Topical Series: Being in Your Body/Being in your “Head”

I’ve neglected writing a post for my “topical series” lately and this was the one someone mentioned they were interested in reading so I thought I’d tackle it as my first one back.

To understand the concept I’m going to discuss, it’s important to realize that I’m coming from the paradigm that we, as human beings, are multifaceted entities composed of a mind, a body, and a spirit or heart.  I believe we are actually spiritual beings having a human experience, if you will, and as part of that experience, we all get a body.  This is the physical, material part of us, and of course the part we use to dance.

The spirit or heart, is our essence.  It is what leaks out of us, is expressed, when we allow it to shine through whatever it is we are doing.  The heart/spirit is our “beingness” which we sense in others and ourselves though activities….our “doingness.”  The mind, is the part of us that observes, analyzes, thinks, and assigns meaning to events.  There are various parts of the mind, like the more reptilian, survival-based mind, and also the more highly developed mind, the part we use to communicate, create, and conceptualize the world around us.

I feel that the heart/spirit is what we, as dancers, wish to reveal to ourselves and others though our dancing.  This could be done in a variety of ways, but for dancers, we do it through the medium of movement melded with music (oh!  That was some serious alliteration.  hee hee.)  Our media is our body.  Others may do it through singing, writing, painting, creating a computer program, designing a building made of legos.  Basically we can do it via anything we love doing, our “bliss,” our passion, from singing an aria to trimming shrubs, anything we love doing can be a medium through which we express ourselves.  Truthfully, this spirit and heart can shine through no matter how skilled, or not, we are in our particular field, but we generally like to work on our area of interest to improve as much as we can so that it can be expressed more clearly.

But sometimes we get our own way.  There are blocks and impediments the spirit encounters on its path through our activities.  We hold back.  We edit ourselves.  We decide we are not good enough in whatever way to really let ourselves be seen.

One of the ways we, as dancers, can do this, is by being in our head.   When we are “in our head” all of our consciousness, all of our beingness, all of our focus and attention, is on what we are thinking.  And sadly, oftentimes, our thoughts aren’t even anything worthy of thinking!  How much energy do we all pour into comparing ourselves to others, or imagining what others might think of us if we did such and so, even if it is in alignment with who we really are.  One of the major mental traps we can fall into concerning dancing is getting stuck on an intellectual understanding of a dance step.  We think we can understand every little technical detail of a particular step and thus perform it.  Any dancer knows however, from experience, this is generally not the case.  Though both mind and body must be integrated in order to fully allow our spirit out, if only one aspect is functioning (mind or body), the spirit is blocked.  It is like reading about how a strawberry tastes and actually eating a strawberry.  You can’t intellectually capture the entire experience.  Intellectually understanding the nuances of the flavors of a strawberry, how much salt, sweet, and bitter elements it contains, how many parts per million of magnesium it contains, doesn’t compare to actually tasting the strawberry.  We could chemically break down the fruit, know all its parts, but just as we are, the strawberry is more than the sum of the atoms that make it up.

When we are 100% in our head, we are not in our body.  Have you ever been driving and then arrived at your destination not remembering the trip?  You were probably in your head (or out in the spirit ethers!)  But either way, you were not fully present with your physical surroundings.

Some people are very scattered.  Their mind is on a thousand things from their grocery list to their tax return.  They are focused on a myriad of life details, even if only in the background.  There is no calm or silence in their mind.  The chatter is constant distraction.  Again, they can not be fully present in the moment.  Their mind is split.  Kind of on the task at hand, but also on other activities.  This is like driving and texting.  You can’t do either job well and risk catastrophe when your attention is divided.

So basically, being in your head, is being captivated by what you are thinking about even if it has nothing to do with what is actually going on in the present moment.  When being in your head, you will have little or no sense of your body, its position, where it is in space.   The body becomes mentally “invisible,” unimportant, and insignificant.  I spend a large portion of my day at my new job in my head.  I verify prescriptions, mentally processing information, and making decisions about the correctness, accuracy, and appropriateness of various medications as well as routing them to the proper department.  Being in your head (or your body) is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, and it is sometimes necessary to accomplish our aims.  However, being in your head (or body) to the exclusion of the other entirely, can become a hinderance.

Sometimes, we are so in our heads that we are only snapped to attention by pain.  Our physical body may need to send the signal of pain to bring our awareness back to the body.  That, or we have to pee.  I’m just sayin’!  It has to make us aware of its needs, and we can become so skilled at ignoring the body that it must metaphorically “scream” with pain to get our attention.

Alright, hopefully now, you understand what it is to “be in your head.”  So what is it to “be in your body?”

Well, I personally, am rarely only in my body.  Much effort has been expended to develop my mind through education and such but I have expended less to develop my body.  Perhaps that is exactly why I’m so fascinated with ballroom dancing.  It calls me back to my body.  It provides the means to restore balance to my “beingness.”

But, there are rare instances where I have been in my body.  The most striking have been when I have danced with Ivan with my eyes closed.  In those instances, I’ve had to put all my consciousness into my body and sense with more than my normal five senses, where he is in relation to me and what he is leading.  In those rare instances, I’ve acted solely on “instinct” using only the information gathered from feeling.  I think (what an ironic thing to say) that to be in the body is to feel.  To feel with all the senses.  To be completely transfixed upon the sensations of the body, where it is, how it is positioned, where it is going, where it is in relation to other people and objects, and so forth.

For instance, I can focus on my toes.  When I do this, my consciousness goes to that area of my body.  I suddenly feel where they are.  I feel the air around them, or the socks, or the shoes I’m wearing.  I am aware of my feet.  If I then move my focus upwards, I can feel my ankles, or my hips, or my fingers, say.  I suddenly become aware of my body and all its bits and pieces.  So to be in my body is to sense my physical presence.

In addition, and this may sound “woo woo” but when I am in my head, this feels up high in my energetic being.  It is centered around my head, or even higher.  When I am in my body, this feels more grounded.  I feel more connected to the earth.  It feels to be positioned lower in my energetic being.

Now the magic.

When I am balanced between the two, I am in my heart center.  This is located, energetically, in my chest where the heart is located.  This is the integration, the marriage and merging, of the mind and body.

This is the space, so rarely alit upon, when mind and body are in balance.  When I can feel and sense and be aware of my bodily parts and its relation in space and at the same time allow enough of my mind to be aware and open to interpret and respond to information coming my way.

You know, now that I’ve written about 1500 words, I’m thinking that this is not the easiest subject to broach!  I hope I’ve explained it in a such a way that you have a better understanding than you did before.

But I’m open to feedback!

How do YOU experience “being in your head” or “being in your body?”   What does that look or feel like?  What is the “ideal’ state when dancing?

One final thought…Here are a few ‘exercises’ I’ve devised that might facilitate the process of “getting into the body” before a dance lesson.   (As an aside here, I think sometimes we “teach” what we most need to learn….hmmmm.   Probably some activities I should be incorporating in my own regime, yes!)

Well, here goes:

1)  Focus on your feet.  Feel them.  Feel your shoes or the floor.  Go up on your toes.  Come back down and feel your heels touch the floor.

2)  Bring golf balls or tennis balls and roll them under your feet.  This will bring awareness to your feet.

3)  Touch your heart, as if you were saying the pledge of allegiance!  This is your heart center.  Bring your awareness to this area of your body and notice how it feels.  Notice if you sense any other feelings, any expansion.

For me, I’m now conditioned to be in my head more than in my body.  I need to bring awareness to my body more so than my mind.  If the reverse were true, there’d be different exercises!  Maybe doing a math problem, or thinking of how to say a sentence in a foreign language.

Hopefully, you get the idea.  You can certainly devise your own “exercises.”  And if you have any that work for you, please share them here.

2 thoughts on “Topical Series: Being in Your Body/Being in your “Head”

  1. Marian Condon says:

    Stef – I think I inadvertently deleted the lengthy comment I just tried to post. I hit some key or other by accident and the screen changed. Oh, well. Would you kindly e-mail me? Don’t have your correct address and need to talk with you about an interview.



  2. Alaina says:

    Ah, Stef. As someone who is absolutely in love with philosophy, let me say that this post pleased me very much. I warn you now that this comment will be long.

    I loved your comments on our essence, our spirit, and how it makes up who we are. Aristotle would call that “form”. Our body, he calls “matter”. Incidentally, the sentiments you’ve expressed reminded me of Aristotle. He is also called the master of the mean, which you also expressed when you talked about balance. Let’s take a virtue, like courage. Courage, according to Aristotle, is the mean between cowardice and rashness. In your assertion, we must balance ourselves between contemplation and bodily action. What virtue would that be? I’d call it prudence, which along with courage, is one of the four classical virtues. Prudence, is the mean between ignorant action (bodily, in this case) and over-analysis, in my opinion.

    As you can tell by my comments, I’m probably more in my head than I should be. 😉 Following DP is where my instincts come out. More on that later.

    If you plan on getting more philosophical (please do! :D), and you do have a philosophical bend in your posts, here’s some of my favorite words I like to use:

    Ontology–It’s the study of existence or being, derived from the Greek word “ontos” which translates to “truly or in reality” (I had to look up the specific translation for that one.)

    Epistemology–How do we know what we know? Simply, you know stuff, but where does it come from? It derives from the Greek word “epistme” which means “knowledge”.

    Sophia–This Greek word means “wisdom”. A common philosophical question is, “Are epistme and sophia synonymous?”

    Anyway, back to your original question. How do I maintain balance personally? When I’m dancing, I literally become stupid. Nothing is going on up in my head. Kind of like when I’m watching TV.

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