“What’s your breath doing?”
“What’s happening in your belly right now?”
“What’s going on with your face?”
If you’ve been a client of mine, I guarantee you I’ve asked you questions like these hundreds of times. New clients of mine are often puzzled by this. After all, they’re not paying me for me to ask them about their face. But there are good practical reasons to check in with your body regularly. In fact, I want my clients to be paying attention to their bodies all the time. Here’s why.
Your performance and mood are severely affected by your physical condition.
Your blood sugar, rest levels and hydration all have a measurable impact on both your cognitive performance and mood. The good news here is that your body has a great set of signals for telling you if it’s under-resourced. The bad news is that spending lots of time doing digital work can take us out of our body and cause us to ignore the signals that our body is sending, signals that tell us to get more sleep, or that it’s time to eat. By paying attention to your body, you’re more likely to receive these baseline signals and set yourself up for peak performance.
Moving into your body slows you down.
When I ask my clients to describe their physical experience to me, the pace of the conversation inevitably slows down. Checking in with our physical experience is a way to gently pump the brakes on our racing thoughts. It shifts you closer to a pose of equanimity and openness, a stance from which you may consider your options thoughtfully.
Your body is sending you valuable information.
Your body is a sensitive channel. When we slow down and tune in to our physical sensations, we become receptive to powerful intuitive hints about what direction is most promising, where there might be risk or ambiguity, and how the people we’re interacting with are doing.
There’s an important caveat here: our bodies have finite communication bandwidth. This is why it’s so important to first meet our physical needs. If you’re hungry, thirsty, or need to pee, your body is going to be so busy sending you foundational physical signals it’s not going to communicate anything else. When we tune into and meet our physical needs, it allows our antennae to unfurl and pick up on subtler signals.
When we are relaxed and grounded, we invite the people around us to open up.
Just as most of us are able to intuitively pick up the states of people around us, so are the people around us picking up on our state. This is why, as a coach, I’m so diligent about taking care of my physical body: in order for me to do delicate, powerful work with my clients, they need to feel intuitively safe around me. When I tune into and tend to my physical body, I notice that my clients show up with more vulnerability and awareness. Their own antennae start to unfurl.
At this point, I hope to have convinced you that cultivating consistent physical awareness can improve your performance and mood, allow you to approach problems more thoughtfully, increase your awareness, and encourage the people around you to open up. The question becomes: how? Here are some practices to play with.
Physical triggers are the easiest way to cultivate physical awareness.
Give yourself a set of physical triggers that serve as a reminder to inhabit your physical body. Mine is the teapot that lives on my desk: every time I pour myself a cup of tea, I make sure to do it slowly. I feel the weight of the pot, I smell the tea, I zoom into that first sip. My belly relaxes, my knees unlock, my breath slows down.
A good physical trigger can be anything that happens repeatedly throughout your day. I’ve had clients see success using visits to the bathroom, entering their password, and pouring a glass of water as physical triggers
Emotional triggers help you stay grounded during challenging interactions.
Using strong emotions as a reminder to tune into your body is an incredibly powerful practice. Try this: the next time you feel a surge of anger, sadness, anxiety, or excitement, immediately tune into your body and notice the physical sensations that are present.
Doing this allows you to harness all of the benefits described above: you’ll tune into the physical needs that may be affecting your mood and give yourself the opportunity to meet them before attempting to address whatever is triggering the emotion. (Yes, Charles really screwed up on that report. But you also need a snack.) You’ll slow down and move more thoughtfully.
Treat your body as an integral part of your work.
When we talk about bodily awareness, it’s often framed as something that happens outside of our quotidian work. We spend a bunch of time staring at a screen, then we remember to take a break and tune into our body, then we go back to the screen.
If you want to really tune in to your body, stop treating it as something that exists outside of your job and instead start working through and with it. Here are some examples of what that might look like:
- The next time you’re chewing on a hard problem, close your computer and get out a notepad instead. Sketch out solutions, or jot down an outline for the piece of writing you’re about to type up.
- When you’re listening to someone, listen with your entire body. Lean forward and recruit your skin, your heart and your belly as listening organs.
- Grab earbuds and take your next call outside. Allow your physical surroundings to inform the content of your conversation.
I encourage you to use this list as a starting point to find your own ways of cultivating physical awareness throughout your day.