What can we do to honor body wisdom?
We smile and celebrate watching children’s joy of movement. Who hasn’t seen the whole-body expression of surprise and delight shown by a toddler seeing something exciting? Or a child mastering a new skill? Who hasn’t observed the curiosity of children touching, poking, and looking? Or witnessed the whole body of a child passionately expressing joy, sadness, anger, or surprise? Or remarked at the miracle of children’s growth, coordination, or strength?
Our bodies are truly amazing. They have marvelous nervous systems and systems for maintaining life energy. They expand our world with senses. They continuously relay information to the brain.
The gut and the heart have their own intelligences. The heart contains about 40,000 neurons that can sense, feel, learn, and remember. It sends messages to the brain about how the body feels. When there is resonant communication between the heart and the brain, we make better decisions and receive wisdom. The HeartMath Institute has done tons of research on what happens when the brain and the heart connect. Using breath and compassion, gratitude, or appreciation, the body opens up to perspectives and guidance way beyond that given to us by our brains alone.
The gut, or the enteric nervous system, known as the “second brain”, has well over 100 million neurons. It influences emotions and intuition. In fact, ninety-five percent of our serotonin is found in the gut! There’s communication of experiences and emotions to and from the brain.
Between the vagal system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the brain, we are incredibly wired to take care of ourselves and relate to others. The brain is continuously collecting messages from the body. When we pay attention, systems give us signals of extra stress and when it’s time to rest. Often they let us know when we are safe and when we need to be cautious. They tell and show us how we are feeling. They let us know how others might be feeling and what’s going on around us.
When we listen, the body informs us about our energy, when it is low and when it is high. It can show us tightness and blocked energy. It can give guidance as to what it needs to feel whole again.
We teach children to care for their glorious bodies. We show them how to brush teeth and get clean, eat well and get enough sleep. All are acts of self-respect and care.
We can forget body acceptance, trust and listening to wisdom, because we are learning it ourselves. Our culture taught us to use our minds, coordination, and strength. Most of us weren’t taught, however, to accept, listen to, and honor our bodies.
Many of us, in time, learned not to trust our bodies, and therefore not to listen to ourselves, our body messages and wisdom. As we tried to please, excel, take care of others as a priority above self-care, compare ourselves to others, suck up feelings, or just plain survive, we lost the connection to the delight in our bodies and the ability to reap wisdom from our bodies. We grew cut off from the flow of information and messages.
A phrase that has long been active in literature about addictions is “the elephant in the living room”. It refers to what is obviously sensed, experienced, seen, known, and/ or felt that is uncomfortable or painful. It is not talked about or faced in healthy ways. Although originally the phrase referred to addiction, it can be about violence, fighting, unresolved conflict, loss, and many other common uncomfortable issues. It’s like having an elephant in the living room, that is, we might try to hide it, but it can’t be hidden.
Our bodies, even little baby bodies, know when there are both big and little elephants. With “elephants” there is a dissonance between what is felt and what is acknowledged. Children feel lack of safety and security. They begin to learn to cut off from their intuition.
When they aren’t talked about, messages of discomfort and pain get stored in the body, only to appear often as aches, pains, or nagging awarenesses. The body finds these other ways to share what’s going on.
What can we do to honor body wisdom?
–Celebrate the body as the message-making sensory being it is. Dance, smell, taste, move, hop, squish toes in water and mud, and feel the sun and rain. Help kids explore what feels good. Help them also get familiar with what feels secure…a warm bath…a blanket…a warm cup of chamomile tea…asking for a good hug.
–Model and teach all the different ways of listening to the body. It shows us and teaches us so much. Take time and breath to listen to heart, gut, appendages, throat, and brain. Develop conversations of curiosity- What might some of the places of extra energy or aches and pains be saying?
Sometimes a stuffed animal or puppet can talk for a part of the body.
–Help children listen to awareness of when they are comfortable and uncomfortable. Encourage them to communicate if they are uncomfortable. There could be a situation or person, about which discomfort means not going there or saying no. With other situations, it could mean finding out the part that is uncomfortable and what the child would need to feel comfortable in that situation.
–Have discussions about media (and culture) and the values that can conflict with respecting and trusting the body and its wisdom.
–Use body awareness of energy when it is low or very high. Get curious. How did it get there? Keeping in mind that kids naturally are little energy machines, help them identify a window of regulation or of energy and regulation that falls not too low or not too high. They could even imagine a little gauge or old car speedometer to help them check in to their levels. Help them learn to discharge over-the-top energy by running, jumping, playing. biking, trampolining, shaking, dancing, expressing through voice or art, pushing against hands, or having a cotton ball fight. Help them recharge or increase with breath, water, nourishment, rest, getting comfort, expression, talking, hugs, or grounding by growing imaginary roots, leaves and branches, collecting energy from the earth and sun.
–Be Alert to messages against the body and body wisdom, such as, kids criticizing or comparing bodies; impatience with bodies for the speed of learning or coordination; other forms of self-criticism or harm to the body. Be curious about what lies deeper underneath the negative messages.
–Support them in recognizing body signals of feelings like facial expressions, collapsed chests, hooded heads, head positions, or clenched fists. Teach them to check in with themselves as to how they are feeling. Reflect to them how they, or kids in their situation, might be feeling. Play with what happens when body positions change.
–Identify and compassionately face the elephants in the living room, and get support for being honest, listening, expressing, repairing, and reinforcing safety and security in age-wise ways.
When connection to the body’s wisdom becomes a regular conscious process, we experience and share more joy. I was just reading a list of words that are associated with the experience of joy. The words that describe joy – internal cues, pleasure, satisfaction, trust, empowered, nourished, compassion, flexible, acceptance, freedom, in charge – also refer to body wisdom. I smile as I remember the full-bodied expression of a young child delighting in the world.
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