Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale
Photograph by Abe Goodale

Listening through the Body

The physical body is a communication tool of both the conscious and unconscious. By deeply listening to our own bodies, we increase our connection with ourselves and can thereby be more available to be in authentic and healthy relationship with others. Getting familiar with how we express ourselves with our bodies can help us understand the hidden messages we are sending along with our words, as well as give us information about how we are received by others. Listening to the sensations in our bodies can provide us with valuable information about our responses to interactions.

Physical Body Language

So often we are not aware of the language our body is speaking; postures, gestures, facial expressions, habits and involuntary movements are some of the more overt signals our bodies display. When a cat arches her back and her hair stands on end, we know through her body language that she is on alert. When a horse's ears go back and her eyes get big and darting, there is a clear message of vigilance. As we begin to take note of these types of expressions in ourselves, along with their intensity and frequency, we can discern (if they are accurately reflecting our words or if there are unconscious contradictory information???). (Omit?whether they are accurate embellishments to what we are expressing verbally.) Although we may tend to ignore or deny these reactions, the unconscious body reactions give us additional information about how we truly feel. Often, the words we speak and the language of our body are saying opposing or contradictory things. If my words are giving a compliment, but my body language speaks of indifference or jealousy, the message is confusing and communication is compromised. Both statements may be correct - when I see someone I admire I may want to acknowledge them with a compliment while at the same time I may feel jealous or, from my inner sense of lack, prefer being indifferent. The feelings of jealousy and indifference may be rather unconscious; the body is one way the unconscious expresses itself.

When I am aware of my body language, I can learn about my internal world, what is below the level of consciousness, my feelings and my reactions. With this heightened awareness, rather than give a mixed message, I can choose to take responsibility for all of my feelings and speak them, or simply notice and acknowledge to myself my feelings of jealousy and indifference and more clearly give the compliment or not. In both cases, the possibility for contact and communication are increased. As consciousness about our body language increases, it will become a more accurate reflection of what we express verbally; honesty, right relation and intimacy are more accessible. When my communication is clear, I attract clear communication from others.

Energetic Body Language

More subtle communications include an "air," or attitudinal posturing. The way we hold ourselves inside may seem invisible to the outside, but even unconscious feelings are exuded through the body and the energy field surrounding the body. When people are confident and content with themselves internally, they emanate that sense of well-being and those around them generally feel at ease. This is evidenced with physical posturing, but also with an energetic stance. When there is an internal struggle going on, whether it is fear, grief, remorse or confusion, others may sense it and either inquire, keep a distance or respond to what they sense. Others' responses will reflect this unspoken, nonphysical language. When we are aware of our energetic stance we will understand the effect we have on others more readily.

Consciousness around this energetic language of the body provides another level of communication. The body is an extension of the intuition (the state of being aware or knowing something without having to discover it). Learning to sense, listen and trust what we hear about our own and others' body language will enhance our sense of presence and relational depth.

Getting familiar with the inner landscape may require traveling in some unfamiliar territory. If I am fearful in a new situation, but am trying to come off with an air of confidence, the contradiction is what will be communicated. We can use our attention as a map to guide us through this difficult terrain. Discomfort is one of the most basic forms of guidance, like a compass. Following (not wallowing in) the internal discomfort with diligence will keep us on the path to self-awareness and eventually the fear will be extroverted to our consciousness. First we have to know what is present, then there is the possibility for growth and change.

Listening to the Body

Raising consciousness about the way we respond to the world, by listening to the signals of the body, can take us to a new edge of learning about ourselves. Getting curious about bodily reactions is a means of gathering information. If I bring my attention to when I am yawning, restless, zoning out, or distracted, I am likely to discover a whole new realm of reactions that are below my previous level of consciousness. Bodily sensations can be indicators of defensive reactions or a way to guard against feeling the impact of the experience at hand. (or affirming a positive connection??) Rather than risk an emotional reaction to a situation, the body diverts the conscious reaction into a physical, unconscious one. When we are reading a book, watching a movie or listening to music, our bodies often have spontaneous physical reactions that inform our emotions and minds. We may get an uneasy feeling in the stomach, feel the tension of anticipation or notice our chin begin to quiver as indicators of our emotional state. Simply bringing attention to the subtleties of my physical reactions during a conversation, in a group, a meeting or when alone provides a wealth of information that can be used to deepen communication and relationship.

Paying attention to the subtle physical sensations in the body brings us more in touch with the fullness of our response to the world. We experience the world, and at the same time, we are witnesses to ourselves experiencing the world. Once a sensation is identified, there is a choice to use this self-awareness to understand ourselves more deeply and thus respond to the situation with more presence. This is truly about being conscious in the present moment. Physical sensations in the body are a clue from the subconscious to pay attention, to listen more carefully and honor the wisdom of the body.

The body's language is often a reflection of the unconscious and of places where the mind doesn't necessarily want to go. By increasing communication with the body, we lessen the split between the mind and body, are more available to the wholeness of ourselves, inform ourselves of our true reactions to the world outside and become more intimate with life.


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