Build a Stronger Sense of Self with Organ Awareness

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I was hurrying along a forest path to get to a workshop session on time when I realized my shoulders were up around my ears and I was hardly breathing. Suddenly I remembered my organs, especially my heart and lungs and how they can support the shoulders. As I remembered, my shoulders and neck relaxed into the organic support of my heart and lungs and I immediately slowed down, started breathing fully and noticed the beauty surrounding me. I arrived to teach the session relaxed and calm.

I love teaching experiential anatomy of the organ body. We don’t often think of our organs as a source of support or movement initiation. In fact, we don’t often think of our organs at all unless they cause distress. But think about it- approximately 8 kg (17.5 pounds) of slimy tubes and oddly shaped organs of varying densities are tightly packed inside our torso like clothing stuffed into a gym bag. Like the clothes, the inner volume and compressive pressure of organs provides shape and hydrostatic support from the inside out. In German, the word “innehalten” describes this support from within. Well-toned organs emanate vitality that is observable in alignment and tone of overlying structures.

Most fitness and rehab regimes work with the musculoskeletal system. When a felt sense of organs is cultivated, and their substance and volume is experienced through experiential anatomy, they can transform into an accessible source of support and a deep locus for initiating movement. They can play a powerful role in shaping structural alignment. As we develop organ consciousness, our muscles can stop working so hard.

As we tune into the felt sense of organs, the sympathetic nervous system calms and the parasympathetic system activates. This slows the breath and movement, and encourages rest and digest functions. Try it next time you feel anxious! Organ awareness can also connect us to our “gut” feelings, the raw, unedited emotions often suppressed out of fear or politeness. It helps us to get out of our head and into our body, a necessity for many of us. We may learn to identify internal organic sensations that represent specific emotions, which may deepen our emotional intelligence. Butterflies in our stomach can indicate nervousness, or tightening around the heart may let us know we are in resistance to someone. By listening to the language of the organs, we can connect to our authentic emotional self and more accurately express our authentic responses.

Research has shown that organ awareness can even give us a stronger, stable sense of self. The heart, breath and gastrointestinal rhythms transmit signals to the brain that contribute to a stronger sense of self by generating feelings of embodiment, sensing where our body is located and knowing we have agency. We may feel a sense of inner fullness and be more willing to give ourselves compassion and self-support when we practice organ awareness. Organs can become touchstones for accessing and living from our deeper self.

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