The wisdom in our bodies and why it matters


If you can see it, you can manage it. If you can’t see it, you will be managed by it – Bob Anderson

A few weeks back, I had a conversation with someone important to me. The conversation started in the land of easy and checking in with each other. Then one comment from my friend sent me to a place where I froze. I actually lost my voice.

I’ve learnt that the response of shutting down in the way I did is an instinctive and primal response to protect myself. It’s only in recent years, that I’ve learnt that there is information in that for me. That the very responses in our bodies provide us with insight into what’s really going on for us.

In that conversation, I was so triggered by what had been said that I felt under-attack. And under-attack, my primal response was to be small and still as some way of protection. Let’s be clear that I wasn’t under-attack and it hadn’t been the intention of my friend.  But something about what had been said hit me in the core in a way my rational brain couldn’t have predicted.

The tightness in the chest, sweating palms, heaviness in the shoulder – all these responses provide us with data in addition to what our brain interprets.  In this example, whilst my brain could rationalize what had been said to me, my body could and would not.

For someone very left-brained like myself, the idea that the body has wisdom and information first seemed both silly and rather new-agey and certainly not for me. It was through my coach training that I learnt to take note of what was going in me as much as what my mind was processing. We are also trained to help clients explore the gold mine that is the body experience.

Richard Strozzi-Heckler, the grandmaster in the world of embodied leadership talks of the neuroscience showing that intelligence lies not just in the mind but in the body as a whole.

There are at least two other centers of the body that have been shown to have some functions that are surprisingly similar the brain in your head. Recent work in neurocardiology suggests that the heart has an extensive intrinsic nervous system that enables it to process information and to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain.

So the heart works independently of the brain – how cool is that!

Similarly, the relatively new field of neurogastroerentology has demonstrated that there is another “brain” in the gut – known as the enteric nervous system – that also functions nearly independently of the brain inside your head. It is because of this that you can digest food without a second thought; it’s also why a person can be “brain dead” but still have the ability to process nutrients. In fact, the brain in your gut sends signals to the brain in your head nine times for every signal in the other direction. In other words, your gut has more influence over your mind than you might have imagined! While your heart and gut definitely do not “think” in the cognitive, rational sense of the word, they do pick up critical information from both inside and outside the body and translate it into actionable information.

In our western culture, we deify logic and rational thinking. And in doing so, close ourselves off to the idea that our body has ‘actionable information’ for us. We have so many rules and judgments about emotions and the role of the heart and gut in our lives.

These beliefs influence how we show up and how we allow ourselves to experience the world. And in my view, make our lives rather monochrome.

What ultimately convinced me (and my coaching clients) in the value of exploring physical experiences alongside the cognitive experience is the notion that if you can’t see it, you will be managed by it.

It took me several days to process the conversation that triggered me so. By including my physical response in my reflections helped me come to a realization of just how important this person’s opinion is to me. Does that matter? I don’t know yet but it’s information that I wouldn’t have gotten had I stayed in the land of rational exploration.

It takes courage to revise how we make sense of the world we live in. If the idea is new to you, I can only encourage you to try it out. This shift in approach has deeply impacted how I live my life, and the lives of my coaching clients.


  1. Claude Laroche
    July 17, 2014

    Great blog post Catherine ! The body possesses wisdom that needs deep listening. I believe that this deep listening can nourish ones ability to living more fully in their entire life. Thanks for sharing your experience.


Leave a Reply