I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to develop the habit of a 10 second body scan throughout the day. It runs counter to our thought-based society and cultural mistrust of bodily impulses. We have to make it a conscious turn to find its value. Let me help support why we would bother.
If you’ve ever found yourself repeating the same pattern of behavior that you have wanted to change but hear yourself saying, ‘there I go again!’, it is because your biological deepest desire is to keep you safe in the familiar even though you think you have another deepest desire. As much as we have so much power in our ability to shape our inner world, so much implied in that ‘self-help’ section of the bookstore of our cultural mind,
the body is operating outside all our cognitive strategies
and is always several steps ahead of what we ‘think’ we intend or ‘think’ we perceive.
It has to be for us to stay alive. You, don’t want to get caught on the savanna ‘having a good think’, (as my Irish friend might say), on what that large furry creature with long tail and low growling tones stealthily creeping up on me is, pondering just what action should I take, hmm? Toward or away? History, memory coupling, instinctual perceptual cues, quick interpretational mechanisms that alert a cascade of hormonal activation to allow for automatic action kick in for us– don’t approach to pat cute kitty on head, MOVE AWAY!
We are all pretty much familiar with this basic understanding of fight flight physiological reactivity to threat, (and for another article trauma-based freeze faint reactions), but rarely do we get how this keeps us stuck on a daily basis of less acute threat in living a life.
We have to get under our own skin to create change, to break up the pattern of the many yesterday's meaning that when A is here I do B.
Now I want some choice, maybe I want to do XY or Z. You can practice this on a small scale just by having fun breaking up automatic routines created to save unnecessary conscious energy – change up the route you drive to work, sit in a new chair, face a new direction, (literally and figuratively), when you have your tea, turn off the same ‘noise-making’ distraction (news, podcast, music), brush your teeth with non-dominant hand. Collect your data, what do you notice? Just fun ways to ‘wake up’ to begin to study what makes up habit. It takes some additional energy to engage newness, (something else the brain doesn’t like, it wants to save your metabolic energy by giving you automatic behavior based on past experience).
Let’s Learn Now: (practice to make possible not perfect, repeat, repeat, repeat)
Right now, take the energy to just begin to ‘sense in’. What ‘hotspots’ do you notice in the body right now? Meaning what feels constricted, most predominant in your experience, (clue – jaw, neck, shoulders, lower belly). I call these our patterns of defense we learn just by walking though the world. Just noticing, name the sensation – tight, tense, dull, warm, cold, jittery. It’s a new language, (that of the body), so go easy on yourself. Note if your body feels forward leaning or toward the back, the left, the right. Take the energy audit, your level of alertness or fatigue, high medium low. Note that the breath is coming and going with you or without, just sense it as it is, body expands then contracts to whatever degree or depth. Remember your heart is beating, maybe you can sense it directly, maybe not, it is. Let the body settle into its weightedness against the surface. See the patterns of mood, emotion, type of thoughts – future/past, feels pleasurable or not. Investigate what urge is here from this direct experience? Move toward or away from? Now you are more closely here utilizing interoception, the perception of the interior to begin to link specific areas of the brain relative to inner awareness of body, down regulating the scanning for threat, up regulating memory, learning, emotion processing and ability to approach with sense of empathy toward self and others. Most importantly you have now interrupted the automatic behavior
that comes from a
body perceiving the millions of environmental cues and the brains historical meaning quickly interpreted to repeat movement in only one direction.
Over time you can begin to gain wider space between the bodily action and awareness of bodily action to find choice.
But the deal is you need to do this regularly. You need to be prepared for discomfort in making any change (brain wants familiar). You need to know what your greatest intention is in making a change so you can withstand the discomfort and stick to the commitment.
Now go have fun being an innovative disruptor of your own organizational system of a body, brain, and next behavior. 10 seconds several times a day –to know - body here, where holding, what energy level, natural intelligent rhythms of heart and breath, your mood/emotion/thoughts, ensuing impulse. Why not, what else is there to do?
Step away from the smartphone! Reconnect to your true technology.