Engage Your Body
My body was with me always. It walked with me, ran, with me, slept with me, laughed with me, and followed me wherever I went. I spent a fair amount of time grooming my body, training it to performance and present itself in ways that were appropriate to my needs…. In class, my body would sit patiently while I was being educated.
Many of us know, intuitively, that we listen to our inner voice more than we listen to anyone else. Gut feelings, educated guesses, ethical hunches, imagination, inspiration, grace, guidance from above, or intuition—whatever you want to call this prompting—are also as important in your understanding of what’s going on as the logic you find in your inner voice.
If you doubt this, imagine not having your body as a guide. You wouldn’t have the sensibility that you’d better not schedule that appointment for next Friday, that it’s almost time to check on the pot roast, that Renee is more trustworthy than Ray, that a job you don’t know much about is worth taking, or that today you should call your mom. Decisions like these may not have a logical basis, but they’re vital to how you learn and live your life.
This chapter introduces you to natural and ageless approaches to learning that may seem at first unconventional and possibly even uncomfortable, but that can change the way you look at yourself. Diverging from the first two chapters in this book, which focused on how you’re unique, this is the first of three chapters that introduce you to the workings of how you learn so that you can increase your potential to learn more.
Road Map to This Chapter
Chapter 3 takes you to the following destinations:
- Learning in your whole body
- Accessing your inner knowing
- Getting out of your own way
- Getting off the chair
- Moving around
Help From Your Whole Body
We tend to regard [thinking and learning] as a kind of disembodied process, as if the body’s role in that process were to carry the brain from place to place so it can do the important work.
Our most refined thoughts and best actions, our greatest joys and deepest sorrows, use the body as a yardstick.
If you’re investing your time in learning more now, please don’t waste another day believing the predominantly Western perspective that thinking and learning occurs only between your ears. Contrary to science fiction movies and futuristic cartoons that show a time when heads in jars rule the world, you need your whole body to be intelligent.
Your brain and body operate as a single entity; both played an integral role in your learning processes throughout your life. Scientists now have extensive evidence showing that you think, remember, and learn as much, if not more, in other parts of your body as you do in your head, and that the mind (the word used to describe what allows you to think) is located throughout the body, not only in your head.
Even though gross anatomy hasn’t changed much for 200,000 years, modern imaging technology has begun to reveal the body’s biomechanics so our understanding is new and improved. For the first time in history, with new research in neurophysiology, neurobiology, somatics, quantum physics, and cognitive sciences, scientists now can show that all matter in the human body has a built-in intelligence, as well as the ability to think and learn.
To make sense of this, you first might need to recover from the fact that it probably contradicts everything you’ve ever been taught about learning. After all, most of us learned at a young age that learning is all in our heads. We think we’re smart when we can find the right way to manage what we think, and create rules to govern what we do. Although that can work in some situations, circumstances where one rule can supply the answer are becoming rarer each day, in every area of life. Sometimes, all you can do is admit that there simply isn’t a rule that applies, and it’s smarter to go with your gut.
Several years ago, I worked with group of firefighters. They were quick to point out that they depended every day on this superior form of learning. They explained that firefighters don’t weigh alternatives: They grab the first idea that seems good enough, then the next, and the next after that. To them, it doesn’t feel like deciding or learning; it feels like doing their job.
Don’t misconstrue what I’m saying. Your brain is the most complex organ in your body, serving as the processing center for many physical and mental functions. Before you can take that sip of morning juice, for example, the motor cortex in your brain completes an incalculable number of subconscious actions to coordinate your hand toward the cup. Before you can wake up your children, your vision center processes an equally incredible amount of information just to recognize their faces and identify your usual routines. You brain, however, doesn’t work alone.
To learn optimally, information flows instantaneously from your body to specific areas of your brain and back, faster than light, and from one area of your brain to another area, each working separately and as one seamless unit. The thinking you do with your body, similar to the thinking that you do with your brain, is part of a two-way system, up and down.
You could compare your whole body’s learning capacity to a river that can flow in two directions at once. Sensory information enters somewhere along your body—through your nerve endings, your eyes, your ears, or your muscles—which then sends a chemical signal to another center, with each center upstream (or downstream) from the one before. Every inch of you is involved in sending, receiving, and then translating information. Cells that receive a signal or notice a change in the flow respond by making a physiological adjustment.
What your brain communicates to your body depends largely on what messages your body sent first to your brain. For instance, when you’re happy, you smile, and when you smile, you feel happier. Faster than you can notice, every part of you has collaborated for the good of your whole being. Brain and body overlap, working together—often on the same thought. Your cells are literally talking to each other, and your brain is in on the conversation.
When I shared this with a group of middle-school students, one 7th grader paraphrased it this way: “When they say ‘It’s like riding a bike,’ the muscles in my legs remember how to pedal and my butt remembers how to sit, and my back knows how to balance, and my hands remember how to steer and all those thoughts go to my brain where it’s assembled in ‘ride the bike’ terms.” That’s about right.
In the work I do, I call this, whole-body learning. I chose that phrase because when you explain this to your family or your coworkers—and I hope that you do—they’ll give you fewer weird looks than if you called it “body-mind” or “body-brain” learning, terms that researchers frequently use.
Integrate Intelligence and Intuition
[Intuition is] knowing without knowing how you know.
The mind can assert anything and pretend it has proved it. My beliefs I test on my body, on my intuitional consciousness, and when I get a response there, then I accept.
—D. H. Lawrence
The physical exercises throughout this book are designed to help you become more aware of how you learn, how you create new patterns, and how you establish new pathways to learn more. If you’re considering skipping these, in an effort to learn even faster, let me assure you that these activities shouldn’t take long, and they will help you establish your learning in more of your body than if you only read and took notes. I promise to keep exercises short and focus on making the most of your time.
I suspect you have always known you’re more than what’s in your head. To check this, try this simple exercise.
- Point to yourself.
- Reflect on where you pointed.
- Did you point to your head, your body, someone across the room?
- When you speak of “giving yourself” to someone else, what are you referring to? Do you give your brains, your heart, or your soul?
Try this with other people. Where do they point?
(c) Learn More Now: 10 Simples Steps to Learning Better, Smarter, and Faster by Marcia L. Conner (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2004)