A friend once shared with me her observation: animals can tell us they are happy, sad, anxious, feeling safe and showing love by their body movements – a wagging tail, pointed or drawn back ears, expressiveness in their eyes. As humans, we rely on communicating these emotions through language. Yet, all too often, we fail to do this. We don’t take the time for a phone call to thank someone and express the significance of receiving a thoughtful gift. We struggle to express love in a truly meaningful way, ever analyzing and being cautious of ‘what is the other person thinking?’ We wait for someone to discern we’re upset after giving them the ‘silent treatment.’ Or we expect someone can read our minds and clearly just know what we need. At some point in time, we stopped living in and expressing ourselves through our bodies.
Before we began to speak, humans related much like our animal ancestors. We used touch, animation and whole-body expression to convey danger, fear, love, happiness. When needs or desires are expressed from the body, they connect to a deeper emotion representing how we physically feel. Whether we realize it, we experience and feel emotion in our bodies on a daily basis. There’s the ‘pit in the stomach’ feeling, or ‘butterflies in the stomach,’ or ‘throat tightening,’ or ‘squeezing of the heart,’ or ‘vice grips on the head.’ Each of these somatic feelings, lying deep within the body, are the signal for our mind to formulate a corresponding emotion. We assign a response or a word to what we’re feeling within, as a means to express it externally. Nervousness, excitement, anxiety, feeling unvalued, feeling betrayed, feeling overwhelmed – these correspond to the aforementioned physical sensations in our body.
Rarely do we take the time to get attuned to what is going on within. We live our lives through the version created in our brains. Connecting more deeply into what we’re feeling through our bodies, within our hearts and souls, gives us greater understanding for what we’re experiencing, as well as relatability to what others are feeling. A wonderful mentor coached me to ‘drop the story.’ She encouraged sharing how my feelings presented in my body instead of getting wrapped up in the ‘how’ and ‘why’ I might be feeling that way. When we get stuck in the how or why for what we’re feeling, we continue to live within the brain-space, rationalizing or justifying what we feel. By dropping the story of the circumstance, we may look inward and ‘get into’ our bodies to explore where and what we are feeling and then wisely recognize it needs nurturing.
Oddly, it seems that when we’re sick, we are better attuned to what we’re feeling in our bodies. We give better descriptors to what we’re feeling, and we are more expressive of what’s going on. We may offer that our ‘insides feel tangled,’ or our legs feel ‘knotted and angry,’ or we feel ‘constricted and short of breath,’ or we have a ‘lump in the throat.’ Perhaps when we’re sick, at a more vulnerable space, we can more readily open pathways to understand what is happening within us because we desperately want to feel better, and quickly! By sharing these feelings, which can inform beyond just the words, we may better create a plan for recovery.
How may we dance with that vulnerability on a more regular basis? How may we feel more ‘at home’ within our bodies and show up with greater truth for how we really feel, from a heart and soul-space instead of our headspace? One of the most readily available resources is movement. For eons, humans have conveyed emotion through dance. Many cultures still use their ancestral dances to express joy, worry, happiness, sorrow. We may continue to do so, moving our bodies in correspondence to how we feel, using rapid and quick movements or elongated or spiraling shapes with our bodies. Music is another wonderful way to evoke our feelings, tying the refrain and emotion of the notes or sentiment of the lyrics to what we’re internally experiencing. Through our breath and stillness, in a state of meditation, we may also take a deep inquiry to the body, listening for clues which lie beyond the control of the mind.
Getting in touch with how we’re feeling and understanding this for ourselves opens us to be better able to communicate this with the people in our lives. We may have emotional trauma we unknowingly carry, yet which shows up in the patterns of our behaviors or non-communication and internalizing. Once we better know ourselves from within, we can better express this externally. Smiles, hugs, laughter, tears, sobbing, holding someone’s hand, screaming aloud, placing a hand on a shoulder, holding our chin in contemplation, shaking off nervous energy – these responses are beautiful expressions of emotions. When we normalize these for ourselves and allow them for others, we create a safe space for being present in our bodies and sharing the truth of how we’re feeling. We need not rely on the words (which may not be used anyway) and we gain a sense for embodied living. We become attuned to what we are experiencing, in the moment, and remove the mental barrier of the story for how or why we’re feeling something. How much more may we express through our bodies?
By Jennifer Rizza - Healthy Living Coach, Reiki Practitioner
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