What does it mean to be “in touch” with your body? If you are alive, aren’t you “in touch”? Does it mean that you can reach down and touch your hand to your knee? Why would anyone not be “in touch” with their own physical presence?
Being in touch, in the sense that I usually use those words, means being able to sense, with keen awareness, the body as a whole and also specific parts of the body as feeling and sensation. It means that you have some ability to put your concentration on that part of the body and hold it there, using your mind to quietly sense what is going on.
If you are not used to focusing your awareness on your body in this way, you might conclude that all you were doing is closing your eyes and getting a quiet, vague idea that you do, for instance, have a stomach in your middle torso. If you are practiced and willing, however, there is no limit to the kind of consciousness you can develop in such an exercise and no limit to what you will “get” as a response to “inner listening”.
The body is an amazing thing. It can feel deeply and powerfully any and all emotions. It can move in all kinds of ways from simple, everyday movements that we generally take for granted, to unusual movements that most people could never attempt. And, it is always moving, 24/7, because we breathe. The air moving in and out of our lungs 24/7 creates definite movements that are always changing. We mostly don’t notice them but they don’t ever completely cease until we die.
People who learn to cultivate a strong partnership with their bodies are unusual in our society. Mostly we are taught, either by word or example, to just ignore the body until it gets sick or can’t function, or to push its functions to the very back of our awareness. This works most of the time, but then the body fails us and we try to fix it. We are not guided to stay aware of what it feels during the day as we go through our activities while it functions normally, which is a shame. By the time something is wrong, it can be too late to do anything that is effective as healing.
Particularly in our American society, learning to pay attention to the body’s wisdom and honor it can be hard. Those who do manage, however, have something special and useful that many others lack. If you do not develop the capacity to “check in” with what the body is perceiving (and it does perceive whether or not you realize it), you can get lost. Sometimes people who have certain “conditions” or illnesses or people who have physical challenges develop sharper awareness about their bodies — what works for them and what does not. Ask someone with a food allergy how they are when they eat the wrong food and you will get a detailed answer.
Singers are known to have a much more heightened sense of the throat and the voice than average people do. There have been studies about that. I have seen in my experience that singers can be very sensitive to small changes in their voices that are important but nearly unnoticeable to others. It is my job to honor such information and help my singers reconcile what they know about their throats and their voices with what they perceive as being “wrong” and rebalance it. Someone who has been singing for 20 years certainly knows when her voice is “OK” and when it isn’t, even if there is nothing wrong with it biologically and that diagnosis has been confirmed by an MD.
Being in touch with your body is not just about being in “good shape” or being physical fit. Being in shape might be a way to notice what’s taking place in your physical self, but it can also be a way to “stay out of touch” with the body, depending on what your mental attitude towards being “in shape” is. If you push your body too hard because you have been taught to ignore pain and discomfort thinking it is somehow “better” to do that, and you can cause yourself a lot of trouble. If you have been encouraged to be the other way, however, thinking that every small little gurgle or blip is a cause for alarm and that you cannot eat regular food or drink regular water without being sick, that’s just as problematic. If you are taught to suppress unhappy experiences and emotions because you should always only “feel good” or because “no one should ever show their true feelings in public”, then you can learn, very well, to blot out both sensation and emotion, and this is downright dangerous to both your body and your mental health. Unfortunately, this is a situation that happens all the time.
Being in touch with your body allows you to realize that sensations and emotions flow through us all the time, sometimes strongly but sometimes just as slight waves of something that is hard to define in words. Allowing what is going on to just be there, with quiet attention and peaceful awareness, can be challenging, but it keeps us in the present moment, breathing, and knowing that life goes on around us even as we “go within”. If you have ever been asked, “How do you feel?” and your answer begins with the words, I think I feel……” I would say to you, “Do you mean, “I’m not sure what I feel? If so, please go deeper into your body until you can find out”. The body always knows. Try it sometime. You may surprise yourself.