Your body has its own center of intelligence and communication, but do you know how to understand it? Here’s a simple model for learning how to interpret what your body is telling you about the world around you.
Have you ever experienced butterflies in your stomach? What about goose flesh? Ever had the hair on the back of your neck stand up after hearing a ghost story told around a campfire? You could probably answer yes to one or more of those questions, all examples of how your body talks to your brain about what’s in your environment. It’s a fascinating look into the intelligence of your body and how it shapes and foretells your experience of the world around you.
Before diving into the signs and signals of your body, a little background information may be helpful.
Your three brains
You read that correctly. You have three brains. Well, sort of. There’s your head brain, which is the center of intellectual intelligence; the gut brain or body brain, which is the center of physical intelligence; and the heart brain, which is the center of human connection intelligence. These three brains working in harmony allow you to experience the world around you in all the ways a human can.
Your head brain is made up of several parts, including the brain stem, limbic system, and cerebrum. The autonomic functions, like breathing, digestion, and heartbeat that keep you alive are the work of the brain stem. But beyond keeping you alive, your brain is also constantly scanning your surroundings for threats. When there are no threats, your thalamus signals to your cerebrum that all is well. But when there’s a threat, your amygdala signals your limbic system that you may be in danger, raising emotions like fear and the fight/flight/freeze/faint response, which is how the body responds to threats.
Your body is talking, but are you listening?
On to the body brain. Running from the top of your spine to your tailbone is the vagus nerve, which attaches to some 500 million nerve endings and receptors. The vagus nerve connects to your brain stem, creating a network of communication that helps you sense what’s going on around you. If you’ve ever been on a roller coaster and experienced a feeling in the pit of your stomach as you reached the top of the upward climb that something unnerving was about to happen, that’s your body telling your brain that there’s a threat ahead.
To put it in perspective, your brain and body are in constant communication with one another. And about 10% of the time, your brain is sending signals to your body. But about 90% of the time, it’s your body sending signals to your brain. That ratio, alone, is reason to pay more attention to what your body is trying to tell you.
Tune into the signals
Now that you know how important your body center of intelligence and its communications are to your brain, you can start to understand what they mean. One of the best ways to begin to become an expert in your own body’s signals is to become mindful of them. Mindfulness is holding your attention on something without rushing to judgment or decision.
Let’s say you suddenly get a pang in your stomach. Before now, you may have thought it was hunger and gone to get something to eat so you could give your body what you thought it needed. But what if it’s something else? By holding your attention on the sensation you’re feeling, you may find a different answer. What if instead of hunger, you’re experiencing apprehension? What would you do differently to soothe your apprehension? Maybe you’d still eat something, or maybe you’d give some additional thought to preparing for a meeting you may have on your calendar later in the day.
Here’s the best part: as you become better attuned to your body and what it’s communicating to your brain, you may become more adept at managing yourself in a variety of situations. Now that’s a big win!
Four steps to whole body intelligence.
To begin making use of this new information, here’s a model that may work for you to begin to change your old habits of responding to your body. When you notice a sensation that you want to investigate, follow these steps.
- Pause to reorient yourself. Check in with your body and hold your attention on the sensation. Give yourself a few seconds to focus on what your body may be telling you. Then,
- Ask yourself what you need and get it. Maybe you need a glass of water so you can take a drink periodically and slow yourself down. Maybe you need to take a deep cleansing breath to bring your focus back to something important. Or maybe you need someone to walk into a room with you so you aren’t entering alone. Whatever it is you think you need in that moment, find a way to give it to yourself.
- Trust yourself to succeed. This may be the hardest part of the model. You’ve paused to see what’s going on and given yourself some support to get through the next thing. So now it’s time to make good use of the new information and source of support and move into the situation with confidence. And after you’ve done it…
- Celebrate your efforts! Give yourself a pat on the back, say “Way to go!” out loud to yourself, or do a victory dance. Whatever your ritual is, reward yourself for getting through the situation with a new understanding of yourself.
Before you know it, you’ll be sailing through difficult situations with confidence. What’s stopping you from using the intelligence of your body?
Bradley K. Ward, PCC is a leadership and personal transformation coach at Lucidity Coaching, LLC in Palm Springs, CA. Contact Brad to find out how coaching can help you reach for the impossible!