Knowing Yourself: Pretty Tough Right?

Natalie Collins

At 110%, one of the key aspects of our work is giving our users the space to reflect on their work and relationships and to grow in self-awareness, so helping them to work and live in meaningful ways.

But there are different kinds of knowledge. There has long been a tendency in Western culture to prioritise intellectual knowledge coming from the brain. ‘Know yourself’ as an aphorism came from the Ancient Greeks and they kicked off a pattern of knowledge that heavily favours what can be thought, intellectualised and categorised by the head. This creates a dual approach that often dismisses the body as a mere holder for our brains.

I have experience of this path. Having studied Classics at university (hence the Greeks finding their way into this blog post) I spent my early career in academic publishing; thinking, talking and editing words. It was what I was trained for, and it was the obvious route. But I constantly felt something was missing: I felt strangely unfulfilled, and it was starting to affect my motivation for work, and my enjoyment of life.

So I had some therapy, and my therapist did something revolutionary: she asked me how I felt. Not in my head; in my body. How did I feel, and where exactly did I feel it?

My initial response was pure confusion. But she stuck with it, introducing me to mindfulness methods for connecting with feelings in different parts of my body, like my gut or my heart. I listened to what my body had to say - for example, when I stopped and tuned in to a part of my body, how was it feeling at that moment? Was it tight, or relaxed? Was it holding stress, or anger? Or joy? What did it have to say to me?

As I got the hang of it, I found that re-engagement with my body changed everything. I got to know my bodily experience and conceive of myself in different ways. They say you listen to your gut, and I guess I learned to do that. I started my own business with a partner - which involves a combination of physical and practical work with the strategy and administration that comes with any business - alongside therapeutic training. For me, these changes in my life were linked; I got to know, trust and inhabit my body through the demands of physical work alongside the guided reflective space of the therapy room. They were different aspects of the same journey.

One of the great voices of bodily approaches to therapy is Stanley Keleman. In his 1975 book Your Body Speaks its Mind he described the difference between ‘being somebody’ and ‘having a body’: He was describing the alienation that occurs when we separate our brain and the rest of our body and see the body as other, rather than as an integrative and vital part of ourselves. He said of this, ‘I don’t believe that there is a conscious part of us which directs our behaviour, independently of our bodies.’

Our bodies have important messages to tell us, if we will only listen, whether that be the pain of withheld stresses, or the tummy ache that my friend gets when she’s anxious, or the numb exhaustion of a day that was just too full. It is only when we take the time to connect with these feelings and to value what they might be telling us that we can begin to act and change.

Day-to day, there are many ways that we can reconnect with our bodily selves. I find yoga a powerful way to tune into my body and give space for feelings I may not know I’m carrying to come to the surface. But going for a jog or mindfulness can also work well – it’s important to find your own approach. Even if you’re stuck at your desk, you can take a moment: just stop and take a deep breath. As you breath in, you can ask yourself how you feel, and where you feel it – in your stomach, your back, your heart? Let your to-do list go for a moment and connect with yourself. What do you need? Then breath out, and go back into the day carrying that knowledge.