Book Notes: Whole Body Intelligence

Whole Body Intelligence by Steve Sisgold

[Disclaimer:  This is not meant to be a book summary or book review. This is just stuff in the book that I found personally valuable or interesting at the time of reading. Most of these “notes” are actually highlights, i.e. directly copied lines from the book, but some notes are personal adaptations or added personal insights.]

– Shifting your attention from your thinking mind to the sensations and informational signals of the body, known as embodied cognition, is the body-first approach.

The ability to direct your attention and take a body-first approach is the foundation of Whole Body Intelligence (WBI).

– Your body readily alerts you when you fall into negative mental traps and conditioned patterns such as assumptions, comparisons, and blame. You instinctively shift your focus and call on your body’s intelligence for clarity.

– The body doesn’t lie.  Up until we focus our attention on the body, the body simply is how it is based on its natural responses to our current experience.

The body generally manifests our emotional base into physical form or motion.  It receives sensory input and reacts accordingly. The sensory input we give the body is often the result of misperceptions or false alarms, and this essentially causes the body to unnecessarily protect itself (and its leader) from danger.

If we take a reverse approach and listen to the body it can help us detect mismanaged emotional states.  If we pay attention and listen to our body it can alert us of unhealthy mental or emotional states such as over-thinking, rumination, anger, anxiety, etc

– If we don’t recognize our anxious state of mind, or are unaware of our over-thinking, but we notice signals from the body that it’s uncomfortable or uneasy in some way, the body’s communication acts as a catalyst for us to make conscious adjustments.

– Conscious adjustment is when we gently manipulate the body’s form or motion.  In turn, the body’s adjusted state can help us consciously re-adjust our emotional state.  The body alerts us when it’s time to re-calibrate our being.

– Generally we can control the body better than we can control the mind, and the body can manage us better when we’re fully in tune with it and understand the appropriate adjustments.

– Advantage of the body-first approach:  You are aware of nonverbal messages you communicate to others. You feel and notice when your words and body language are incongruent, and you self-correct for better results and more authentic communication.

– Before we started to speak, before we became identified with the thinking mind and our thoughts— with mental cognition— we were utterly dependent on sensation as our source of information.  In other words, we relied entirely on embodied cognition.

Understanding the context in which embodied cognition is replaced by mental cognition is important because that context—when grasped by the mind—helps the mind buy in. This buy-in is key for the mind to become predisposed to an alliance with the body.

– Employing this body-first approach— that is, noticing your emotional-physical sensations— gives you the opportunity to take slow, deep breaths; bring yourself into the moment; and establish neutral ground from which to think and feel your way to your next best move.

We always have a choice of where we place our attention. We can go into our heads and rely primarily on mental cognition— our thoughts, assumptions, associations, and projections. Or we can turn to our bodies and put our trust in embodied cognition— what the body is telling us in the form of sensations, gut instincts, and feelings.

– Body language shapes who we are.  We can change our own body chemistry, simply by changing body positions and movements.

– Expansive body movements help to manage hormones and regulate mood. Contracted movements, on the other hand, create tension and can sustain emotional distress.

When feeling stressed or anxious, notice the body’s contracted movements such as squeezing of the forehead, lowering of the eyebrows, squinting of the eyes, clenching of the jaw, lowering of head and neck, crumpling of posture, tightening of the shoulders, flexing of the arms, tensing of the hands and grip – and gently start shifting into expansive movements.

Expansive movement entails loosening, lengthening, and releasing of tension. Examples are the gentle and natural opening of the eyes, widening of vision, lifting of the top back of the head as if on a string, shoulders loose, down and back, trunk/torso extended outward, chest out proud, all while doing so as gently and as naturally as possible to achieve an aware and relaxed state of calm attention.

– Remember:  when you feel at your wit’s end, down in the dumps, or ready to give up, get out of your head, tune into your body, and gently readjust.

– Movement awareness is a great sensor that can alert you when chronic, subconscious thinking patterns kick in.

– Utilizing movement awareness entails the acknowledgment of all our bodily motions.  Our movements can be obvious, like walking, or subtle, like eye movement.  Notice when movements are tense, hurried, uncomfortable, inefficient, unnaturally contracted, and use that awareness to reset your bodily composure.

Re-setting bodily composure involves:

Engaging conscious body relaxation:  untensing the muscles, breathing deeper and more regularly, stillness

– Returning to proper form:  adjusting posture, positioning the body so it’s naturally loose, slowing and steadying pace

When we reset our bodily composure – and remember to continuously reset when our body composure inevitably falters – then our mental and emotional composure is primed to follow.

– Re-setting our body allows us to feel better physically and emotionally which enables us to focus and perform optimally.

– Continue observing your movements with awareness as a new tool to help you “catch the beat,” access your deepest truth in an efficient way, and move in the right direction.

– A do-over is the first step toward creating a new neural pathway. This is how human beings change (Do-over referring to addressing negative experiences of the past)

– An effective “do-over” involves reliving a negative event that has shaped our habitual bodily reactions…

– By consciously tuning into our body as we actively recall the past negative event, it allows us to recall our negative body sensations at that time, understand the negative emotional effects that correlated with the negative physical sensations, and then re-perceive the past event as if we handled it appropriately. 

– With do-overs we are acknowledging the unconscious body reactions of our past and consciously replacing those negative sensations as we recall them with the appropriate bodily responses we now know.  We essentially re-live the event in our mind and body as if we were equipped with the appropriate emotional and physical responsiveness at that time – we re-live it as we would handle it today, with conscious awareness and appropriate responsiveness.

– Controlling the body during recall, along with positive-realistic framing of the event, will help break our bodily reactivity in similar situations in the future.

Showing the body how it should have responded, from head to toe, paves the neural pathways for how it will respond in similar situations.

– Past traumas:  “Let your body do now whatever it didn’t get to do back then.”

– We all have signature movement patterns, gestures, and facial expressions that lock us up.  Becoming aware is the first step in changing these habits.

Movement awareness allows you to make choices, to keep what feels authentic and empowering, and to let go of what doesn’t.

– Unfortunately the body can’t always tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fabricated, so our stress response gets overused.

– Our stress hormones are designed to help us, but when they are overproduced in the body or not turned off once the threat has passed, they promote cellular damage and accelerate aging.

– An excess of stress hormones can contribute to anxiety, depression, burnout, and compromised immunity.

In his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Stanford neuro-biologist Robert Sapolsky, PhD, writes about the difference between the human stress response and that of animals: “If you are a normal mammal,” he says, “stress is the 3 minutes of screaming terror on the savanna, after which either it’s over with or you’re over with.”

– Lesson from DOGS:  they generally return to their baseline, relaxed state very quickly after stressors and expend no additional energy.

(Dogs don’t harbor resentment, ruminate, or over-anticipate a threat if they don’t sense any direct evidence of one.  This is a GREAT example of a non-self-conscious mammal responding to stress naturally and appropriately.)

– “We were never meant to deal with prolonged chronic stress,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, of the University of Maryland. “The human body isn’t designed to drag around bad memories, anxieties, and frustrations.”

When you are Whole Body Intelligent, you have a choice and the necessary tools to intervene when strong feelings flare up. You recognize that they have more to do with reactive conditioning from past events than with what is actually happening in the present situation.

– “Paper tiger”:  the threat is illusory, generated by the mind. A paper tiger may appear to be perilous, but it can’t eat you. If you believe it is real, however, your body will respond with a biochemical cascade of hormones that signal danger.

– Stress hormones like cortisol weaken neuronal synapses in the brain and inhibit formations of new ones.

– The American Medical Association has identified stress as the number one cause of all human illness and disease.

– Most people think of stress as something that comes from the outside. They focus on external problems and manipulate their circumstances and fail to address the roots of stress within their own body.

Here’s the physiological cycle: • We have strong feelings that contain information. • That information is stored throughout the body, not just in our mind. • Every thought and feeling creates a physiological effect that occurs at a cellular level. • The memory of this information exerts a profound yet largely subliminal influence on our perceptions, behaviors, and experience. • Our perceptions and misperceptions generate more strong feelings.

Your body speaks to you directly in the language of sensations.  Sensations are the “memories” of the body. So when the body is referred to as remembering, it means the body has experienced sensory activation in a particular situation and the brain stores those sensory responses and immediately trigger those bodily responses in attempt to adapt in similar situations (often times incorrectly adapting as the body misinterprets social stress and anticipatory anxiety as real danger).

– Being Whole Body Intelligent means you detect stress as it is building, before it wreaks havoc, and then choose to dismiss or limit obvious stressors (like overusing technology or multitasking).

– Frequent and intense multitasking jeopardizes our general ability to focus, and it creates a stress response:  cortisol and adrenaline release, manifesting as restlessness or anxiety (stress) when multiple stimuli (like multiple devices) aren’t engaged.

– Do you notice that your stress levels have gone up after you’ve spent extended time on your smartphone?

– The subtle signals communicated in body language, facial expressions, and those split-second micro-movements in the face that tell us so much about one another are lost in cyberspace.

– In little more than a decade , we have become super high-tech beings, but evolution doesn’t happen that quickly. Adaptation, yes. Evolution, no.

– Therefore, most of us get thrown off balance, physiologically compromised by a virtual, mind-first lifestyle that leaves the body behind.

Noncoherence is a typical pattern of someone undergoing high levels of chronic stress— when the mind and body regularly operate in “fight or flight” mode even if there is no overt stressor present.

– Conversely, the healthy and natural rise and fall of our heart rate is called coherence. When someone achieves coherence, they generally enjoy a reduced overall heart rate; reduced fatigue, anxiety, and stress; and enhanced digestion, sleep, and mental awareness.

– Your single most valuable asset for dealing with unconscious, technology-related stress is your attention.  Attention drives everything you experience.

– All of your experience is influenced, nourished, and regulated by your attention— whether you realize it or not.

– Attention is what grows our relationships and delivers the value of connection. The same is true of your relationship with your body.

– Think of attention as your internal sun. What you direct your attention toward is what gets illuminated. Attention is fickle, however— it is not necessarily selective about where it goes any more than sunlight is selective about where it lands. But, like sunlight, attention can be directed and harnessed to our advantage.

– “The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh

“Rebooting” (re-setting your body and mind) takes an intentional commitment of time away from stimuli. It can even be a short amount of time, even one minute. Meditating (sitting or standing still in quiet), wakeful-napping, getting fresh air, etc) are all ways to reboot. These methods should be done consciously, with the intention of rebooting, and without engaging in any technology, analysis, or computing of information.

Getting unstuck is a skill set, one you can build and strengthen over time. The next time you find yourself trudging through difficulties, give yourself a conscious reboot.

– Intentional rebooting allows the parasympathetic nervous system to reengage and balance, calm the body, and turn off the emergency brain-stem functions

The Rebooting Technique:  1. Unplug 2. Breathe 3. Observe 4. Report 5. Adjust 6. Visualize 7. Reboot

Unplug: un-focus on your current activity…disconnect yourself from all outer stimuli (digital or otherwise); when we unplug, the adrenal glands begin to produce lower concentrations of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

Breathe:  We breathe consciously by bringing our awareness to the physiology and feeling of our breath. We pay attention to the otherwise unconscious activity of drawing air into our lungs and releasing it.

Unplugging (taking an intentional timeout from all current external stimuli) and breathing allow you to observe your body from a relaxed state of elevated awareness and can reveal layers of your physical and emotional state that otherwise go undetected.

Observing: Slowly and deliberately scan your body from head to toe. Notice what is happening. Are you squinting or grimacing or straining your face in any way? Are your shoulders, neck, and back hunched? Observe for at least 60 seconds and discover any sensations of tension.

Adjusting:  literally taking action. For example: If you observe and notice that your grip is overly tight, or that your lower jaw is somewhat clenched, you adjust by consciously relaxing your hands or you lower jaw. Making an adjustment seems simple because it is. All there is to it is becoming conscious of it and gently acting on it.

Adjustments should always be as gentle as possible (light, calm and steady).

Continue gently re-adjusting as often as necessary.

– Imagine the best version of yourself, and re-engage in whatever you’re doing as your best self. Best self  = calm, attentive, considerate, kind, motivated, self-regulated, patient, grateful, resilient, gentle, loving, joyful, etc.

– Now that you’re re-plugged (re-booted) take a moment and decide on the next purposeful action you want to take. Identify your top priority in the moment, stay focused on your intention, and get started.

Continue practicingpractice practice practice noticing your body’s mis-reactions generated by your misperceptions – your emotional false alarms.  Recognize the feelings in your body and gently adjust before the negative sensations build momentum.

– “Viral” beliefs are beliefs that are not true in the present moment.  They are incorrect signals based on past experiences, transmitted from your mind thru your body, like a virus.

– As long as viral beliefs go unexamined and live on in the body, they can trick you into acting in counterproductive ways.

– “Vital” beliefs are opposite viral beliefs.  They are true in this moment – realistically uplifting.  A vital belief benefits your body and mind, supports your goals, and enriches your relationships.

– Dr. Pert’s research confirms that emotions are stored in the cells of the body as a cellular memory…

“My research has shown me that when emotions are expressed— which is to say that the biochemicals that are the substrate of an emotion are flowing freely— all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are suppressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behavior.”

– Whole Body Intelligence enables you to express blocked, denied emotions; free up the biochemical substrate that is stuck in old patterns; and release the flow of feel-good chemicals and hormones such as serotonin.

Some of us internalize stress; this is called somaticizing— turning anxiety into physical symptoms that affect various parts of the body.

– Generally, when people have difficulty letting go on the out breath, it correlates with a lack of confidence, especially when they tend to avoid saying things that are difficult to say. This holding in is mirrored in the breathing pattern.

– Thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs are within the scope of personal choice if we are willing to take on that responsibility, be proactive, and rewire our brains and beliefs.

– The human psyche is extremely impressionable. When we get hurt, a part of the brain never forgets it. Evolution built this feature into us. On a physical level, it’s how we protect ourselves from further injury, even death. On a psychological level, it’s how we avoid unpleasant consequences and threats to our physical and emotional well-being, our self-esteem, or our place in the community.

– Most of us experienced hurtful, even traumatic events in childhood: physical or emotional abuse, injuries, parents getting divorced, siblings dying, or moving away from childhood best friends.

– Traumas become “viral” and harmful when unaddressed or incompletely resolved.

Trauma = any significantly negative event. Trauma does not necessarily involve violence, abuse, an extreme act of injustice committed upon us, or extreme physical pain. Trauma, in the context of psychology and emotional being, is any experience that had a significantly negative effect on us. This is important to understand when considering “trauma” because in this context we all experience trauma.

– All it takes is one moment, one wrong look, one comment, for trauma to occur and subsequently cause our automatic emotional and physical responses to be improperly – and perhaps increasingly – negative during similar occurrences in the future.

– Trauma example:  Little girl given a guitar at a campfire:  Her father swooped down and shouted, “Hey, put that thing down and stop making so much noise!” Her mom joined in, “I wouldn’t be singing with that voice, honey.” … That’s all it took (to form a negative impression of what she can or can’t do)…

In that moment she was inoculated against creative expression. An emotionally charged reprimand like that translates in a child’s mind as, “When I sing and play music, I am only making noise and bothering people.” Her parents had essentially injected this viral belief into her and possibly created a trauma.

– A single event like that can stop us cold. Remember, at that early age, we are in a semitrance; we look to our parents, our authority figures, to give us the lowdown on who we are and what we can or cannot do in life. Their view of us informs our sense of self and where we belong.

Often when someone discovers that their exhalation is more challenging than their inhalation, that correlates to “holding things in” versus expressing freely.

– The WBI belief process helps you access this web of information so you can: • Recognize what has been running you from below the level of conscious awareness • Become aware of physiological and emotional components of your viral beliefs • Work with the beliefs where they live— in the body as well as the mind • Clear outdated beliefs • Install new ones

– Reaching a goal boils down to three essentials: staying engaged, building resilience, and embodying your purpose from head to toe.

Now that you have developed a keen sense of what is happening in your body, this awareness can help you maintain positive energy and forward momentum. Moreover, you are now in a position to notice when you are about to sabotage yourself, stop, reboot, and prevent the old story from playing out again.

– From a whole-body perspective, resilience means getting up from your desk when the inspiration starts to fail. When ideas aren’t flowing easily or your back hurts, you can choose to take a walk or employ a mindfulness practice, like the rebooting technique.

– The really important thing is your recommitment. It’s the returning and the recommitting to your goal, your life journey, that’s the important thing. We need to learn about recommitment because that’s really, as I see it, the key to resilience.

Your breath is the gear shift between the sympathetic and parasympathetic sides of your autonomic nervous system. Breathing to calm yourself down is not simply an exercise to give you a sense of emotional control, but also a physiological tool to regulate your body’s hormonal stress response.  Basically, breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide is helping to calm your system whether you realize it or not.  Breathing shifts us into the parasympathetic system, where all healing takes place.