Today's exercise is inspired by an experience I had recently, while hiking with my friend Dr. Susan Bernstein. We were discussing a decision I was struggling to make, when she said, “Are you willing to try something?” Typically up for anything, I nodded. For her PhD dissertation in mind/body psychology, Susan studied people who had made major career transitions, focusing on how the answers to our dilemmas live within our bodies. We’re all familiar with this concept. When we get an intuitive hit about something, we feel it “in our gut.” When someone hurts us, our “heart breaks”. But Susan’s passion involves taking this embodied intelligence a step further. She now offers career coaching and other coaching services, guiding people through how they can call upon their bodies to help them make decisions.
She asked where my body would like to experience the session, and my body chose the beach where I live, so we walked there. Upon arriving, Susan asked me to put forth my decision. After explaining to Susan the three paths I had to choose between, Susan asked me to choose three places on the beach to represent each of those three choices. For one, I chose a fallen log. For another, a pile of rocks. For a third, a place on the shoreline.
She then asked me to tune into my body and listen for an instinct or an impulse to guide me where my body wanted to go first. My body chose the pile of rocks. When I got there, she asked me what my body wanted to do. My body knelt to its knees. She asked how that felt, and I felt tears well up. It felt supplicating. It felt like prayer. But I also felt a rush of sadness, as I wondered why I chose this particular spot, representing this particular choice. Choosing that option would require me to give up something I don’t feel ready to give up. She asked what movement my body wanted to do next, and I took my hand and held it to my neck. Gently, she guided me by continually and gently asking what my body felt like. It felt like being strangled, like my voice was being cut off. More sadness flooded through me.
After a whole series of these types of movements, she asked me to feel what came up for me when my body did what it felt called to do while moving to the pile of rocks. I realized that my body didn’t want me to choose this fork in the road. It desperately wanted to get the hell out of dodge and go feel what it would be like to be in one of the other spots. Susan suggested that I listen to my body while tuning into my mind. When I’m trying to make this decision, perhaps my body wishes to pray on hands and knees with my hand over my throat. She says that allowing my body to authentically move into the positions that feel right opens my heart to what might come next.
My Body Wanted More
Susan and I ran out of time together, but a few days after she left, I felt myself being guided back to the same spot on the beach, where I moved to the fallen log, which represented another fork in the decision-making road. Inviting my body to move, I wound up lying flat on my back, with my hands raised. Doing this, I felt relief. A feeling of surrender overcame me. I felt rested, relaxed, and released. Trying out the third choice, I moved to the shoreline, where my body moved into a jumping stance, knees bent, ready to pounce. And just as I bent my knees, as if prepared to take a Pleap (Pink leap of faith), I found myself drawn to another spot on the beach, farther from the water, back at the base of the rocky cliff.
Another Choice Came Forth
Suddenly, I realized I had a fourth option when making my decision. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but my body lit up at this fourth option and went galloping over to the spot at the base of the cliff. When I got there, I sat down, cross-legged in the lotus position. Moving my neck from side to side, I felt tension in my neck release. My body wanted my jaw to drop, and my mouth hung wide open. I realized that I felt rested, inspired, in touch with the Universe, and that I had things to say.
Was it really this easy? Could my body be telling me to choose this fourth choice? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try kneeling with my hand over my throat and see what comes up.
Let Your Body Guide You
What about you Pinkies? Do you have tough decisions your trying to make? Try this exercise inspired by Dr. Susan Bernstein’s Work From Within coaching:
1. Get clear on what your choices are. For example, if you’re trying to decide how to spend your week of vacation time, set forth your options. Maybe one option is to stay home and rest. Maybe another is go to Bali. Maybe a third is to visit a national park and go hiking.
2. For each of your options, choose a physical place in an environment where you feel expansive,. It could be indoors or outdoors. Assign each place to one of your choices. Maybe going to Bali is at the base of a tree, staying home is next to the river, and going to a national park is in the middle of a field.
3. Tune into your body and let your body be guided to the spot where it wants to go first. Don’t judge what you choose - just follow your impulses and go.
4. When you get there, close your eyes and let your body move into any position, allowing your body the freedom to move however you feel drawn. Susan encourages you and your body to feel as one-avoid thinking of the body as "it" -- we use "it" all too easily, and unfortunately, which perpetuates the mind-body split. When your body gets into that position, check in with how you feel. What does that movement invoke for you? What comes up?
5. Allow your body to move through as many movements as feels natural while you’re hanging out in that spot in your body.
6. If you feel called to move to another spot, do so. Then go through the process again.
7. After you are done, try meditating, praying, or resting in some of the positions your body moved into. See what emotions, memories, thoughts, or insights come up.
What About You?
After you’ve tried it, check back in with us. What does your body tell you? Did it help you make your decision? Have you had other experiences with letting your body be your guide? Please share your journey with us and let us support you as you explore the path to finding your answers.
A big special thank you for Susan Bernstein for turning me on to this powerful exercise and for supporting me fully as I walk this glorious path of life.
Dr. Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, an author, a nationally-represented professional artist, and the founder of Owning Pink, an online community committed to building authentic community and empowering women to get- and keep- their "mojo". Owning Pink is all about owning all the facets of what makes you whole- your health, your sexuality, your spirituality, your creativity, your career, your relationships, the planet, and YOU. Dr. Rankin is currently redefining women’s health at the Owning Pink Center, her practice in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of the forthcoming What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin's Press, September 2010).