What you can learn from people watching

I love to people watch. To notice what others are wearing. “Would I wear that?” Or  wondering where they got it, wanting it for myself, sometimes asking them. 

I also notice what others are doing, or how they are doing it, often learning something new and useful. One morning, on a shared vacation, my friend Susan watched as I cleaned the blender after pouring our morning green drinks, filling it with hot, soapy, and hitting puree. “Brilliant!” she exclaimed. Now she cleans her blender the same way. 

But most interesting to me is how people inhabit their bodies. Do they hold their arms tightly to their sides as they walk, or swing widely. Is their stride short, long, uneven? Do they look at home in their skin? Where are their shoulders?

How we are in our bodies tells a story. A story that is valuable to the owner of that body.

During Covid, my husband and I have spent more time at his family's beach place. When we were here in May I noticed a man walking by my lounge chair. He was not the socially- distanced-6 feet from me so I instinctually recoiled further into my chair. As he passed I resumed my comfortable, observational, vantage point. The first thing I noticed was his gold lame speedo. Then his sunburn. Then how he threw his right leg out to the side as he walked. Hmmm? What was that about? An injury? A somatic response to early trauma? Had he stepped on a broken shell?

While back at the beach in September I saw the same guy-I remembered him. Same bathing sun, same sun burned skin, same walking within my covid established 6 feet of personal space and same leg flying out to the side as he clipped by me. His gait certainly didn’t slow him down. Was he aware of his leg swing or had it become so natural it was now habit? Did it affect his hip? His back? His jaw? I wondered about him and his story.

A couple of years ago my friend Lisa, a thoughtful, skilled yoga instructor, was helping me decipher why the back of my heel hurt. She told me that I don’t roll from my heel all the way up to my toes, that I stop at my arch leaving my toes out of my footstep. Could that be the issue we wondered?

So for a while I paid very close attention to my gait. Was I fully rolling or half flat footing? My heel did begin to feel less tender as I practiced elongating my foot roll completely to my toes. As my pain eased I stopped noticing. Without the pain I forgot to notice.

Often it is through pain that our bodies get our attention. That stiffness, tension, ache is our body's way of helping us notice some repetitive pattern or habit.

A habit is something we do without thought, conscious awareness or current choice. When we live from a habituated place we call on a decision, or reaction, that is days or decades old. 

How we breathe is a perfect example. In my family I was commended for being a quiet breather. That meant no long exhales. And without a long exhale it is difficult to have a full inhale. So in order to be praised, I decided to become a shallow breather. I continued this habit until adulthood when it became popular to notice your breathing by making noise when you exhale and thereby fully inhaling. Blasphemy! 

Breathing noisily changed me. My mind slowed down. I could sit in stillness-still enough to  people watch. I feel better when I breathe fully.

Changing my breathing took Noticing. Noticing. Noticing. Myself. Myself. Myself.

When we notice ourselves we know ourselves. This is not about getting it right, or even doing it right, it is an invitation to simply notice, to know. When we hold kind curiosity, our ability to notice increases. As we make a conscious choice to notice our habits, we then determine if it does or doesn't suit.

Change is hard. But change is choice. Noticing that I clench my jaw is the only way I can practice dropping my tongue from the roof of my mouth. She doesn’t want to relax. She has a job to do pushing against my palate, keeping me in fight or flight in case that saber tooth tiger is around the bend. Dropping my tongue is a practice I do over and over and over. And some days I notice my tongue is resting without my awareness. A new habit is formed!

So I invite you to notice you. Be interested in you.

How do you habitually “be” in your body?

Experiment with change.

What do you notice when you try something different?

Say I Do to You!

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