Decision To Make? Ask Your Body

I tend to fuss over decisions, considering all possible options while weighing the benefits and risks for everyone involved. Sometimes I choose the most difficult path even when it clashes with my admittedly Hobbit-like nature, in part because I have the annoying idea that growth comes from taking on new challenges.

Unfortunately the process of logical decision-making tends to wedge us into what we intellectually determine is best even if it doesn’t feel right. (I’ve gotten myself into plenty of tough situations doing exactly that.) Many of us tap into our intuition as well, but we usually give much more weight to what reason has to say.

These days I’m trying to rely less on my head and more on gut feelings for decisions large and small. It doesn’t take much to realize the glad expansiveness in my chest is a “yes” while a heavy clenched feeling in my throat is a “no.”

I don’t always succeed at this. Recently I agreed to give a series of talks and already dread them. The process of trying to be more aware of what’s authentically right for me is gradual. (NOT public speaking, my body retorts.) I suspect many of us push ourselves until our bodies force us to start paying attention….

Let’s remember, each one of us is a whole person with intelligence coming from our hearts, our guts, maybe all of our cells. But our culture teaches us from our earliest years to be in our heads while ignoring, even shutting off inner knowing. When inner promptings are so strong they override the left hemisphere of the brain, children are often labeled something else entirely—-lazy, reluctant, stubborn, headstrong, picky, anxious, timid, fussy. In reality, our bodies are telling us we need:

1. time to process or time do things at a pace natural to us

2. to step away from a particular person/situation/food/obligation

3. to honor the voice inside that already knows the answer

This is the kind of awareness that people have used since the beginning of humankind to make decisions fully, in ways we rarely access in today’s world.

Here’s a recent example of what can happen through listening to body wisdom. I have poor posture. I fight it, when I think about it, by holding my head up straight for as long as I can remember and more recently, by learning to practice natural posture. But when I’m working at the computer my head tends to sink forward until I’m hunched like a half-conscious orangutan. I know that listening to the body means, in part, paying attention to the body’s messages. So one afternoon I stopped resisting, just for a few minutes.

I listened to what my slumped posture had to tell me. It didn’t say “sit up straight!” It said go with the slump. Feeling a little silly, I let my head sink forward to a ridiculously exaggerated degree. Instantly I recognized in my body the way my father slouched when he was sad, the way my mother’s head jutted forward and down with disappointment. Their postures are in me, speaking to me. I didn’t analyze this, I just sat with it, paying attention to my body in that posture. Strangely I felt relief, even comfort, as my upper body curled like a fetus.

Then I tried the opposite. I pulled my head up into rigid “good posture”and was surprised when tears came to my eyes. My throat felt vulnerable and exposed, as it did when I was a little girl and couldn’t sleep unless my throat was covered. Again, I didn’t analyze right away, I just sat with it.

The whole process took about three minutes. Yet afterward I felt a wonderful strength up my spine. My posture felt buoyantly upright. The feeling lasted all afternoon. It was astonishing to get so much benefit from such a short body-awareness experience.

What I am saying is that your internal guidance system is there, ready to be accessed. You possess logic, which is invaluable as you consider variables and imagine outcomes. You have remarkably instructive emotions—you may feel excited, a little scared, a little eager, and pretty relieved when you imagine yourself going forward with one decision while you may feel let down, hesitant, and resistant when you imagine going forward with a different decision. Just past logic and emotion are actual body sensations. You may feel tightness in your jaw or churning in your stomach or tension in your back. You might feel the urge to stretch or dance or take a deep breath.

Simply remember, when you have a decision to make, consult your thoughts and emotions and body wisdom. The answer is there, waiting for you to pay attention.

For more on this, check out:

7 Ways To Access Your Body’s Unique “Knowing”

Free Fix For What Troubles Us

The Little Trick To Make Any Moment Better

body wisdom, gut feeling, body intelligence,

Inner Cosmos by memzu.deviantart.com

Don’t Sit Up Straight: Why Natural Posture May Be Better

natural posture, don't sit up straight, stress relief, trauma relief, body wisdom,

Pondering the skeleton within (Image CC by 2.0 Dreaming in the deep south)

I come from a family of slouchers and after a typical day at the computer I have ample reason to worry I’ll develop the dowager’s hump my grandmother had by the time she was in her late 50s. Worse, my husband recently required back surgery due to longstanding problems after a car accident.

That’s why I’m on a quest to find out all I can about our spines and our posture. It has taken me in some unexpected directions. Here are some crumbs along this trail.

First off, don’t sit or stand up straight. At least not the way we think is correct, with our shoulders back and chins held high. That, my friends, is not remotely natural no matter what your mother or your gym teacher or your fitness coach told you. I learned this from a book with gorgeous photographs of people all over the world engaged in often strenuous tasks, yet moving with posture that is graceful and perfectly supported. The title, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot. The title doesn’t hint at how important this book is for those of us who don’t have back pain, but nonetheless plan to continue using our spines. The author, Esther Gokhale, teaches what she calls “primal posture.” Her book is packed with more than inspiring images. It explains how we can sit, stand, walk, and lie down in ways that contribute to our overall health and well-being. For example, by using a postural method she calls “stretch sitting.” She gives a brief intro in the following video, instruction starts about 4:20.

Next, all the fuss about building muscle doesn’t get to the core of the issue. Toned abs can’t replace strong, well-aligned bones. I learned more about this from another amazing book Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living: The Practice of Mindful Alignment
by Kathleen Porter Ms. Porter explains that children in the non-industrialized world naturally sit and stand with aligned posture they maintain their entire lives without the neck, spine, and leg problems that plague people in the developed world. She also contends that a child’s naturally good posture supports learning.

Why do we have so many slumped kids and achy adults in industrialized countries? Our fixation on TV and computer screens may be part of the problem. But Ms. Porter thinks it starts earlier. She notes that the design of car seats, strollers, and baby seats work against an infant’s developing posture. (She offers one solution, called a Baby Wedgie.)

I suspect it has something to do with how little free play today’s kids enjoy, a time when they can engage in brain-boosting and spine stretching movement. A recent study of 4 million U.S. preschool-aged children found that almost half were not taken outdoors to play on a daily basis, probably because we’re busy carting those kids around in car seats that incorrectly position their spines. Ms. Porter explains how to raise kids with healthy posture in her book Sad Dog, Happy Dog: How Poor Posture Affects Your Child’s Health and What You Can Do About It. The following video does a good job of showing how to grow up with naturally aligned posture.

And finally, it’s worth considering how our bodies react to strong emotion.

During frightening, painful, or otherwise highly stressful experiences our bodies are flooded with chemicals preparing us to react physically. Most often our response, in today’s world, is not physical. We aren’t running away from or fighting off predators as our ancient ancestors did, although our bodies respond in the same way (the “fight or flight” response). We staunch our physical impulses and sit still during all sorts of stressors, remaining immobile during a painful medical procedure, while the boss politely tells us we’re going to be laid off, or when our car is nearly hit on the highway. Experts in trauma tell us that mentally processing a frightening or powerfully upsetting experience doesn’t always resolve it. The bodily movements we wanted to take, but didn’t, are still locked within. There they can cause all sorts of long-term problems, including back pain. (Check out what movement can help alleviate this stress.)

I’m still learning about this as I read remarkable books by Peter A. Levine. The first one I waded through is geared more toward physical therapists and psychotherapists, but still highly relevant for the layperson. I stumbled on it initially because I loved the title’s implication, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. It’s one of those books to read with a highlighter in hand. Now I’m reading one of his far more accessible books, Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents’ Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience, which I heartily recommend. It casts a bright light on experiences adults may consider average, but which can turn into long-term trouble for kids (masquerading as behavior problems, hyperactivity, anxiety, or depression) unless we know how to help them deal with it.

I love the way seeking out information tends to lead us in new, unanticipated directions. I’m still on the lookout for what I can learn about natural posture. And I’m working on sitting as if I had a tail, one that is behind and not under me. I swear this effort makes me look taller than my almost five foot three inch height. See, another unexpected perk!

stress relief, trauma relief, don't sit up straight, natural posture,

Originally published in Wired.

Look Up

nature exposure linked to nearsightedness, cloud appreciation, cloud collectors,

Summer. Perfect for lounging around doing nothing more than gazing at clouds. It’s a completely free pastime.

The traditional spot to indulge in this pleasurable activity is sitting in the grass. Better yet, lying on the grass. Stay there as clouds drift into view over treetops and roofs, slowly changing form. Linger long enough, you might insist you can feel the planet moving.

Looking at clouds is a perfect way to disengage from all the buzzing, ringing distractions that claw our attention to shreds. Those puffs of air vapor seem to invite contemplation. And that’s good. Daydreaming is so rejuvenating that it can boost creativity. It also helps us to relax, review emotion-laden situations calmly, generate new ideas, and get to know ourselves better.

When we let our minds wander, we’re in what neuroscience calls the “default mode network.”  An L.A. Times article titled, “An Idle Brain May Be The Self’s Workshop” notes,

“Just as sleep appears to play an important role in learning, memory consolidation and maintaining the body’s metabolic function, some scientists wonder whether unstructured mental time — time to zone out and daydream — might also play a key role in our mental well-being. If so, that’s a cautionary tale for a society that prizes productivity and takes a dim view of mind-wandering.”

Even when you don’t have time to lie in the grass, take the time to look up. You may notice there’s really no such thing as a less-than-fascinating sky. Raining, snowing, overcast, starry, it’s all lovely and always in a slightly different way.  It has to do with seeing, really seeing.

I learned this when I helped conduct a psychology study in college.  We went to urban office buildings and asked people two questions. First, we asked each person to describe his or her mood. Second, we asked them to describe the current appearance of the sky. These people were in their offices or hallways when we talked to them and the windows in most buildings were shuttered with horizontal blinds ubiquitous during that decade, so the only way they could have described the sky is if they had paid attention on their way to work or during a break. Here’s the interesting part. The people who identified themselves as pessimistic, angry, depressed or in other negative terms were also the ones unable to describe the sky’s appearance. You guessed it. The happiest and most optimistic people either correctly described the sky or came very close.

That study was never published, but research these days now indicates that pausing to experience nature in our daily lives is powerfully positive. Just a few minutes of regular exposure has been shown to improve our emotional and physical health. It leads us to be more generous, to enhance relationships and value community. The effect of nature, even looking out a window at nearby trees, seems to lead us, as one researcher noted, to be “our best selves.”

Go ahead, look at some clouds right now. You may see a cloud pig sailing a cloud boat. The sailboat may morph into French fries before the whole thing breaks apart into a shape resembling a bongo-playing octopus. Good thing the images we see in clouds aren’t a meterological Rorschach test.

stress relief, look at the sky,

Resources

Find out how nature-deprivation can affect your child’s eyesight.

Check out the Cloud Appreciation Society.  You can post photos to the online gallery, chat about all things cloudy on the forum, and live by their manifesto which includes a pledge to fight “blue-sky thinking.”

Consider becoming cloud collectors. Bird watchers keep a life list of their sightings, now cloud watchers can do the same with The Cloud Collector’s Handbook by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Packed with beautiful photos, this is a perfect book for adults and kids to share as they “collect” different cloud types.

You might want to keep a handbook near a window or in your car, ready to help with identifications. Two of the best are The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds also by Gavin Pretor-Pinney and The Book of Clouds by John A. Day, who was known through his long career as Cloudman. Check out resources on Cloudman’s site including instructions for making a cloud discovery notebook, tips for photographing clouds, and cloud history.

More information available through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

family fun cloud watching,