Emotions are Physical

Build emotional resilience by learning how to listen to the body.

Posted Feb 13, 2020

In 2004, I learned that emotions were physical experiences. It was an “Aha!” moment for me. Of course, they are!

When I feel sad, I feel heavy. When I feel ashamed, I want to disappear. When I am excited, my body is filled with energy. I was curious why this had never occurred to me. Or maybe it had and I just didn't know what to do with it.

Now, after some training and practice, I am aware that my brain and my body communicate in two different languages:

1) the language of our thoughts that speak to us in words; 

2) the language of our emotions that speak to us through the sensations we experience in our bodies. 

I used to only pay attention to the language of thoughts. I assumed my thoughts controlled my emotions and my behaviors. Now I know this was false. If anything, emotions influence thoughts and behaviors.

My body actually tells me my truth. It holds the archive of my history and traumas. My body tells me my emotional state as soon as I slow down to listen. At any given moment of the day, listening to my body tells me whether I am calm, confident, in control, getting what I want, getting what I need, feeling good about myself and much, much more. I can choose to ignore what my body is telling me by living in my head or chronically using defenses to block my emotions. Alternatively, I can listen to the music my emotions make, learn about myself in ever-deepening ways, and understanding how my surroundings influence me. This gives us the right balance of head and heart to make good decisions and feel true to ourselves.

There is an amazing world inside us below the neck. It is driving much of what we think, feel, and how we behave. And listening to the body using tools such as I outline in The Change Triangle, which makes sense of our physical experiences with a new science-based, emotion and trauma-informed language, is the key to healing emotional pain, understanding our psychological symptoms, and connecting to our authentic self.

Want to experiment with listening to your body?

A good place to begin is by paying attention to your breathing. Take 30 seconds to try putting language on aspects of your breathing:

Describe what you notice about how you're breathing: "Am I taking long deep breaths or short staccato breaths?" Which one?

Notice where the breath goes: "As I inhale, does my stomach push out or does my chest rise?" Point to the area in your core where you sense your air is going.

Extra credit: If it seems like your breath stops at your chest, see if you can play with it in a different way. Imagine breathing slowly and deeply, filling up your toes with air, then legs, then hips, on up to your head. Now notice if that way of breathing makes you feel better or worse.

Remember, try not to judge yourself as you experiment with tuning into your breath. If you need a goal, let it be that you try this exercise without judging yourself.  

Congratulations on doing something new for yourself. A+ for trying!