What Does it Mean to 'Listen to the Body'?

The word listen invokes the sense of hearing through the ears, and certainly, when we dance we use all of our senses to navigate our bodies through space and time.  But the phrase 'listen to the body' is a metaphor for a process of deep understanding and an attempt to allow the body to move from its own desires rather than those imposed on it by the outside world.

Think about how often our bodies spend the day in positions that are predetermined by society to be 'correct' or necessary.  At work, we sit behind computer screens or stand all day at coffee counters.  At home, we must clean and tidy before we spend a restful moment in a comfy chair or binge with Netflix on the couch.  

These become habitual patterns that our bodies are perpetually inhabiting based on the temporal needs of ourselves, our families, and our communities.  When was the last time you asked your body how it wanted to move or rest?

The listening process is complicated and unique to each and every individual.  It doesn't look or feel one way.  However, the more we can struggle to put words to the experience of the body, the more we can understand the relationship between body and mind and work to integrate the two. Remember, body and mind are two sides of the same coin.  In fact, the body is the mind, and vice versa, but it is helpful to recognize the differences that we feel we internally.

Below are some of the ways I've found to describe what the listening process feels like for me:

  • It usually starts with stillness and is reminiscent of the process of calming the mind through mindfulness meditation.  Breath is all important to the process, as breath is the foundation of all movement and our connection to both our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.  I often find that once I'm focused on my breath, I start to feel the impulse to move coming from physical places in the body like the arm, rib, or head.  The breath also provides a natural movement rhythm, with the inhale filling the body up and causing a stretching and lengthening sensation, and the exhale closing the body in and creating a collapsing or shrinking sensation.

 

  • As I begin to move, subtle shifts in the relationship to my body with gravity (I'm usually lying down on the floor, so I have a large surface area of my body touching the ground) create sensations of pleasure, ache, stretch, goodness, anxiety, confusion, fear, you name it.  I've had days where my first reaction to the feeling of my body on the floor was to burst into uncontrollable tears or, just as often, laughter.  And it doesn't much matter what 'type' of movements I'm doing, as long as they are influenced as much as possible by my own internal landscape of feeling; both physical feelings and emotional ones.

 

  • The longer that I allow my body to move freely, the more I feel a gradual loosening of my body's habitual patterns.  Suddenly, it seems easy to just let my body move without having to think too much about it.  There's usually about ten minutes where I can allow my body (or my body allows me) to just move in as natural and unfiltered a way as possible before thoughts about the 'correctness' of my movement begin to come crawling their way back in to my mind.  At this time, the process ends or begins again with stillness and breath.  

The feeling of relief that I get from this process is the desired outcome.  I am only mildly interested in the movements that are produced, and only to keep a mental record of any specific movements that seem to repeat or show up time and time again.  Its also interesting to note certain movements that feel really good, or days that the body moving brings up intense positive or negative emotions.

How do you 'listen' to your body?