Be the Body

Be the Body

Where do you live?

The Practice:
Be the body.

Why?

As a kid, I was really out of touch with my body. I hardly noticed it most of the time, and when I did, I prodded it like a mule to do a better job of hauling “me” – the head – around.

This approach helped me soldier through some tough times. But there were costs. Many pleasures were numbed, or they flew over – actually, under – my head. I didn’t feel deeply engaged with life, like I was peering at the world through a hole in a fence. I pushed my body hard and didn’t take good care of it. When I spoke, I sounded out of touch to others, emotionally distant, even phony; my words lacked credibility, gravity, traction.

Because of these costs, I’ve worked with this issue and come to appreciate the benefits of being aware of the body, coming down into it, inhabiting it – most fundamentally, being it.

For starters, being the body is simply telling a truth. What we experience being – thoughts and feelings, memories and desires, and consciousness itself – is constrained, conditioned, and constructed by the body via its nervous system. The fabric of your mind is woven by your body.

Further, being aware of your body and its signals gives you useful information about your deeper feelings and needs. Tracking your body’s subtle reactions to others also tells you a lot about them.

Coming home to your body helps you feel grounded, and it gives you reassuring feedback that you’re alive and basically alright. It’s exhilarating to feel the vitality of the body, even sitting quietly, and to experience the pleasures of the senses.

In particular, experiencing your body as a whole – as a single, unified gestalt in awareness, with all its sensations appearing together at once – activates networks on the sides of your brain. These lateral networks pull you out of the planning, worrying, obsessing, fantasizing, and self-referential thinking – “me, myself, and I” – that’s driven by another neural network in the middle of the brain. Consequently, abiding as the whole body draws you into the present moment, reduces stress, increases mindfulness, and lowers the sense of self to help you take life less personally.

How?

First off, a caution: for some people, it’s disturbing to experience being the body. In particular, this is understandable and not uncommon for people who have chronic pain, a disability, or a history of trauma. If this applies to you, try these practices carefully, if at all.

But for most people, it feels good and brings value to be the body. And there are numerous ways to deepen the sense of this:

  • Let your attention wander through your body, like a gentle scout investigating its sensations.
  • See what it’s like to sustain awareness of your body for at least a few minutes in a row – and longer if you want. You could keep paying attention to your breathing, or to the feelings in your hands while doing dishes, or to the sensations in your feet and legs as you walk the dog.
  • While doing everyday activities, routinely bring attention back to your body. What’s it feel like to be a body: answering the phone . . . watching TV . . . driving . . . typing . . . lifting a child . . . sitting in a meeting . . . stocking shelves . . . loading a truck . . . crawling into bed . . . ?
  • As you speak, try to be aware of your chest . . . stomach . . . hips . . . arms and legs . . . hands and feet. How does this change your communicating, especially about things that matter to you?
  • Experiment with sensing the body as a whole. Try to be aware of all the sensations of breathing in the torso, all of them present in consciousness as a unified whole, moment by moment. Let attention widen and soften to receive the whole torso as a single percept. In the beginning, it’s natural for this sense of the whole to last for only a second or two and then crumble; simply keep trying to regenerate it, and it will become stronger with practice. Next, open to a larger whole: all of the sensations of breathing throughout the body, appearing all together in awareness breath after breath. Then, see if you can go all the way out to include all body sensations, not just those of breathing.
  • For a specified time – even just one minute – find a comfortable seat, let worries and plans fall away, and simply rest. Be aware of breathing and let everything else go. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be. Just sitting, abiding as a body breathing.

Wherever we go, whatever we’re doing, there’s always a doorway to a deeper sense of presence and peace: being the body.

 



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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