The Wisdom In Your Body

One of the greatest gifts of learning on my coaching journey is also one of the most challenging to articulate in a blog post. Learning how to get out of our heads and connect to the wisdom and insights the rest of our body offers. Today, we’ll dive into embodiment, also known as somatic practice.*

What I Have Learned

I grew up with science. I am a child of rational thought and empirical observation. For most of my life, I lived in my brain. I was not particularly aware of any messages or signals from my body, nor did I see any need to grow that awareness.

Then, I began my coaching journey. I learned ontological coaching at the Newfield Network USA, where understanding the coherence of our thoughts, emotions, and body is foundational. I learned how shifting my body into different dispositions could shift my mood and generate new ideas. I also learned how to employ these techniques in coaching to help clients create a fundamental shift in their way of being. However, I still used these techniques sparingly. I often felt uncomfortable asking a client to do embodiment work with me.

Next, I studied neuroscience, consciousness, and transformational coaching with BEabove Leadership. I now understood the neuroscience that explained why these embodiment practices worked. This education deepened my somatic practices, and perhaps most importantly, it equipped me to gracefully incorporate embodiment into my coaching conversations. I’ve found that a short explanation can help a client more readily embrace the techniques.

Our Bodies Remember

You may question why this is important. Ever since Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am,” we’ve careened down a path where rational thought is king. Growing up in the US, my classrooms were almost entirely devoid of movement and embodiment.

Wisdom is remembered in our bodies. Think about all the tasks you complete without subconscious thought: tying your shoes, putting your pants on, or a gymnast executing a move they have practiced a thousand times. These are all cases where we have embodied the action. The memory of how to perform it is literally stored in our bodies.

Let me illustrate with a personal experience. I use a hill in my neighborhood for a “hill repeat” workout. When training for a hilly marathon, I’ll run up this hill and jog down it 10-15 times to prepare myself physically and mentally for running a hill in a race.

One day, I was out for an easy run at a comfortable pace. I was not wearing headphones, which raised my awareness of my body. The route I was running included this hill, and as I approached the hill, I recognized my leg muscles were tensing as my body prepared to sprint up the hill. Even though my conscious mind knew I would continue to run at an easy pace, my body remembered the “hill repeat” program and ran it automatically. The memory in my body overrode my conscious thoughts.

As we work with embodiment, we can uncover the programs stored in our body’s memory running on autopilot. When these programs no longer serve us, we can develop strategies to interrupt autopilot and run a new program.

What are the programs your body runs on autopilot that you’d like to interrupt?

A Somatic Coaching Experience

Recently, I worked with a coach for some decision support. After burning out mentally and physically, I spent several months with my running reduced to maintenance mode: low weekly mileage, all at an easy pace. My weight was slowly creeping up, and my VO2 max was slowly dropping. I had a potential marathon coming up, and I needed to decide whether to stay in maintenance mode or ramp my training back up, increasing my mileage and doing some harder workouts.

My coach took me through several techniques to get out of my head and explore the wisdom in my body. Going into this exercise, I hypothesized that my body would want to stay in maintenance mode. There was so much else going on in life that I didn’t think I wanted to invest more time in running.

She had me fully embody what it felt like to stay in maintenance mode. With my eyes closed, I allowed my body to shift into a shape that felt like maintaining. When she asked me to describe what I was sensing, my immediate observation was in my gut. I could feel my stomach expanding. There was a lazy quality to my experience.

She then had me shake that off and embody ramping up my training. I brought to mind images of running on the track. As I did this, my legs surged with energy. They felt alive and raring to go. Soon, my whole body felt this way. I was energized. My muscles were tight, ready to spring into action.

The difference between the two bodies was stunning to me. My hypothesis was incorrect. As I connected to the wisdom of my body, my legs overruled my brain, telling me in no uncertain terms that they missed harder training.

That was a little over a month ago. As I’ve ramped back up, every major health measure I have has improved. I’m sleeping great, my stress is down, and I feel incredible. If I hadn’t taken time out to check in with my body, I’d probably still be in maintenance mode right now.

Embracing Embodiment

Interoception is the ability to sense what is happening in our bodies. Research indicates that this skill can be developed. If you participate in an activity like yoga, dance, or a martial art, you may feel at home with embodiment. Those practices help you get more in touch with your body. Here are a few other techniques you can employ.

You can use a simple meditation technique to strengthen this ability over time. Take a few breaths to settle yourself, then imagine a scanner moving through your body, starting at the tip of your head. As the scanner moves, check in with each body area being scanned. The top of your head. Your forehead. Your eyes. Your nose. Your ears. And so on. As you scan each area, notice the sensations. Are the muscles tight or relaxed? Do you feel pain or discomfort? If so, where do you feel it? How large is the feeling? Does this area feel cold or hot? Is there an energetic quality? Notice your heart rate. The cadence of your breathing. Is it deep or shallow?

I often have clients who want support in making a decision. They have typically done a great deal of analysis on the pros and cons of the decision and may have even employed my decision matrix. When this doesn’t give them clarity, I offer a guided meditation to get them out of their head, tapping into the wisdom of the heart and the gut. I’ve made this meditation available on Insight Timer,** a free meditation app. If you would like to tap into the wisdom of your body to support a decision, I encourage you to try it.

My final suggestion is to engage with a coach with embodiment experience. If you are talking to a potential coach, ask them about their experience with somatics/embodiment and how they typically bring it into their practice. Ask them to share some examples of where they used it and the results.

Putting It Into Practice

I recognize words won’t do this topic the justice it deserves. I encourage you to begin to strengthen your use of embodiment to tap into the wisdom of your body:

  • Use a body scan meditation to build your interoceptive awareness.
  • Use my decision meditation** to connect with your heart and your gut before making an important decision.
  • Take up a somatic practice such as yoga, dance, or a martial art.
  • Work with a coach trained in embodiment.

I am an executive coach and life coach with software executive roots in higher education and EdTech. I coach because I love to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. I frequently write about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.

If you would like to learn more, schedule time with me.

Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

* For an excellent book on embodiment, check out Your Body is Your Brain, by Amanda Blake, PhD.

** Insight Timer link only works from a smartphone.

Subscribe to Arete Pursuits