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Changing Your Body Changes Your Self

Posted: 11/05/09 12:57 AM ET

A number of months ago I attended a four day course at the Strozzi Institute, Center for Leadership and Mastery titled Leadership in Action 1.

After it was all said and done I began to feel somewhat ill. A lot of the stuff that surfaced was rather ugly. It forced me to look at  the numerous ways I turn away from what I believe is important to me -- everything from peace to people.

Our bodies don't lie. In fact, they are obvious truth tellers if you know what to look for. So when we put ourselves into stressful situations we all revert to our conditioned tendencies. Some of these tendencies are patterns we've developed over the years through repetitive thought and action. Others are habits we've internalized, experiences that have shaped us. Some of what we unconsciously carry we've inherited or learned from our parents or lineage. It all runs very deep and there's no escaping it.

I took the course work for both myself and my business. As a media coach I need to observe how my clients respond under pressure before they make an appearance on TV. Under pressure they reveal themselves both positively and negatively.

Then we need to deal with those physical responses and reactions, which include sudden twitches, grimacing and shoulder hunching, to more subtle changes like jaw tension, excessive blinking and frowning. We work toward resting in a place of relaxation and focused attention so they can respond from a centered and grounded place without negatively reacting to the interviewer or style of interviewing. Simultaneously, we work toward getting their message out under any circumstance while being perceived as credible, likable, respectable and trustworthy.

The Strozzi work addresses all of this and more and is based in Aikido and somatics (looking at the whole person: a unity of language, action, energy, and meaning), so it gets into how we respond unconsciously beyond just "thinking."

What I keep coming back to is how daily practices shift our thinking and behavior in profound ways. Through repetition and dedication, anything is possible and change happens.

I've committed to doing a number of things to move toward what I care about most.

  1. Letting go of non-essential details that don't move me toward what I want.
    This means extraneous email, flipping through catalogs, superfluous work.
  2. 30 minutes of meditation a day.
    This is a tough one for me with such a busy mind and active body. I haven't yet set a standard time, but I just make sure I get it in sometime during the day.
  3. 15 minutes of jo practice.
    (Aikido weapon that looks like a stick -- see photo). These movements help embody a connection to the self and are essential for Aikido practice.
  4. 30 minutes a week in the garden doing nothing.
    What is nothing? I have no idea. Will let you know how this goes later....
  5. Not reacting to my mother 1 out of 20 times.
    A lifetime of practice? During the course when I said my goal for this was three years, Mark Mooney, the instructor looked at me dumb struck. "No, Susan," he said. "How about three months." I think three years is probably what it will take, but nonetheless I've agreed to three months. God knows how many hours it will take to allow this to happen.

All of these practices will build a stronger core body. Over time, new patterns of responses are built into muscle memory so our reactions will eventually become a new, automatic way of being. It takes 3,000 repetitions to change a pattern and 10,000 repetitions to embody it.

To stay on track every day I remind myself of Gandhi's words, "My life is my message," to move toward a self that is fully integrated; thoughts, words, actions. Eventually, the shape of my body will actually change, not superficially, but structurally, internally, and that new shape will in turn inform who I am continually becoming.

Susan Harrow is the author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul. She runs a Media Consultancy where she helps everyone from Fortune 500 CEOs to celebrity chefs, entrepreneurs to authors grow their business through media coaching and the power of PR. For more information please contact Susan.

 

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