Help me get out of my head.
August 31, 2011 10:35 AM   Subscribe

My brain/body balance is way off. How do I fix it?

I'm not what you would call a very physical person. I live in my head; my body is the thing I have to feed that takes me to the bookstore. Because of this, I'm acutely uncomfortable with tasks that call for agility, balance, or any kind of physical confidence. Things like dancing, or any sports, or, well, physical intimacy. I just get stiff, self-conscious and awkward when I try to do these things. I'm not even good at hugging!

Right now, the only way to loosen up when I'm going to do something physical (in the case of dancing, or kissing, or karaoke-- not sports) is to have a drink or two. This seems like a suboptimal solution.

What are some things I can do to get more comfortable in my body? Keep in mind that I embarrass easily, so I would prefer they not be things I have to do in front of a large group. Also, I have a low tolerance for new-agey language. Oh, and I'm terribly inflexible physically-- can't even touch my toes.
posted by nonasuch to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yoga. I know, new-agey here and there, but you can find classes that are more grounded in the athletic, being aware of your body vibe. Those are the ones I really like.

These classes are really really great at making you much more aware of where your body is in space, which muscles make what move, learning to stabelize your self, etc. Some people who have never had your issue, won't understand. But after a couple of yoga sessions I virtually quit checking table edges with my hip, carelessly dropping things, and falling over virtually nothing. True story.
posted by stormygrey at 10:40 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding yoga.

Got into it in 1988 due to severe head injuries.

It makes you feel comfortable in your own skin.

You can find classes/teachers minus all the yogic overlays. E-mail me for more information (styles, what to look for in a teacher, etc. Where you live will help)
posted by goalyeehah at 10:47 AM on August 31, 2011

Do you have any other sensory issues w/ touch, texture etc? Sounds like you could have a sensory processing disorder. It can affect balance, coordination and even cause social issues. I'd look into it because you can try out some occupational therapy or something else.
posted by no bueno at 10:47 AM on August 31, 2011

Just throwing it out there as an alternative to yoga although I would recommend yoga as well.
posted by no bueno at 10:48 AM on August 31, 2011

Is this a problem with all sports, or only sports done with / around other people? Dancing, kissing, karaoke and sports seem to have little in common *except* for the self-consciousness angle. How would you feel about bicycling, juggling or cross-country skiing -- sports you can do all by yourself, without witnesses?
posted by jon1270 at 10:50 AM on August 31, 2011

Practice doing the things you aren't good at. You're not good at doing them because you don't do them. Nobody starts life good at anything - look at how long it takes us to learn how to walk and talk.

With regards to hugging, or dancing or whatever, do you have a sympathetic friend you can practice on?
posted by Solomon at 10:50 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Swimming really challenged (and ultimately helped) me with this. It's precisely the kind of activity that requires you to put intellectual processing on hold, and a great swim teacher can be gentle and tuned-in and helpful without being humiliating.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:51 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

P.S. If you check out my website, don't let it weird you out....especially the raccoon stuff : )
posted by goalyeehah at 10:51 AM on August 31, 2011

Seconding a swimming class. It's like meditation for me because I have to focus so much on my body so that I don't drown. There's tons of drills a good teacher will run you through to help you focus on form/coordination. And because everyone else in a class is also focusing on not drowning, no one is paying attention to you/your lack of coordination/your speed or lack thereof/whatever body issues you might have.
posted by adorap0621 at 10:56 AM on August 31, 2011

Also, seconding the swimming as I've recently been doing that solo. 30 minutes a day. I found that for the first 2-3 weeks I would continue to process as I gradually began to work more and in sync with water. (Maximum movement with minimum efforting, breath rhythms, etc) it was just yesterday that I noticed this. Something nice about having the cocoon of water surrounding you.
posted by goalyeehah at 10:59 AM on August 31, 2011

If you're not into yoga or swimming, I've found that using an exercise ball at home has helped me a lot with balance and feeling better in my body. I replaced my computer chair with one and use it to stretch and become more flexible.
posted by patheral at 10:59 AM on August 31, 2011

Start dancing by yourself more often. Turn on your favorite tunes and bop around a little. Work up to dancing in a crowd without alcohol. There's a magic moment that comes when you realize that it doesn't matter how well you can dance, as long as you commit. I think this is true for a lot of physical activities - including those you mentioned.
posted by jrichards at 11:01 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Coming back to add some science since you don't like the woo woo. What I would concentrate on is ProprioceptionThis is like a nifty sense that is super important and we just don't think about much. Its our ability to know where our body is in space and time.

There are lots of good ideas out there to help improve it. They seem to be very effective in avoiding injury, being more stable, etc.

To get a good idea of how proprioception works, there are lots of tricks.

When I worked at a science museum, The ruler trick was by far my favorite demonstration of proprioception. (pg 23)
posted by stormygrey at 11:01 AM on August 31, 2011 [10 favorites]

I can relate. Be sure to focus on things that encourage you to get out of your head in addition to getting into your body. A lot of sports do both, especially extreme ones...when you're out surfing, you really can't obsess about x, y and z back on land. But there are lots of things you can do that focus on one half of the equation – either getting out of your head (without necessarily engaging the body in some way) or getting into your body (without regard to whatever your head is doing. Ultimately you want to be able to do both (getting out of head and into body), but that's advanced at this point, right? Work your way there.

Some things that target one, the other, or both:
  • Massages
  • Going for long walks, especially hiking. Allow your mind to wander along with your feet. Don't worry about not thinking. Think away. But be aware of the shifting focus between your thoughts and your feet moving you along. Play with it.
  • Mindless mental exercises to burn off the thinking energy: puzzles, challenges, math problems, etc.
  • Yoga, meditation, and all that stuff recommended upthread.
  • Coming up with new challenges, tailored to you! (A cop out, I know...I've run out of ideas of my own here.)

  • posted by iamkimiam at 11:04 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

    I've told this story before, but I'm going to drag it out again. ;) When I was a child, a doctor told my mother that I saw myself as a head with a body dangling underneath. So I know what you're talking about. She put me in ballet classes and that helped me a lot, in a similar way that yoga helps: you really have to focus on correct form, so you become more conscious of your body placement, plus you increase your balance and flexibility. I would suggest any sport that has a similar focus on proper body placement.

    Oh, and another thing: dance and yoga taught me that I could do physical things, do them well, and that my body could be a source of pleasure, not just this thing that led to public humiliation when I failed (again) at organized sports in school. That was huge for me.
    posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:30 AM on August 31, 2011

    Seconding massage. Get a massage once a month or more for a while -- you can find deals-- and be sure it is a therapist who makes you feel really safe. If you feel uncomfortable at first, practice focusing on breathing...deep abdominal breathing, not the shallow chest kind. Well, keep that up -- it allows you to feel things more. In massage, you find yourself becoming aware of things in your body you don't usually pay attention to.....sensation and "feel good," to begin with. Pain, too. Letting yourself feel pleasure in a safe way is pretty important to fostering this connection with your body.

    Massage has been the key for me in getting out of my head and into my body. If you can find one, it would be worth its weight in gold to go to a "intro to massage for non-professionals" class. It's amazing and a powerful impetus for getting you comfortable, connected, and feeling like a real person.

    Good luck -- we're rooting for you!
    posted by sleeping beauty at 11:30 AM on August 31, 2011

    I've suggested bikram before but it's a bit much to launch into right away. I would just start walking for 30min a day (pick a faraway coffeeshop, walk a dog, walk yourself, walk home partway from work...whatever you can do to put it in your schedule so it's not a big ordeal like 'going to the gym'- ie you have to get home from work anyway). Then build it up to 45-60min. Your body will get more toned and you will have more social interactions and notice more things than you would staying at home. It will get you 'out of your head' a bit. All the other stuff prob requires more practice- I'm not qualified to give that kind of advice!:)
    posted by bquarters at 11:31 AM on August 31, 2011

    (I'm still on the sub-optimal 2 drink solution myself!)
    posted by bquarters at 11:33 AM on August 31, 2011

    If you want to try a little yoga without the woo, try The Firm Power Yoga DVD--it's yoga for people who want the exercise part without the meditation, talk about "energy," etc. At the linky above, you can preview the video and see if you might like it.
    posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:39 AM on August 31, 2011

    Are you generally a very physically tense person? I am. I always hold myself stiffly and awkwardly, even when I'm alone and in private - it's as if my body is a wooden puppet being controlled by a slightly inexpert puppeteer - and that makes me pretty awful at anything requiring grace, poise, balance etc. I never look as if I'm at ease in my body. And I very definitely live in my head. I don't think it's coincidental.

    Anyway, if that's the case for you as well, then anything that helps your body learn to be more relaxed in general might also help you feel more in touch with it. Tai chi is something I keep wondering about, for instance, partly because I'm one of those bookish types and hey look, I have a book. ;-)

    (No concrete "this worked for me" suggestions, sorry; I'm just offering another way of looking at the problem. Like bquarters, I'm still on the two-drinks solution myself - yoga, massage etc. sound great in principle, but in practice the element of OMG PEOPLE! would really get in the way for me.)
    posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:17 PM on August 31, 2011

    The only things that helped we were yoga (power yoga doesn't tend to be new agey, and the postures switch more quickly which I think helps with everyday balance), and also ballet. Beginner adult ballet class was totally non-intimidating and helped more than yoga with balance, in my honest opinion.
    posted by Acer_saccharum at 12:31 PM on August 31, 2011

    I can relate! I used to have a very strong sense of the ladder I'd climbed up to live only in my head, and it wasn't a good thing. All of these things have helped me:
    - yoga
    - tai chi (great for the proprioception)
    - kickboxing (way to feel like a badass!)
    - bootcamp classes (some of all of the above)
    - bodyscan meditation
    - running

    Don't be like me, so stuck in your head that you only exercise alone for years before being willing to take a class. Nobody cares how you're doing in class but you. And they're so much fun! You, too, can become friends with your body until you and your body are... like one!
    posted by ldthomps at 12:38 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

    Martial arts might also be a good option. All of them will help you with body-awareness issues, and some will teach you functional self defense as well.
    posted by HighTechUnderpants at 1:37 PM on August 31, 2011

    You say "they not be things I have to do in front of a large group" but I want to emphasize that if you were to take a martial arts or yoga class, you wouldn't be *in front* of a large group, you would be only one person within a large group. Not as embarrassing as you might think, once you plunge in.
    posted by RobotHero at 1:50 PM on August 31, 2011

    Can you stand on one foot for 60 seconds? 10 seconds? Set a goal and progress towards it.
    posted by at at 7:40 AM on September 1, 2011

    in the vein of the yoga comments, anything physical that involves mental focus on a very individual, personal/private (ie, not team sportsish) level would be worth a shot, especially if it involves seeing tangible results/quantifiable progress. i know people hate the weight lifting chirping on mefi, but i guess i'll come out and say i was totally like you (and can still default to that, i'm sure), partly personality ("brain" and bookish dork as a kid), partly to numb self/try to (not) cope with trauma growing up, etc. and aside from a very gradual sexual blooming through the years (at times solo and kind of approached like a bookish nerd to get info, at times with a partner), and beginning a weight training program turned me on to living a very physical existence in a way that's been exhilirating and enlightening. i did some physical stuff before of course--yoga, pilates, cardio, walking, swimming, rollerblading, cross country, horsebck riding, etc.--and there's a peace that can come with that stuff but _nothing_ has demanded so much of me in-the-moment in a way that makes me live in my body fully as the weight lifting. and it lasts afterward too; i sleep like a baby and can almost feel my muscles resting and repairing and growing, food tastes good when you work hard, there's mental clarity and a sense of pride and self reserve knowing i can do what i couldn't last month bc i worked hard. the charting progress, the hard numbers i thought would be tedious but it turned out they were perfect for a geek like me, and bc i could see the numbers go up, the progress is a fact. iirc krista on stumptuous said she had a similar revelation, where she never figured she'd take to it and then to her surprise realized she was pretty damn good at it and it suited her in terms of concentration and all that. i realize whatever that thing is varies by person. but finding it--the thing that makes you challenge yourself, even scare yourself a tiny bit at first and then gives you an overwhelming feeling of physical accomplishment AND can be entirely privately done, not a contest, just you against you--is worth investigating.
    posted by ifjuly at 8:37 AM on September 1, 2011

    I haven't seen anybody here recommend qi gong yet, apologies if I missed that. Qi gong is a more relaxed mediative activity and does not depend on your being spable to do a headstand or execute some deft pose.
    posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:21 PM on September 1, 2011

    I was also going to suggest bikram yoga but it's probably not the first thing you should try. Maybe another type of yoga or taking walks or swimming.

    The nice thing about bikram is that the room is so hot that it's nearly impossible to think about anything other than what you're doing for the 90 minutes(and the 90 minutes does not seem like 90 minutes; so many people in the classes I've taken talk about how they've had trouble finding other types of exercise where the minutes don't drag by). You are also so focused on what you're doing that a. you're not going to be paying much attention to the other people there, and b. no one will be paying attention to you either.

    So, you might not want to try bikram first, but if you're intrigued and want to, you should totally jump right in. It's just a more intense form of exercise than a lot of people realize. It will kick your ass in the beginning no matter how in shape you are, but I don't think it really kicks a beginner's ass any more than an advanced person.
    posted by fromageball at 5:52 AM on September 2, 2011

    « Older How to Embed Video in E-mail for Dummies   |   How to nicely DTMFA? Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.