The Path to Change: Body Awareness Activities

Posted by on Dec 28, 2011 in Blog, Emotional Intelligence | 0 comments

What would happen if you were standing in line at the grocery store, and someone came from behind you and gave your arm a great big yank? How would you react? More than likely you would be startled, and your body would go into high alert as your brain tried to make sense of the act. The degree to which you would be thrown off-balance would depend on a number of things including the context for the yank, your interpretation, your habits, and your state of mind.

While the likelihood of being yanked in the grocery store is relatively small, we experience other types of emotional “yanks” in everyday life. The scenarios vary, from spouses arguing over money to group members advocating for very different solutions to a problem. And, unless you are superhuman, you can probably identify at least one time when your response to being emotionally yanked was less than stellar, leaving you feeling out of whack and upset. So how do we get better at responding to emotional yanks? How do we stay centered, balanced and grounded? Today we’ll get started with this discussion, with subsequent editions going deeper.

To change your habitual way of responding to being emotionally yanked, you must interrupt the response in the moments before it is about to occur, and this is often a narrow window of time. The earliest signals often arise in the body. These include muscle tension, increased heart rate, and change in body temperature. Though you might be aware that you are getting “hot under the collar,” the discipline is not just in being aware, but in associating being hot under the collar with the emotional yank in the moment it occurs and then making a conscious choice to respond appropriately.

Getting in touch with physical clues—really in touch, is great first step to responding effectively in moments of emotional stress. And I believe the less in tune we are with our physiological responses, the less likely we will be able to change our habits in emotionally charged situations. Below I offer a few suggestions for getting in touch, and will expand on these in the future as I continue to explore the dynamics of change.

Meditation. Sitting in stillness helps you understand your mind, and get in touch with your body. Studies on long-time meditators show numerous benefits including changes in the structure of the brain that enhance emotional regulation. The UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center offers great tools to get started with meditation.

Centering. The term centering refers to a number of practices designed to create mind-body alignment and support wellness. I learned the practice of centering from Doug Silsbee, a Strozzi Institute trained presence-based coaching thought leader who offers courses at his retreat center, the Bend of Ivy Lodge.

Mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that every living moment provides an opportunity to be aware. We can practice mindfulness doing any activity, and in doing so, we will come to know our minds and our bodies. Information on Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness practices can be found here.

Martial Arts. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, a leadership consultant, and author of several books including, The Leadership Dojo, has written extensively on how the practice of martial arts can develop body awareness and enhance leadership skills.

Other Body Practices. You can design a body practice that will support you in getting in touch with the signals your body is sending you. A good body practice is one that you like, that you will commit to doing daily, and one that you can do without other distractions. Exercise, when done mindfully, without the television or radio, can increase body awareness.


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