Your Body is Genius. Here Are 7 Ways to Access its Deep Intel
Updated: Aug 13
By harnessing our body’s deep intelligence, we can develop a right here-right now sense of presence that allows us to access and cultivate our inner resources in the moment.
Your body is genius. Mindful. Wise. Adaptive. Dynamic. Discerning. Intuitive. It bears rich and powerful renewable inner resources. An unfathomable depth and breadth of intel is alive and accessible within us.
This intel holds an enormous present moment potential. It’s both our biological gift and psychological challenge. When we ruminate on a past event or experience, our thoughts can get ‘stuck’ and our brain circuitry locked. When worry spins a future-cast of our worst fears, our nervous system can perceive danger cues, registering a state of anticipatory dread that triggers a cascade of stress chemistry. Sometimes this cascade is a split second event from which we return to baseline and carry on, and sometimes, this cascade is a chronic state of stress arousal that doesn’t resolve in the usual 20–30 minute stress recovery window. Our capacity to notice much about our present moment experience becomes compromised.
When we miss the moment, we miss the intel.
By harnessing our body’s deep intelligence, we can develop a right here-right now sense of presence that allows us to access and cultivate our inner resources in the moment. Learning to bring gentle attention to our inner experience can allow us to give attention to the outer world with more nuance and understanding.
Here are 7 ways to that help us turn awareness and attention into meaningful action and generative change.
1. Practice compassionate curiosity.
What we practice grows. Neurons that ‘fire together wire together’. And…neurons that ‘fire apart wire apart’. The brain’s neuroplasticity is its capacity to change and be literally shaped by experience.
Behind the middle of your forehead — the mid pre-frontal cortex — are the potential capacities for emotional regulation, cognitive flexibility, fear modulation, compassion, intuition, even morality. This potentiality lies in our intentional reflection, our mindful awareness, and our relationships. This intentional process integrates the brain through linking differentiated parts and forming new integrative neural circuits through repeated practice.
Curiosity promotes neuroplasticity. Being curious strengthens our brain’s attentional and reflective circuits. Become curious about being your own witness, your inner observer. Curious about your internal world of sensations, feelings, and thoughts. Curious about your reactions, patterns, and needs in relational spaces — the mutual mirror between you and the world.
Notice the grip of inner judgment begin to release. Become more aware of roles of engagement and modes of disengagement.
A practice of becoming curious means we can tell when we are bracing for perceived danger and when we we feel more open up to generative possibility. And when we can’t make that distinction, we are open to feedback.
2. Notice your patterns.
The brain/body is a Grand Central Station feedback system, perpetually scanning our inner and outer environments 24/7. Even while we sleep. Through in-built adaptive capacity, we unknowingly adjust, accommodate, and anticipate sensory information — sensing threat before we even have cognition of it.
Our 3-pound human brain, with its galaxy of neurons and pathways, is constantly scanning environment and people’s faces for safety or danger cues. Our ears are listening to tone of voice. Too low feels threatening. Too fast or loud keeps you from approaching.
Two little almond-shaped organs called amygdala (Greek for almond) sit on both sides of the brain’s limbic system, monitoring and processing thoughts, emotions, and how we try to make sense of our experiences.
The amazing HPA Axis is like an internal pinball machine. In response to a stressor, the amygdala kicks off a chain of reactions, by signaling the hypothalamus which signals the pituitary gland which activates the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys, which secrete stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
Know your stressors and stress responses. Stress can alter our states and senses. Peripheral vision narrows. The structure of the inner ear changes. We hear differently when we’re in acute stress. Without conscious awareness, our sympathetic nervous system mobilizes the body to fight or flee a perceived or imagined threat. If fight or flight doesn’t facilitate stress recovery, the parasympathetic nervous system produces the freeze response — immobilized — with or without fear.
When you get to know your stress responses, you notice patterns. Since the brain is a pattern-recognition organ, taking a moment to pause, sense, and reflect, is an interruption in pattern.
In that pattern interruption, you have a little more space to notice what’s happening within. We learn to mind the gap. And tend to it.
Use your senses to track sensation, titrate feeling when it may be overwhelming, to stay grounded in the moment. Gradually, we learn to reset our nervous system, to shift, to see ourselves and others in a new light.
4. Co-regulate to self-regulate.
We are wired for threat detection — and social connection. The brain is shaped, wired, and developed through relationship. Trusted, meaningful, connected relationships promote positive flourishing. In fact, from cell to self, our whole body is wired to thrive in relationship. Social networks build neural networks.
We learn how to self-regulate through our innate capacity for coregulation. Hugging boosts our immune system. Touch grows the brain. So does connection and reflection. Listening to the same story produces synchronized brain waves in us, a phenomenon called neural coupling. Perhaps this is one of the underlying neurobiological gifts of sharing stories of adversity and trauma in brave, vulnerable, safe spaces. Our brains synchronize with others. And within our own bodies — there are brain cells in our heart (heart brain) and lining our gastrointestinal tract (gut brain).
Our body knows a safe space — and person — when it senses it. That’s not new age. It’s ancient. Our human bodies evolved with an internal system that orients toward attachment and safety for survival. This attachment is deeply ancestral as much as it is biologically motivational.
In the face of adversity, the safe haven of trusted relationships create a buffer against the negative, otherwise lasting, effects of stress and trauma.
Safety is hard-wired and conditional. From cell to self, safety-seeking is our body’s essential need. Feeling safe is non-cognitive, neurobiological, regulatory, preventative, restorative, and healing. We are built to co-regulate each other’s nervous systems.
5. Know your way around Vagus.
The brain-body has a complex transportation infrastructure. The amazing wandering vagus nerve, the 10th cranial nerve (actually, a cluster of nerves), is the longest in the body’s nervous system.
From the base of the brain’s cerebellum, extending down the neck and face, wandering down into the chest and down through to the abdomen, it’s both a super-conductor and intra-connector. Vagus, derived from the German word vagustoff which means wandering, winds through and maps the body’s communication systems like a brain-to-belly superhighway.
The vagus nerve is bi-directional. It is constantly taking the body’s internal inventory, and providing constant feedback, signaling the brain to release acetylcholine — the body’s most abundant neurochemical — which plays a big role in motivation, memory and cognition.
A well-functioning vagus is a key to good health. The good news: You can boost vagal tone in seconds to minutes:
Breathe deeply. Like this.
Sing, chant, hum (breathwork with melody).
Laugh (breathwork with joy).
Stretch. Do some yoga.
Move your body. Moving is inner resourcing. Scientists have discovered that our muscles produce myokines, aptly referred to as “hope molecules.”
Spend some time being in nature. (Even just looking at scenes of nature can boost stress recovery and produce feelings of wellbeing.)
When we’re more vagus-aligned, we can be more values aligned.
From heart rate and blood pressure to how we breathe, move, digest, even how we use our voice, what happens in vagus influences how we feel, function, flourish, express ourselves, and show up in the world.
6. Embrace your emotions.
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, author of The Feeling of What Happens, explains that “feelings are what arise as the brain interprets emotions, which are themselves purely physical signals of the body reacting to external stimuli.”
Emotions have physiology. When we can track a feeling in the body, locate it, label it with discernment, and get as specific about it as we can in the moment, we develop what neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett calls emotional granularity — a capacity promotes emotional resilience.
Emotion is energy. “Energy in motion”. Running from emotion does not outrun it. A body that’s burdened with the cargo of pent up anger or suppressed sadness will eventually tell you it can go no further.
This emotional intel is a call to action. If you know you’re harboring fear and anger, and you now recognize it could hamper your body’s good work, call a meeting. Question your fear, your rage, kindly and firmly. What deeper needs and vulnerabilities lie beneath? Your body’s genius knows.
Your body is the ultimate energy preservationist. It adapts and rearranges and tries to move resources and reserves around. It will carry your load, but only so far. Listen for its signals.
What’s the story of your anger in the moment? What is the back story for your fear? Where are you holding the tension of disappointment, bracing for the next? Fears of rejection can hold physical pain.
Be curious about your story — how it shaped you, but doesn’t define you. Curious about the narratives you bring into spaces.
When you’re curious, you can get granular. Practicing emotional granularity is a way of understanding the deeper experience and meaning of how we ‘feel’ and research shows that developing this practice helps us cultivate emotional resilience by becoming “better calibrated to cope with different circumstances and potentially more empathic to others,” as neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett writes in her book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain.
Our stories hold our pain and our poetry, our connection to nature, to our roots our present moment emotion, ancestral memory, our traveled journeys, our wounds and our wisdom, our pathways of healing, liberation, and love.
7. Use awe as fuel.
Research on awe is revelatory. Dacher Keltner, author of the book Awe, encourages us to find “everyday awe.” Notice nature around you on your next walk. Recall an event or occasion that gave you a sense of awe. A breathtaking place. A moment of profound human connection. A spiritual experience. Life and loss, joy and grief. Awe is a universal experience.
Awe expands our sense of time. It creates a different perspective, a sense of “perceptual vastness.” Awe boosts immune function, expands our awareness, as we take in what our brain perceives as new information. Awe bolsters decision-making.
This vastness is deeply resourced inside us. Research on lovingkindness meditation, for example, as a way to cultivate empathy for yourself and others shows that this practice can reduce inflammatory cytokines in the body. Positive emotions researcher Barbara Frederickson says these feelings of awe, joy, gratitude, inspiration are like “micronutrients” for the heart and body. Our body converts them into fuel. We need this fuel to build resilience in the face of life’s storms.
Accessing our body’s genius intel cultivates a sense of interpersonal belonging, a physiology of interconnection within and between us.
Marveling at the change that is in progress and alive inside each of us gifts us with an expanding capacity to envision and put into action the outer work of co-creating the generative and sustainable changes in the world we wish to see. Right here, right now. - LH