“You’re in your head.”
If there’s a single phrase I’m sick of hearing, and yet always curious as to when I’ll hear it next, it’s this one.
In fact, I heard it this past weekend when I was speaking with Mel Carnegie, a woman I just shared the stage with in Zurich. Attempting to receive her thanks for what had happened the day prior, I was thinking so much about what to say in response that I lost contact with my body. She noticed, pointed it out and then helped me to ‘drop back in’ by moving my focus to my lower belly. As soon as I could feel my body again, I could actually receive her thanks.
I still live most of my life in my head, but with practice I’m becoming able to stay more in contact with my body.
What does it mean to be ‘in your head’ or to ‘drop into your body’?
In the same way we can focus or widen the awareness of our vision, we can focus our inner awareness on a single point or over our entire body.
For me, being in my head means my inner awareness is limited to the area between my forehead and the back of my head. When I’m in my head, the only light on the Christmas tree is the star at the top.
To drop into my body, for me, happens when I move my inner awareness from my head down into my belly. This can also be an expansion of awareness from the top of my head to my groin, or even my whole body out to my toes and fingers. When I’m ‘in my body’, it feels like the whole Christmas tree is lit up. I can feel everything, even if I’m not thinking about it.
How does being in your body help you to feel?
When I’m not aware of my body, I don’t notice what’s happening in there. There is so much information available through feeling my body. When my awareness is limited to just my head, I’m essentially tuning all that information out.
It reminds me of when my band was in studio listening to a mix of the songs we had recorded. I clicked the ‘isolate’ button on one of the many digital tracks and suddenly, a song thick with a myriad of instruments and vocals became a single, shallow, lonely guitar string being plucked in a monotonous rhythm. Turning the ‘isolate’ button off, the song burst back to life and I was hearing all of it again.
Being in my head is like having the isolate button on. Being in my body is like listening to the full mix.
What does it mean to ‘feel’ something?
Before I go into how and why feeling helps coaching to be powerful, I want to make a clear distinction; Feeling vs Feelings.
Feeling, as a verb (v), is the experience of a kinesthetic sensation. It happens only in the present moment, without time and without thought. It is a form of consciousness, not a physical ‘thing’.
Feelings, as a noun (n), are your emotions. They are the sensory information created by your nervous system in relation to your thoughts, be they conscious or subconscious. Feelings (v) emerge from the dance between memories, imagination, current sensory stimulation and thoughts. As all nouns, they are an abstracted context, and thus they exist in time.
Do we feel our feelings?
Yes, we feel (v) our feelings (n). This is how we know we have a feeling (n)! For example, if you are sad, you can probably feel (v) the sadness as a weight in your heart. If you are mad, you may be able to feel (v) the anger as tension in your face.
You can also have feelings (n) about what you are feeling (v). For example, you may have the feeling (n) of anxiousness about a cramp you are feeling (v).
In fact, most of what we spend our time feeling (v) are actually feelings (n) about something we felt (v) in the past or that we imagine feeling (v) in the future. Most of what we feel (v) is actually a kind of feedback between our thoughts and our feelings (n).
Imagine instead of pressing the ‘isolate’ button on the mixer to turn off the other tracks, I instead put the volume of the microphone up all the way. The microphone would feedback through the speakers, making a loud horrible hum that drowns out the rest of the music. All we would be able to hear is the feedback; nothing else.
To feel anything other than the feedback of our thoughts and feelings requires presence. (See article #5) When we are present, we free ourselves from time and settle into the moment. As the thoughts settle, the feedback lessens and we can hear the whole song again.
Through being present, we can turn the volume on the microphone back down, and feel our whole body.
Why does feeling the whole body matter?
Feeling the whole body matters because it improves our capacity to know.
Everyone can relate to the idea of the aboriginal person, who has lived their entire life in nature and without industry or technology, is probably able to feel things the rest of us cannot feel. Maybe they can feel the pressure change in the atmosphere and know that it is going to rain soon. Maybe they can feel the subtle pull of the magnetic lines of the earth and always know which way is north. Who knows?
The more we can feel, the more we can know.
How does feeling create powerful coaching?
Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. Whether this is due to ‘mirror neurons’ firing in response to recognized patterns via sensory input, some sort of mild electromagnetic waves or whatever else, the reality is that human beings feel what other human beings are feeling.
In a coaching relationship, the ability to feel what your client is feeling is essentially a pathway into knowing what they know – or could know. I say ‘could’ know, because in many cases the client is not feeling (v) the feelings (n) they are having. The fact that they are not feeling them, does not preclude YOU from feeling them however.
Your client can be having a very subtle emotional experience in relation to something you are discussing and not notice the emotion. Through empathy, you may experience the emotion as well. If your own internal feedback is low enough – and if you are in your body – you may feel that emotion they are having before they do.
Emotions are not definitive markers of anything in particular, but they can point you in the direction of things.
My coach Rich Litvin taught me that when I notice myself getting a bit nervous during a conversation, and it’s not something that I’m normally nervous about, I should consider that it may be their nerves I’m feeling. I don’t just immediately assert that the person is nervous, but I do take it as a clue and start exploring.
Feeling what my clients are feeling, in a straightforward way, helps me to know what they are feeling about the thing we are talking about (happy, sad, excited, scared, ashamed, etc). In a less direct way though, feeling (v) my client’s feelings (n) helps me uncover things like what they aspire to, what they are hiding from me, what they are hiding from themselves or where they have a greater capacity.
Uncovering these things allows for deepening the conversation, which can dramatically raise the impact of the coaching.
Lastly, I’d like to mention that in the same way that you feel what your client is feeling, through empathy they also feel what you are feeling. The more you are able to feel relaxed, the more relaxed your client will be. There is much more to be said about this and I will discuss it in upcoming articles.
How can I learn to feel more?
Through different breathing practices, especially Kundalini yoga, I find I am coming to feel more of my body. My teacher, John Wineland, tells me that breathing into my belly and perineum is ‘waking up’ the neurology around my gut and groin. It’s definitely something I need to keep up with as when I fall off my routine of breathing exercises, I notice that I notice less.
For the past two months, I’ve also been doing a training that involves a hyperventilation technique. The irregular levels of O2 and CO2 that I generate through hypoxia and hypnocapnia creates all sorts of weird experiences in my body (tingling, numbness, pins and needles, a mild electrical current). It’s like turning up the volume on your nerves so you get to feel, at a much more obvious level, what is usually subtle. When breathing returns to normal and the volume turns back down, I am finding I have a memory for the sensations and I’m able to detect them a bit more than I otherwise used to.
2. Create More Subtle Distinction in Sensations
For the first thirty years of my life, I knew just one kind of hunger. I was either hungry or I wasn’t. There were levels of hunger, but there was only one type. Then, in my early thirties, I began experimenting with diet and paying attention to how different foods made me feel.
Today I know all kinds of hunger. I know the craving of carbohydrate, which is around my solarplexus and is a gnawing, aching, annoying hunger that creates a sense of urgency. I know the hunger for energy, which just feels like an empty belly. I know the hunger of anxiousness or procrastination, which I can feel in my belly but also in my arms and legs. I know the hunger for nutrition, which I can feel all throughout my body as opposed to my stomach.
Before I could feel these different types of hunger, I didn’t know what my body wanted other than ‘more food’. It was kind of like giving a baby a bottle every time it cried. Maybe what it really wanted was to be held, but I didn’t know that.
Through my experimentation, one sensation of hunger has become four sensations. Creating these subtler distinctions allowed me to feel things I wasn’t feeling before. Thanks to this, I now have access to information I didn’t have before. Information my body has always been providing me, but which I wasn’t receiving.
In this same way, we can learn to feel more by feeling what we are feeling more closely. To feel something more closely, means to pay more attention to it.
It works kind of like when you meet someone new. At first they are just this person, but the more time you spend with them, the more you start to see all the different aspects of who they be.
Get to know a single feeling well enough and it will fragment into multiple similar, but also distinct feelings.
Paying attention to what you feel is like putting water on a Gremlin.
3. Increase Your Feeling Bandwidth
We have created a world where extremes are rare and comfort is the norm. Our environments are temperature controlled. We put padding between our feet and the earth. With clothing, we protect our skin from the air and the light. When discomfort arises inside, we medicate the symptom so we don’t need to feel what is happening to our bodies.
While we enjoy the pleasurable benefits of our outside-in creation of comfort, there are costs.
First, we lose our physical ability to manage our comfort from the inside-out. For example, most of us are unable to consciously manage the temperature of our bodies. After a decade of saying “I’m just not made for the cold”, only now am I learning to control my own thermogenesis.
Secondly, and more importantly in the context of powerful coaching, the range in which we are able to feel without freaking out has become extremely narrow. For example, we run into an air conditioned building if it’s over 90F (32C) or put on a jacket if it’s below 60F (15C). (At least, I do!)
We have lost bandwidth in what we are able to feel. Bandwidth matters because feeling is relative.
For example, the pain scale doctors use is 0-10 where 0 is ‘no pain’ and 10 is ‘ultimate pain’. If the most pain you’ve ever felt is a needle prick, then you’re going to call a needle prick a 10. Case in point, my wife finds acupuncture to be a bit uncomfortable and in that discomfort has little distinction. In my teens, I was into body piercing (nipples, eyebrow, tongue, ears) as well as stretching the holes with thicker needles. Today, I enjoy acupuncture and even feeling the slightly different widths of the needles the acupuncturist uses.
With increased bandwidth, it’s not necessarily that you can feel ‘different’ things, but I believe we can notice the difference in the strength of what we are feeling with more subtlety since we don’t ‘freak out’ near the edges.
There seems to be a correlation between the bandwidth of what physical sensations I am willing to feel (v) and what feelings (n) I’m willing to feel. For example, the more willing I am to take a cold shower, the more willing I find I am to do something that makes my stomach sink with fear.
This could just be my imagination and it is certainly something that could be scientifically tested. Even if it is just a placebo, I’m happy utilizing it!
To increase your feeling bandwidth, get uncomfortable.
Do things that make you feel uncomfortable physical sensations and do things that make you feel uncomfortable emotional sensations.
Speaking of cold showers, the training I mentioned I’ve been doing lately also involves cold immersion. I’ve taken cold showers in the past as a practice in moving towards the fear response in my gut. In my current training though, the cold immersion is about actually feeling (v) the cold, exploring what it feels like to be cold. Through taking 10 minute cold showers in the mornings, not only am I discovering subtle distinctions within the feeling of cold (like I did with ‘hunger’), but I am also feeling things I had never felt before. For example, I’m discovering what it feels like the moment my body begins producing heat, what it feels like for the capillaries to constrict, how good it can feel to have cold skin and a warm core.
In the past, I have also explored the extremes of heat while crossing Death Valley on a bicycle in the summer time. In a way, it was pure bliss to be borderline delirious under an oppressive sun. It’s something I often go back to in my body’s memory.
If you want to increase your feeling bandwidth, consider taking some cold showers and maybe doing some public speaking. Get curious about discomfort and pain and start exploring!
4. Make Love
Enough with the pain. Pleasure has it’s benefits too!
Our bandwidth of pleasure probably hasn’t narrowed very much over time, however this doesn’t mean experiencing pleasure with more presence cannot increase our ability to feel.
Before I met my wife, I experienced food pretty much with the standard categories of ‘sweet’, ‘spicy’, ‘bitter’, etc. I also judged food as pretty much ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Through her attention to finer details and her sharing them with me, I have come to appreciate food on a much deeper level. I taste more now than I used to taste. I’m also learning to taste all the subtleties in wine (albeit slowly, as I don’t drink alcohol very often).
The thing about pleasure is it slows down time. The greater the pleasure, the slower time moves and the slower time moves, the more detail we get to experience. My deepest and most subtle abilities to feel have certainly come through my many experiences with women, but these are also rivalled by the times I’ve spent alone in nature. It sounds cliche, but the more of my skin touching the earth, the more I feel the earth. I spend a lot of my time completely barefoot, mostly because I like to feel the grass, the sand and even the asphalt beneath me. Be it a woman, or Mother Earth, there is something naturally grounding about it plugging into the polar opposite of my thinking mind.
Within every pleasurable experience are a multitude of pleasures waiting to be discovered.
Remember, feelings are like Gremlins. If you want more of them, just add water.
5. Ask parts of your body questions.
One of the ways to get more in touch with what we feel is to ask ourselves to answer questions ‘from’ different areas of our body. Here are four questions I find useful to ask about a particular issue:
1. What do I know from my head?
2. What do I know from my heart?
3. What do I know from my gut?
4. What do I know from my groin?
Most everyone comes up with different answers to these questions. Granted, it may be that we have cultural ideas about what each of these locations represent (I.e. rational, loving, instinctual, sexual), but my experience is that there can actually be a subtle localized feeling (n) associated with each of the points of consideration.
I do not make any assertion that any particular ‘location’ of a feeling asserts any kind of ‘truth’. I just consider it to be more information. I think it is worth considering that the place in your body you act from will be the source of what you create in the world. For example, if we act from our heads, our creations will be of our heads and they will serve our heads. If we act from our hearts, our creations will be of our hearts and they will serve our hearts.
No part is true and all parts can inform you.
6. Get a teacher.
Earlier, I mentioned the importance of being able to feel what other people are feeling. In this same way, having a teacher who can feel in you what you can not feel in your own body, can be a great way of helping you to ‘wake up’ to what you are feeling. For example, my teacher, John Wineland, feels things that I am feeling before I even feel them! Numerous times he has brought my awareness to something that was going on inside my body which I hadn’t noticed because I had the ‘isolate’ button on and was just listening to the single guitar track. My wife is feels more of what I am feeling than I feel myself, but I’m much less patient with her when she points it out!
Find a teacher who can feel what you are feeling better than you can yourself. In general, women are wired for this more than men, but this doesn’t mean guys cannot learn to feel deeply. My wife says her experience of John Wineland is that he feels as much as a woman does, probably even more than some.
“But I’m NOT in my head. This is just how I feel things.”
When people retort that they aren’t in their head, I’m always skeptical. Reason being is that in order for someone to reasonably make the accusation that someone is in their head, they need to be able to feel the difference. The more I learn to feel my body and get out of my head, the more I am able to feel when other people are in their head.
At the risk of sounding elitist, feeling is kind of like a super-power. I watch my wife in wonder when she feels things I can’t feel. The more I become able to feel, the more I realize what I was missing out on before.
With the isolate button on, if you aren’t used to hearing anything more than that, you’ll just assume the single guitar is all there is. You won’t know you’re missing out on anything.
There is always more to be had from life though. There is always more to see, more to hear and more to feel.
Get out of your head, into your body and feel all of the music.
Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself
1) What does it feel like when I’m in my head
2) What does it feel like when I’m in my body
3) Where, in my body, am I right now?
4) What could I do to feel more?
- What do I know about this from my head?
- What do I know about this from my heart?
- What do I know about this from my gut?
- What do I know about this from my groin?