Is there some quality you'd like to have more of? Patience? Confidence? Focus? That quality may seem elusive—an unreachable ideal, especially if you've tried repeatedly to develop it over time without much success.
But what if you tried it on in your body? Qualities have a physical feel to them. Think back to moments of confidence you've experienced and recall the sensation of your head held high, your torso erect, and your definitive stride. Remember the calm, regular breathing and soft smile you've had when experiencing moments of unforced patience. Your body knows what these qualities feel like, and it can be a great teacher for you when you're trying to develop these or any of the qualities you want to adopt more fully. Practice embodying your desired qualities, and your mind and emotions may well follow suit.
What Quality Do You Want?
A good place to start this practice is to identify the quality you yearn to—well, embody. Is it one of the ones I mentioned? Or is it creativity? Decisiveness? Sensitivity? I recently offered this question to an improvisational movement group that I lead, Free Motion, and some of the qualities named were love, looseness, fluidity, and potency. What is your desired quality? If you're not sure which one to pick, simply notice which one seems most on your mind today, and start with that one.
Prepare Your Body to Learn From It
To begin learning from your body, put on some instrumental music, such as New Age (but not the super-relaxing kind). Choose music that has some energy and variety to it. Then, in a standing position, take a few clear breaths and connect with your body as much as possible. Spend a few moments noticing what it feels like to be in your body in the present moment. Be aware of both pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Starting with your feet and moving up to your head, shake each part of your body loose, taking several minutes so you can shake the entire body until you feel a nice buzz of energy everywhere. Then do some easy stretching, like a cat might do, preparing your body to have the freedom to move as it wants to. Now you're ready to enter the experiment with your desired quality.
Walk Your Desired Quality into Being
Start walking. Let yourself experience the feeling of walking for a few minutes. Vary the walking any way you like. Allow yourself to be playful and creative. Eventually, let the walking begin to take on the quality you desire. If your desire is to be loose, let looseness show up in your walking. Let your legs and arms exhibit a lot of flexibility—your torso too. Your hips will probably drop and sway. Your shoulders and arms may become noodle-like. Your head may bob as your neck flops about. Exaggerate the feeling of being loose. Play it big. Walk as if you're the loosest person on the planet!
When I did this exercise with my Free Motion group, I explored the embodiment of potency for myself. I wasn't sure exactly what that might feel like, so I tried on different postures and movements. I stuck out my chest—no, that felt too aloof and pushy. I moved more from my hips—yes, I felt more solid and substantial doing that. I soon found that visually scanning the room to take in all of my surroundings felt "potent." So did opening my arms wide and extending myself outward in big swoops.
In the group, we also practiced playing out our quality with partners, as a way to observe how we might feel having this quality in our relationships. If you're doing this activity alone, you can imagine doing this with people you know.
After practicing your quality in an embodied way for a time, pause briefly to rest and observe how it feels to live in a body that is patient or focused or loose—whatever quality you chose. Notice if your attitudes and emotions have taken on this quality to any degree. Most likely they have. When we're willing to let our bodies lead us, our inner experience tends to follow.
The usual reason we're attracted to a certain quality is that we're feeling stuck in the opposite quality. The discomfort of feeling impatient makes us long for patience. Our inability to get things done because we feel so scattered makes us crave focus. So, in turning to our body to guide us, it's helpful not only to try on the embodied quality we want but to allow the currently embodied quality to also have some room to express itself. The next part of the exercise will let you do just that.
Continue with your walking, and this time let your body take on the quality you're hoping to exhibit less often. The postures and movements this time will seem quite familiar. Exaggerate them to the extreme. Allow yourself to feel fully how your body wants to carry itself when this quality is prominent. When I walked "impotently," I was hunched over, with eyes cast down and arms crossed over my chest. I felt a tight-skinned, worried expression on my face. I moved slowly, shifting directions often in a nervous way. It felt very uncomfortable and confining.
Again, take a brief pause to observe what your attitude and feelings are when you're in this body position. Do they match what your body is expressing? Also, pay attention to how you're feeling in response to having exhibited this uncomfortable quality. I remember feeling compassion for my impotent self along with a pressing desire to move out of this way of being. The next part of the exercise benefits from both of these feelings.
Continue walking, this time shifting your postures and movements from expressing the disliked quality to the desired quality. Take plenty of time with this transition. Let the shifting process itself teach you a little about what it might take to move from, say, being tense and tight to being loose and carefree. Remember to be compassionate with yourself as you follow the urge to embrace the new quality.
Enjoy displaying the desired quality as it emerges. Notice if it seems any more accessible than it did in the early part of the exercise. Are you expressing it any differently? You may find that having explored more deeply the quality that you dislike—by giving it expression, you're more able to free yourself from it and move on. Having already practiced the desired quality, you may also find it easier to take that on.
In the days and weeks ahead, you can draw upon these remembered body experience to help you as you embrace the new quality more and more. When I think about wanting to be more potent, my whole body now takes on that quality. I can feel the sensations of being potent, making it easier for my mind and emotions to settle into a more potent way of being. If necessary, to reinforce the message, you can exaggerate the bodily sensations repeatedly until this quality starts to become the familiar one.
What's so transformative about learning from our bodies is that the learning is deeply experiential and more lasting. We're often encouraged to change our thinking, but unless our whole being gets in the act, the change may dissipate with the next thought that comes along. Enjoy your body-as-teacher. Let it help you ease into and feel at home with the qualities you have long desired.