IQ...EQ...and now BQ! How body intelligence can improve your health
Your body is aching. You've trained 2 hours a day, six days a week, for more than 6 weeks straight. You continually push through the 'no pain no gain' barrier for faster results.
You know you should slow down but this punishment is given for the reward of rock-hard abs and a tight butt.
You took some time off your regular tennis classes last Christmas and got comfortable. You are rapidly gaining weight and losing muscle tone as the months pass. You are well-versed in the ins and outs of tennis, but you can't seem to find the motivation to pick up that racket and ball.
You know you need to head out and do a work out, but that snooze button is being thwacked at a consistent rate most mornings. And you roll over.
You love your yoga class. You've been going for a few weeks now and you feel like you're getting into the flow of it. If only you were as flexible as that long-legged, muscular dude who practices at the same studio.
You strain to touch your toes with straight legs, ignoring the teacher's instructions to move slowly into the pose and bend your knees to protect your lower back. You feel a twinge in your lower back, but ignore it and go deeper.
You might be a mathematician, an astronaut, a psychologist, a counsellor, an artist, a performer, an IT professional.
You might have an average to high IQ - intelligence quotient. You might have an enviable EQ - emotional intelligence.
You may be vibrantly skilled in any number of the multiple intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983, such as musical or linguistic intelligence.
Are you looking to improve your BQ?
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In order to have a thriving physical life, you really need enhance your BQ - your body intelligence, according to Margaret Moore, MBA, and Jim Gavin, Ph.D., in the November 2010 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal (Gavin and Moore, 2010). While Garner highlights that kinesthetic and spatial intelligence are key to an athlete's impressive and graceful abilities, Moore, founder of Wellcoaches Corporation, argues that BQ requires much more than that.
BQ is considered to be the combination of 3 important skills, or pillars:
somatic awareness - knowledge - engagement
Somatic awareness means how aware you are of your body; knowledge, what you know about your body; and engagement, what you do for and with your body.
This subtle and finely-attuned form of intelligence brings you in touch with what your body feels, needs, and knows, things which are uniquely different for each of us. It seems that this type of knowledge is essential for both enhancing your personal wellness, but also avoiding injury and illness.
You may know people who have a vast amount of knowledge about the body's physiology, anatomy, or perhaps even information in one particular skill, such as a football coach, or a dance instructor. Yet, when they themselves go to train, they push far beyond their own physical boundaries, causing micro-tears or strains that may eventually lead to long-term damage. Despite their incredible knowledge, they aren't tuning in to their own body telling them when enough is enough.
Or perhaps you know a brain surgeon or a famous mathematician who works well into the night, ignoring their own physical needs, the need to move, the need to hydrate, to the point of self-destruction.
Where do I get off making statements like this?
The truth is, I am one of those people. I admit it. I believe my BQ could be better, and I'm willing to bet it's the same for many of you. Most of us are lacking in at least one of the three pillars which make up a well-rounded body intelligence. Becoming aware of BQ and identifying where you are falling short could be the key to living with vibrant health for the long-term.
I can safely say that my BQ has improved over the years, especially after I began yoga and, much like anything you begin to pay attention to, I'm quite sure it will continue to improve. There's no end point to building this intelligence really, so there's no reason to put it off for later. You can begin to improve your BQ right now.
The question is, where are you letting yourself down? Is it one pillar, or two...or perhaps all three! Let's find out more...
Somatic awareness is the level at which you are tuned in to your body and listening for subtle shifts and signs of change. If your body could speak, these tiny sensations would be the words, or messages, telling you what the body needs and feels. Wilber (2000) distinguishes different kinds of sensations from subtle to gross.
Subtle sensations incorporate awareness of depleted or heightened personal energy, the awareness of where joy or sadness sits within the body, or the shifts in energy of the environment around you.
Gross sensations include the feeling of muscle tension when stressed, a limit to your range of motion, or muscle and joint stiffness.
Sometimes your awareness can be raised on either a gross or subtle level after eating a particular food. Perhaps this food gives you satisfaction and sustained energy, it may give you a quick rush and a massive dive, like processed sugar, or perhaps it gives you indigestion or stomach upset.
Developing awareness around the gross and subtle messages from your body allows you to make quick decisions and shifts in action, so you can guide your body to a safer, happier, and hopefully healthier place.
Somatic awareness and yoga
Having awareness of the subtle and gross physical sensations within the body is a key player in most yoga classes. It may be the first time that you have listened, really listened, to the inhale and exhale of your breath and noticed whether it is calm and gentle, or rapid and rasped, or somewhere in between.
It may be the first time that you have slowed down and paid attention to the sensation in your hamstrings as you stand and fold forward in Uttanasana.
It may be the voice in your mind, noticing the signs from your body and telling you to hold back from going into a full headstand until your shoulders and torso are strong enough to hold you safely.
A good yoga teacher will ask you to tune into your bodily sensations in each class, becoming aware that you are not on autopilot and that a pose which was accessible one day, may not be there for you the next day, like the balance needed in a standing pose. If the balance isn't there for you, you don't need to force yourself into it. It's simple. Yet it is so hard for many to let go of the need to push through it, and stop and really listen to their body's messages.
You don't need to go to a yoga class in order to develop awareness of the subtle and gross sensations from your body. See below for some tips on how to develop somatic awareness on a day to day basis.
Knowledge is a confusing subject in the internet age. And yes, I can say 'the internet age' because I remember a time when there was no internet!
So, on the one hand, we are able to access the answer to pretty much anything with a few key word searches on Google. This is an amazing thing. We can bring the University into the home and educate ourselves! Yet it can also lead to a self-proclaimed expertise in almost any subject area, including Google Doctor self-diagnoses, and remedies and concoctions to cure illnesses which are unproven and sometimes downright dangerous.
Using Google searches can lead to an overwhelming amount of information, resulting in 'analysis paralysis' as we sit like a rabbit in the headlights, unsure of what to do with all the Google 'answers'. Despite this, enhancing our knowledge, and connecting with like-minded people all over the world, for free, is an absolutely incredible achievement.
So much can be gained, and shared through the internet.
So we have all the information we need at our fingertips. All the knowledge in the world. Yet still people engage in unhealthy choices. As Gavin and Moore (2010) state, 'most people live as if the rules did not apply to them'. Are you one of those people?
Body knowledge is also known as 'health literacy' and considers things like, your level of knowledge over health standards and guidelines; how well you know generic scientific information and the application of it to your personal health; knowledge of scientific facts and practices; knowing what the appropriate actions are to diagnose and treat physical conditions, or what to do in the case of not knowing.
Let's try this. Can you answer the following questions:
What is the recommended amount of sleep per night?
What is the minimum amount of water you should drink every day?
What should you eat or drink to be healthy?
What is the maximum amount of alcohol you should drink per day or week?
How much exercise should you do?
What is appropriate exercise for you?
How should you sit when working or studying?
Do you know when an illness can be managed at home and when you should see a doctor?
Building knowledge can definitely be done with the help of Google. There's no doubt about it.
The important thing to be aware of though, is where you get your information from. I'll be the first to admit that sourcing knowledge from a blog is a murky place, sometimes more of a bog than a blog.
There are many experts or trustworthy people (plug plug) who write blogs. However, if they are providing evidence or new knowledge, just make sure they give you the source of their information. Check the source. Is it reputable? Is it from a scientific journal or reliable source?
These things matter
Because what Joe Bloggs says in Joe Bloggs Blog can't be taken as evidence unless they can show you it is true in scientifically controlled conditions or, at the very least, published by an academic or professional in the industry. And if it can't be taken as valid evidence, you are taking a very big risk in blindly following the advice.
Ok, I'm going off on a little tangent here I guess! But it's still related. It's all about knowledge. Grow your knowledge around health. Use your brain to determine whether the source is trustworthy, and give more weight to the information which has been proven. It is done to protect you. Phew! Ok. Moving on.
Knowledge and yoga
Yoga is another minefield altogether. Yoga can help you to build knowledge alongside awareness of your physical body. As you learn the strengths and limitations of your physical body and mind, you may also learn more about certain poses, and the philosophy that is the foundations of yoga, because the physical practice is really only one small part of it.
Having said that, these days you can have yoga asana in virtually every form.
I'm surprised I haven't seen cooking yoga yet... you heard it here first!
As there are so many yoga styles, and so many teachers around, it is easy to try something new. The only caution I would add to the pillar of knowledge is to check out the knowledge of your teacher also. Yoga seems like a very passive and harmless practice, but it is easy to sustain long-term damage to the body while doing it. Please practice in an environment which is safe, with a teacher you can trust.
Where to begin when building your knowledge? Scroll down for some tips below!
If you are able to tune in to your body and understand what it needs, and then actively engage in it, you are performing 'engagement'. There are no rules as to how long or how much you need to do something in order to be engaged. For some who rarely exercise, a short walk around the block - because you know you need to start moving - is a form of engagement. Being fully aware of what your body needs, and then actively participating means that you are totally tuned in to the fruition of awareness and knowledge through engagement. The other two pillars cannot function effectively without this pillar.
It is important to remember that, based on knowledge and awareness, your engagement can change all the time. You may start with a short walk, and then become aware that your body is used to it and can move more. You may then progress to a longer, brisker walk, taking into account all the time, that this may change, based on what your body needs each day. Awareness is about understanding when your resistance is psychological, and when it is due to a true physical barrier, and then engaging accordingly.
Yoga and engagement
If you practice yoga, you are probably familiar with your teacher saying something like, 'honour yourself for showing up', or 'yoga isabout showing up'. What does this mean?
Like any physical practice, you probably have many days where you'd rather stay at home in your pj's. For many, even getting changed and making your way to class is an act of engagement in your own wellness, and you should be proud of yourself for doing it.
Showing up to the yoga class when you are aware of your body and know what it needs - this is engagement.
Then, within the poses, bringing your full awareness and attention to the sensations of the pose, bringing your wandering mind back to the present moment of engagement in that pose - this is engagement.
Check out the tips below to build your pillar of engagement.
Putting it all together
I hope I have given you some sense of what Body Intelligence is in this blog. There is a lot more to uncover, but I wanted to share the basics with you. I am constantly focussed on improving all three pillars but, really, there is so much more to learn.
The first step is really to have a think on your own practices to determine whether you are not paying attention to one or two particular areas.
Perhaps you know very well what you should be doing, but you are not making the time in your day to do it.
Or perhaps you've recently thrown yourself into a boot camp, when really your body needs to start with some gentle walks and swims first.
No one is perfect and there are plenty of ways for us all to build our BQ.
How to build your pillars
Stop and notice - set up regular points during the day to stop and notice how your body is feeling, especially during any physical activity.
Perform a mental scan of your body - perhaps do it before you exercise, after you exercise, and a few hours later.
Start a journal on your physical practice routine. It doesn't have to be long, just a few points on how you feel before, during , and after the practice.
Find some reputable journals and news sources to build your health literacy
Join the mailing list of a news health website you can trust
Participate in a knowledge-building workshop, whether it is for healthy cooking, a first aid course, and so on.
Find yourself an exercise buddy you can check in with. You don't necessarily have to exercise together, but you can check in weekly and help each other to stay accountable.
Book yourself in to classes or sports. When the time comes to do the class, you can scan your body and decide whether it is appropriate for you.
Have a go at a new kind of exercise. There are plenty of free trials around. You might find something you like!
As a coach, I can work with you to identify the pillars you should be focussing on, whether it is one or all three. Together we can build a plan to help you gain confidence in your own body. I'm happy to chat with you about it at any time.
Disclaimer: As always, please see your GP before engaging in any new forms of exercise, especially if you are suffering from a medical condition.
Gardner, H. 1983, Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Book Inc.
Gavin, J., and Moore, M., 2010, Body Intelligence: a guide to self-attunement', in Idea Fitness Journal, November 2010, accessed 19 March 2016, <http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/body-intelligence-a-guide-to>
Wilber, K. 2000. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.