In recent years, I’ve noticed a real yearning from friends and acquaintances, people wanting to be “in their bodies.” Confused by the phrase, I have taken to ask friends, patients, writers, and even a Rabbi to explain to me their interpretation of what “in the body” means. What I’ve discovered is that most people interpret being in the body as a psychological state. Some have described a quality of presence, some have told me it’s when they can feel their emotions, and some have described the absence of vigilance, as when in nature or in a flow state. Among all of the people I have asked (none physical therapists), I have yet to hear an everyday person describe being in the body as something to do with knowing their muscles, tendons or bones.
I’ve learned from some who prefer to be more studious about themselves, the body can become a nebulous or intimidating idea that they prefer to keep distance with. Some have also described the body in a way that, to me, sounds more like a soul. My own feeling of the body is a place of spiritual contact- as in to say, I am here.
The concept of the body is so broad and vast, and has such different meaning according to who is fragmenting it. To one person, it can be a source of vanity or showmanship, to another, it is health; to a physical therapist, it is the means by which we move through space, and that process is informed through our sensations.
We know ourselves through sensations. Touch is our very first education. As babies, we learn to navigate through the world by our caregivers’ touch, primarily through our lips, which then evolves into speech. Through development, we learn to understand ourselves because we feel our way into understanding what the self even means.
Touch is our first communication. It is a primal and biological education. In Physical therapy, we use touch to create change, to give support; to establish clarity, and direction. Touch is feedback, it helps us understand ourselves and where we are in space. We learn so much through touch, that even the feedback from the floor sends messages into our bodies- telling us, when you move like this it is safe, when you move like that it is not.
I’ve heard it said in Pain Science communities that pain is a survival tactic, a loud alarm bell, telling us that something is wrong and we need to pay attention. So too, are there many survival mechanisms that exist in our bodies before or outside of the realm of pain. The antidote to provocative and painful movement is listening. The body accepts and rejects the way we use our bodies all of the time, but it’s up to us to listen.
For a shtickle of wisdom about how to be in the body: Take off your shoes. At a time when our culture seems to believe in the fallacy that the body exists somewhere outside the bounds of our minds, I too, am reminded to pause, take off my shoes, and listen for greater wisdom.