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The wisdom of the body
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
The wisdom of the body
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
The wisdom of the body
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
15 August 2018

The wisdom of the body

Checking in with the body reminds us how much they change, not just throughout our lives, but day to day.

Written by Jane Hone

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

How aware are you, at this very moment, of which areas in your body feel tense, or whether you’re breathing into your chest or belly?

Unless we are dancers or athletes or circus performers, most of us spend much more time in our heads than our bodies. In a society that moves as fast as ours does, often we conceive of our bodies as mere servants that get us from A to B, rather than instruments of human experience. We rarely look to our bodies for the unique wisdom and knowledge they hold. Instead, we prioritise the mind and become absorbed in this one, limited kind of intelligence.

The strange thing is that we are also completely obsessed with our bodies. But this preoccupation is largely an external one: we care what our bodies look like on the outside, to others, as opposed to how they feel on the inside. We fetishise superfoods because they promise to magically fix the mysterious bodily problems we don’t have much time to think about. This disconnection can be so profound that sometimes we don’t even know if we’re hungry or not, much less what our body really needs or is trying to tell us.

Interoception is the awareness of the internal landscape of the body. It’s the process of beginning a conversation: a dialogue with the body instead of a monologue where the body’s voice is drowned out. When so many of us live in relationships with our bodies where we are either punishing or over-indulging them (neither of which is conscious or kind), interoception creates a space in which to truly hear our bodies. It begins a feedback loop that keeps us aware of how the events of our lives are affecting us before it gets to the point where stress shows up in ways so serious we can neither ignore nor address them. It allows us to feed ourselves—on every level—with whatever is going to be most nourishing.

One way to develop interoception is through somatic meditation, a Tibetan Buddhist practice that involves drawing the focus inwards, away from the mind and towards the physical body. As you read these words, take a moment to notice if you are tensing anywhere within your body. Become aware of areas in the body that feel spacious, and areas that feel compressed. Parts of you that are making contact with the support structures beneath you. Observe how energy is moving through your body: is it free-flowing, or stagnant in certain places? Where is sensation occurring and what are its qualities?

Once we become acquainted with our bodies through interoception and establish a feedback loop, it becomes second nature to listen to our bodies on a regular basis. Take, for example, a friend of mine who recently went for a job interview. During the bus ride home she weighed up all the reasons to take the job and all the reasons not to take the job. She could have done this forever, but when she checked in with her body she realised that every cell of her being was screaming, “No!” She did not want the job and her body held this truth, clear as still water. How often do we ignore these visceral indications—a knot in the throat, an uneasy sensation in the pit of the stomach—of what’s right and wrong for us?

Apart from the fact that connecting to our bodies is one of the surest ways to connect to the present moment (because sensation can only be felt in real time), our bodies hold all kinds of clues about what’s going on in our psychological and emotional lives. And yet it’s more than simply tuning in to our bodies: what somatic meditation does, really, is deliver our bodies back to us from the silent places they’ve been relegated. “Through the practice of somatic meditation, we gradually uncover the basic reality that is our body, which is completely different from the entity we have previously been thinking of as our body,” writes Reginald Ray, Buddhist teacher and author of The Awakening Body. Meditating in this way helps us to value our bodies for their insight, rather than judge them for their aesthetic appearance.

Checking in with the body also reminds us how much our bodies change not just throughout our lives, but day to day, which in turn reminds us of the transient nature of all things. This is, of course, the great paradox: that we must fully inhabit our bodies if we are to realise that we are not our bodies—that we are more than the sum of our parts. Transcending our physical selves starts with listening in.

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Jane Hone

Jane Hone is a writer and yoga teacher based on the Mornington Peninsula. She’s passionate about helping people to slow down and realise the magic of the every day. 

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