How is my body? Three approaches to engage with the wisdom of your body
This week I have been thinking about the body. One of the things I love about dramatherapy is that it is very holistic, interested in the body as well as the mind / subconscious / emotions.
The phrase “your body is a temple” is originally found in The Bible but often used in wider culture. I have mixed feelings about this phrase, I like that it expresses how important self care is and I like the idea of our bodies as a sacred place. But I dislike that it implies that the body is just a building where the soul or spirits live.
I believe my body is just as much the “real me” as my thoughts and emotions, in some ways my body is a more real version of me than my mind – my mind comes up with some fairly zany stuff sometimes, my body experiences real life.
The body is physical, creative, sensual, active. It feels pain. Some functions you consciously control (e.g. chewing), others are unconscious (digestion) and some are between the two (breathing).
The body is amazing but how well are you taking care of yours?
Maybe your body is demanding your attention and you have questions like “Why am I in pain” “Why are my muscles so stiff?” “Why do I feel so tired all the time?” “Why do I lose feeling in my legs?”
I believe everyone could benefit by being more attuned to what their bodies need and by giving themself that self care.
This blog considers three different approaches to understanding the body.
- A wheel of life and some solution focused questions to help unpick this.
- An embodied approach to understanding the body with art and dance.
- A parts of self approach.
1. Body Focused Wheel of Life
Why not use this Body focused Wheel of Life (created by me, 2018) to explore your relationship with your own body.
- Print the below image or draw it on paper,
- mark where you are on the grey lines (most points on the outside),
- join up your points to map out your Body Wheel
- notice where the wheel is a bit flat or deflated.
Here are some things to consider to help with the scoring:
The things I put into my body
Thinking about the last week.
When scoring this area, you could consider:
- What have I eaten this week?
- What have I drank this week?
- How much have I eaten or drank (quantity sizes / number of meals / number of calories compared to lifestyle)?
- Have I eaten at regular times (e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner)? Was I snacking between meals? Did I skip any meals?
- Is it a balanced diet? (Vitamins, minerals, protein, carbs, fats)
- Does it include items from the different food groups I need (e.g. fruit and vegetables)?
- How tasty was the food? Did I enjoy eating / drinking it?
- Was I sick / did I feel ill / did I feel bloated?
- Did I have enough time to eat it? Did I chew enough? Was I distracted while eating?
- What happens at the other end (toilet)? Am I regular?
Drugs & Substances
When scoring this area, you could consider many different kinds of addictive substances:
- Cigarettes or Tabaco
- Recreational drugs
- Medical drugs (prescription)
- Medical drugs (non-prescription)
- Addictive foods (e.g. Sugar, Caffeine, Salt, Chocolate)
- Addictive habits of behaviour -they still wire your brain the same way (gambling, social media…)
Try to think about not just what you take but what impact does this have:
- How often and how much am I using these substances?
- How am I using them (injecting, pills, smoking – how safe is this for me?)
- How easy would it be for me to stop?
- How much do they affect me (e.g. mood or energy levels)?
- While taking the drug, how positive are the effects for me?
- Later, what is the impact on me (e.g. energy crashing / needing another hit / mood change / sicknesses?)
- What are the side effects?
Sometimes we need to take medicine to make us better even though it makes us feel worse. Sometimes we self medicate to escape from difficult memories or emotions.
Breathing & Air Quality
- How polluted is the air where I live or work?
- How close do I live to a main road?
- What is the air circulation like where I live or work?
- How often do I go for a walk outside?
- What are the smells around me? (flowers / rubbish / car exhausts / grass)
- How is my body with breathing?
- Use of full lungs – how deep is my breathing?
- Do I have any medical restrictions (e.g. Asthma / hay fever / blocked nose / bronchitis)
Skin to skin contact is important for our emotional regulation and our connection to others. This could be anything from shaking hands to making love.
- How do I use touch
- socially with my friends or family?
- professionally at work?
- with a partner intimately / sexually (including hugging, tickling, kissing, foreplay, fondling, oral play)?
- How do I touch myself? Do I hold myself defensively? Do I hurt myself? Do I massage myself? Do I stroke my chin thoughtfully?
- Thinking about all of the different kinds of touch I have:
- Are they Consensual – I want them to happen, as does the other person
- How do they make me feel physically (the senses, how my body responds, e.g. pleasure / pain / tingly)?
- How do they make me feel emotionally (thoughts and feelings)?
- How often do I experience consensual touch? Is this enough / too much?
- If I have received negative / painful / unwanted touch in the past, how does this affect my bodies impact to touch now?
- If I was feeling low, is there someone I could ask to hold me or to sit by me?
Creativity & Play
We are creative beings. Am I using my body creatively? [For this try not to think about computer based activities or just day dream activities – think about how you use your hands to be creative or to play.]
- Playing music
- Dance and movement
- Arts and craft
- Baking and cooking
- Make believe
Activity & Exercise
- How active am I?
- How much do I walk / run / cycle?
- How often do I play sports or exercise?
- When active to I want up and cool down?
- During sedentary times do I take regular breaks to move around?
- How stiff are my muscles?
- Is my body in any pain?
- Am I tensing parts of my body now? (e.g. brow, jaw, tongue, neck, shoulders, hands, belly, thighs, toes) Do I often hold tension in these parts?
- How easy do I find it to relax or unwind?
- How often do I meditate / get a massage / have a hot bubble bath – do something designed to help me unwind?
How is my posture?
- Am I slouching? How often do I slouch?
- Is my work space set up for good posture (e.g. screen height / chair height)
- Do I practice posture regularly (e.g. yoga / Pilates / Feldenkrais / Tai chi / Alexander Technique / self defence).
Join the dots – Make a change
How is your wheel looking? Are there sections which are a bit flat or more spikey than smooth?
Which bit are you focusing on? Choose just one area and think about how you could nudge it further towards the outer circle. How far would it be nudged to make a noticeable difference to your life – remember even small changes, if sustained, can lead us to a different path.
If you woke up tomorrow, and a miracle happened so that that area was a little more inflated on your wheel, what difference would that make? What would be the first sign which would show you that the miracle had occurred? How would that change feel? Can you imagine it? Would other people notice the change, if so how?
How motivated are you to make that change?
Is there anyone who could support you to make that change?
How might you ensure that you don’t give up on that change?
(The miracle question format is from Solution Focussed Brief Therapy by Shazer & Berg).
You might also want to ask other kinds of questions, how long have I felt this way, when is the feeling most intense (triggers), when did this start?
2. Body Map
The above wheel, while insightful is also quite cognitive or head based. You could also explore your relationship with your body using the body itself. Deepen your breath. Relax your muscles. Do some stretches. Enquire about how your body is feeling right now.
Anna Halprin recommends drawing a self portrait of your body as part of this investigation and then transforming the image into a dance or movement. The image must be truthful, not an idealised image of how you want others to see you, but a creative way to visualise how you feel.
She calls this the Psychokinetic Visualisation Process, it is a technique she discovered by using it to identify something unusual in her own body.
‘As a dancer working from a holistic approach, I have always been concerned with the relationship between the mind and the body. Understanding the connection of movements with feelings is easy enough, but understanding how the mind works in relation to the body isn’t as simple. At the time of my diagnosis, I was exploring the use of imagery as a way of making that link. I found it wasn’t enough to create images in the mind’s eye; I wanted people to draw their own images, reflect upon them, and begin to learn physically the language of these images. This process of connecting with our internal imagery involved “dancing” the images that weld up from the unconscious as another way of connecting the mind and the body. In learning this imagistic language, it became clear I was receiving messages from an intelligence within the body, and Intelligence deeper and more unpredictable than anything I could understand through rational thought.
While I was participated in this PsychoKinetic Visualisation Process, I drew an image of myself I was unable to dance. This was a signal to me. Why couldn’t I dance it? What was blocking me? I had drawn a round ball in my pelvic area, and I intellectualise that it was a symbol of an embryo and romanticized that it was pointing the way to new beginnings. But some part of me was sure that this approach to my drawing was nonsense, because I wouldn’t put the drawing into motion. That night, when my mind was quiet, I had intimations that the image I had drawn had something to tell me, that I was not listening.
The next day I made an appointment with my doctor. I asked him to examine me precisely where I had drawn this round ball. He diagnosed cancer.’ (Halprin, 1995: 65)
Anna was able to really tune into her body and understand that something was not right. Our bodies hold a lot of wisdom. For Anna, the creativity of dance and art were the keys to understanding this message and seeking medical help.
3. Parts of Self
John Rowan explores a model of the self made up of different parts which he calls Subpersonalities. These may come from different roles that we play (e.g. at home or at work), from people we know or from inner conflicts.
Rowan believes sometimes these subpersonalities are linked to tension or pain in the body and understanding the root of the tension is important to unlock it. However, sometimes recent negative experiences are grouped together with similar, older experiences which may mean that a small recent trigger has uncovered a larger bodily sensation as the subpersonality feels over faced or under pressure.
Here Rowan describes his approach
‘Supposing I have a pain in my shoulders. I can, if I wish, talk to my shoulders and ask them what they are trying to express through this pain. If I let them reply – they may say that I am taking on too many burdens, more than they can carry…
Take a physical pain which you have in your body – it may be a headache, or a pain in the shoulders, or in the stomach – it does not matter. Get closely in touch with this pain. Now talk to it, saying whatever needs to be said – statement, questions, demands, anything at all.
And now be the pain. Just take a moment or two to get into the feeling of being that, instead of being you. You are the pain, talking back to the questioner. As you talk back, just answer with whatever comes from that position.
When that seems to come to an end, go back to being yourself and see if there is anything further to say – any further questions or demands or whatever that may be. Keep on with this dialogue, negotiating if necessary, until some resolution appears. Don’t be afraid to talk to yourself in this way. It is quite alright.’ (Rowan, 1993, pp. 30-32)
Maybe you have read this and not tried any of the approaches yet. I invite you to take a moment to stop, to slow down. Try to deepen your breath and think about your body.
Maybe this moment of breath meditation is enough for now or maybe the engagement will lead to a deeper exploration.
Two closing thoughts if you want to continue this exploration
- This is not a quick fix. Just as you can not become worlds strongest person by lifting one weight, you can not become body aware after just one session. Every little helps and some is always better than none, but to really benefit consider building in a body based practice to your routine whether that is joining a class or walking more. Whatever you do try to stay mindful of your body as you do it.
- Sometimes our bodies need help from others. This may be a massage to help unlock existing tension, it may be a physio therapist. It may also be a therapist, particularly if you have a personal history of trauma
“While we all want to move beyond trauma, the part of our brain that is devoted to insuring our survival (deep below our rational brain) is not very good at denial. Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. These post-traumatic reaction feel incomprehensible and overwhelming.” (Van Der Kolk, 2014, p. 2).
If that is your story, if your body is working against you in some way and you also have a history of trauma, there are people who can help you – help your body, help your mind, help those stress reactions. If there is a body connection for you, seek out forms of psychotherapy with a connection to the body. This could include dramatherapy, dance movement therapy, gestalt therapy, Somatic experiencing or trauma approaches specialising in the body.
Even if you have not experienced trauma, there may be other experiences which show in your body, this could include grief, stress, neglect, or many other things. As a holistic therapy, any of these tools listed on this page could be further explored in dramatherapy.
Three very different approaches to getting in touch with the wisdom of your body. I wonder which one appeals to you the most? Let me know in the comments.
Halprin, A. (1995). Moving Towards Life: Five Decades of transformational dance. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.
Rowan, J. (1993). Discover Your Subpersonalities: Our Inner World and the People in it. London and New York: Routledge.
Van Der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. St Ives: Penguin Random House.