There were a few profound insights I scribbled down while I was there, and one of them was this: “Emotions are actually feelings in the body.”
This revelation, from SIY teacher Robert Chender, provided some context for the introduction of a mindfulness exercise called the body scan. The point of the exercise is to pay attention to your body to gain some insight into the emotions you’re experiencing.
Here’s how it works: Starting at the top of your head, check in with every part of your body and notice how it feels. Are your cheeks hot? Are your fists clenched? You might be experiencing anger. Or, is your heart pounding? Are your palms sweating? You might be experiencing anxiety.
This might seem like kindergarten stuff — everyone over the age of five knows what anger and anxiety feel like. But the point here is to catch the negative feeling while it’s still simmering, before it spirals out of control.
In my experience, I sometimes don’t realise I’m anxious — about a job interview, a deadline, or a stressful conversation with a friend — until I’ve already got a full-blown stomachache and heart palpitations. At that point, it’s not exactly too late to try to calm down, but it’s a lot harder than it would have been 10 minutes earlier.
At SIY, we practiced the body scan for 15 minutes, though you can easily do a 10-second version. Either way, use it as an opportunity to notice what’s going on in your body and get curious about it. What might you be feeling and why? Simply labelling the emotion, and accepting it, can decrease its intensity.
Interestingly, Chender said our bodies can sometimes be the source of surprising information. “When you get emotional, it’s worth looking at what’s going on in the body,” he said. “Test whether the emotion we think we’re feeling is the one our bodies are feeling.”
As in, maybe you think you’re anxious, but your physiological activity suggests that you’re angry.
It’s not about being right or wrong, but about developing greater self-awareness and then using that information to guide your everyday behaviour.
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