language of the body? Imagine how useful it would be to learn this skill – to develop an attitude of curiosity towards our feelings and emotions, beyond the labels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Most of us live in our heads – relying on the thoughts and stories we tell ourselves to make important decisions, who to trust and listen to, etc (no wonder then we don't get it right all the time?!). How much better would our choices be if we could trust more our hearts and gut feelings?

It is suggested here that all emotions serve a purpose – without anger, how would I know my boundaries are being violated? Without fear how would I know I’m in danger? Even depression can provide a springboard for making changes in our lives, such as finding a career that we can be passionate about and that truly aligns with our values. It is not these emotions that are the problem, but rather our relationship to them that is key – a baby’s crying is likely to persist if the parent displays negativity or ignores the child. ‘What you resist persists, but what you accept transforms’ - if we can learn to understand the true function of these messages (and to deeply listen – to feel them with enthusiasm) this will help us to accept them….and the baby will eventually stop crying.

So, the next time you are experiencing any emotion that you may previously have labeled as ‘bad’ you may like to try the following:

- Find a space to sit quietly where you won’t be disturbed.

- Start with some gentle breathing, becoming aware of the breath entering and leaving the body. When the mind wanders (which it inevitably will!), very gently and kindly (always the best way to train a wild animal!) bring awareness back to the breath. Patience and persistence are key!

- After a couple of minutes, bring awareness to the part of the body where you’re feeling the sensation (‘sensation’ is a great word, it’s neutral and goes beyond labels such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’).

- Really feel into the sensation, with an attitude of curiosity, acceptance, and loving kindness. ‘what message would you like me to hear?’ It may not happen immediately but see what comes back – this may come as a thought, a feeling, or an idea (perhaps something you already know deep down, but were possibly avoiding). Don't put a time limit on this, true acceptance says 'you're welcome, just as you are.

- The more intense the emotion, (like a bucking bronco kicking the rider off) the harder it is to stay focused – the mind will wander. Whenever that happens, very calmly bring awareness back to the sensation. If the sensation/emotion is like the fire, thoughts are like the fuel – a fire will persist as long as it has fuel and oxygen. This explains how ‘negative’ emotions can persist for hours, days or even longer – they are being fuelled by thoughts of the same vibration. Even the fiercest inferno, however, will eventually die down when it runs out of fuel.

I’m not saying that learning to deeply listen to the body is an easy thing to master – like any language, true fluency and mastery take time. I'm certainly still learning, and I still get it wrong sometimes (dehydration is often mistaken for hunger, for example). It is a skill, however, that can transform your life – helping you to make better decisions, listening to and trusting the right people, and to not get stuck in feedback loops of negative thoughts and feelings. Once you learn to ‘tune in’ more and more the process becomes easier, you will also find less desire to numb out and distract yourself – your body is trying to tell you something and will thank you for listening!

I find deep inspiration for this work through the Persian poet Rumi's poem 'The Guest House':


This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.?

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.??

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.



Paul Brown