Body Intellectuals Unite!


My mentors and friends, Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry, are the co-founders of InterPlay, a global social movement dedicated to ease, connection, human sustainability and play. Phil and Cynthia proclaim themselves to be body intellectuals, and after studying with them and becoming a certified InterPlay leader, I too proudly took up that mantle.

InterPlay LogoWhat is a body intellectual? In their book, “The Wisdom of the Body,” Phil and Cynthia explain that body intellectuals “strive to understand and articulate the fullness of physical experience.” Body intellectuals use the whole body as a tool for discovering and exploring ideas.

This makes so much sense to me that I’ve put it at the center of the work I do with individuals and groups. In fact, my “office” is a big open space with a wooden floor. There’s plenty of room to see what the body has to say.

To be a body intellectual, you start, like Phil and Cynthia taught me to do, with body data. Body data is all the bits of information your body is processing in any given moment: My hands are cold. I have a slight ringing in my left ear. I’m aware of the smell of popcorn and notice I’m hungry.

Body data collected over time becomes body knowledge—the accumulation of data into noticeable patterns or habits: I like sleeping with the window open. I prefer driving with the radio off. To be my best, I need to eat every three or four hours.

Body knowledge can then be applied in service to the self and the world—and at that stage, it becomes body wisdom. You take what you know about your body (or other bodies) and change your behavior or environment in response: I’ll pack myself an apple to avoid getting cranky when I’m picking up the kids after work. Let's start today's staff meeting with a riddle to get everyone thinking outside the box and having fun.

InterPlay Gold HandSo simple. So powerful.

Here’s another way I use body data, body knowledge and body wisdom with clients. I begin by having them make two lists: what’s working, and what’s not working in their lives. Then through a series of steps, they learn to embody the essence of how each list feels. For example, maybe “what’s working” feels joyful and expansive (arms out, chest open, spinning and laughing) while “what’s not working” feels cramped or stuck (sitting in a tight ball with arms clasped around knees, head down).

The magic key comes from the final step: creating a physical transition from “what’s not working” to “what’s working,” and noticing the first tiny impulse that starts that transformation. Does it begin with looking up? With taking a breath? With expanding the shoulders?

What I’ve witnessed over and over is that if a person invites that subtle physical change into his body when he’s smack dab in the middle of something that’s not working in real life, then that’s often all it takes to get things working again. No complex multi-step plan required—just a shift in posture, a conscious intake of breath or some other minute physical change—and the body’s wisdom takes over.

Notice body data + Gather body knowledge + Apply body wisdom = A better life for you and everyone around you—co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family. Cheers for body intellectuals everywhere!

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