The other day, I learned that there is this whole thing called “the quantified self.” According to Wikipedia,
The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs, … states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEG, ECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing, is also known as lifelogging.”
There are online communities of people who track as much bodily data as possible and even create Excel spreadsheets to analyze their daily activity in exquisite mathematical detail.
I admit, I wear a step tracker to motivate me to be more active and get my 10,000 steps a day. And I use an app each morning for meditation… so I’m not a total Luddite. These products can provide us with valuable information about our health. Knowledge is power, and gamification is powerful.
But I’m a little concerned about what the proliferation of these devices and apps says about our relationship to our bodies. We can outfit ourselves today with products that will monitor heart rate and breath and sleep and posture and movement and moods and even brain waves! The data is conveniently stored and often displayed as a text alert.
When asked how we’re feeling, we can now check our phone to find out.
Am I the only one who finds this a little weird?
It reminds me of the odd experience of lying down at my doctor’s office during an ultrasound exam, reaching my hand up to a blurry black-and-white screen to “touch” my 12-weeks-past-conception baby, even though she had already been intimately connected to me for several months. I could have actually touched her by rubbing my belly… but medical technology projected her onto a two-dimensional monitor to make her “real.”
Is the same thing happening with our phones?
Are we turning to all these devices because we’ve become so disconnected from our bodies we can no longer detect the analog signals they’ve been sending us our entire lives?
Neuroscience tells us that our brain is not an isolated programmer that robotically sends coded instructions to the various systems of the body. The brain also carefully monitors our internal physical states to detect important signals and make needed adjustments. There are many neural and vagal pathways that take messages from the lungs, viscera, and skeletal muscles and relay the information to the brain.
In essence, the body is continuously updating the brain about how we feel.
And you don’t need Wi-Fi to access the data.
Every experience we have — every thought, every crisis, every joy — is embodied. We know we’re nervous when butterflies flutter in our stomach and our pulse and breathing quicken. We know we’re happy when our chest warms up and our facial muscles move into a smile.
Ideally, the apps and devices we have access to today would help us re-connect to this bodily knowing, to re-member ourselves, and re-mind us of our internal resources.
Jon Kabat-Zinn says that if we can be reminded, we can also be re-bodied.
I find, however, that we don’t have a lot of practice with embodiment, despite the fact that we are embodied! When I ask participants in my classes to investigate an emotion, they can generally tell me exactly what they are thinking and imagining and catastrophizing over. When I ask them where in their body they feel this emotion, there is often a confused silence.
Because we could all use a little more body awareness, I, of course, have a NEW cool app for you!
To use the B.O.D.Y. App, you take out your phone, put it down, and follow these steps:
What do you notice about your breath? Is it rapid and shallow (a sign of stress), or slow and deep (a sign of relaxation)?
Spend a few moments paying attention to the act of breathing. Close your eyes if it’s comfortable. You may notice the breath starting to slow down on its own. As the breath slows, notice the impact of deeper breathing on your state of mind.
Either in a sitting or standing posture, observe your bodily position. Sense yourself in the field of gravity. Notice where your body is supported by the earth, where you are allowing gravity to do its thing, and where you are fighting gravity through muscle tension. See if you can relax into the present moment, fully aware of your surroundings.
Do a quick scan of your body — feet, legs, hips, back, chest, neck, shoulders, arms, and face. How are you feeling — actually feeling? Does anything ache? Where does your body feel good? Make note of what emotion(s) you may be experiencing (sadness, anger, joy, disgust, anxiety, etc.) and see if you can detect the physical markers of the emotion(s) in your body. (For example, happiness is often experienced with warmth in the chest, anxiety with tension or tightening in the belly).
(Do you know how hard it is to find words that start with Y?) For this step, it’s YMCA time! Pick yourself off the ground, put on some music, and do whatever you feel … or actually go to the YMCA and move your body! Track your steps if you’d like… but focus on how your body feels when you engage it. Don’t just park your body on the treadmill and send your mind to the rows of TV screens. Make your exercise embodied.
Our amazing technology is not the problem; it’s our dependency on the technology for information as we become more and more distanced from our selves. The phones and apps and data, if we allow them, can become another layer separating us from the bodily experience of living.
The present moment isn’t a simple data point. It’s not a sum of breath + blood. It is lived and experienced and embodied, in a beautifully complicated and richly nuanced manner that defies a simple smartphone notification.
Perhaps what we need today is NOT a large quantity of data, but a deep quality of awareness. Fortunately, we only need the first-generation release of Human 1.0 to access it.
No battery-draining Bluetooth required.
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