Living Through Body Language

Freeze.

Focus on your hands right now. Don’t look at them, just focus your mind’s eye on them. What are they doing? One might be touching your mouse or touchpad, the other resting in your lap or on an armrest. Are your shoulders hunched up? Don’t change them if they are. Just notice them.

Now focus on your feet. Are they both on the ground or is one resting over the other? Are they turned out or pointing in? what about your toes? Are maybe curled tightly under your feet?  What about your hips and spine? your posture right now? Are you hunched over? Sitting up straight?

Are you comfortable?

I’m curious how people feel going through an exercise like that. We can get so caught up in our daily tasks and thoughts that it becomes very easy for us to forget about our bodies. We might sit twisting our hips in an awkward way for hours before getting up and realizing something feels weird. I still put my elbows on my knees every time I sit on a toilet even though I know it’s going to make my legs fall asleep.

We try to take care of our bodies but most of the time our mental processes like our thoughts, daydreams or conversations, will usually come first. Especially now that we’ve added another drain on our attention on our digital identities, there’s even less attention devoted to our physical ones.

This is getting into a very ethereal topic that there really isn’t really any empirical evidence on (none that I’ve seen anyway). So I just want you to know of the bat that I’m writing purely on belief here. That being said, let me explain what I mean when I say “physical identity.”

I’m sure many of you have heard that how stand, sit, walk, etc. can convey certain feelings and ideas to others. This is body language and when it’s not being used as a means to get ahead in the business world it’s usually ignored. I imagine even the thought that body language could tell you more than just a person’s mood sounds crazy right? I mean how can we seriously think that you could convey anything meaningful through anything other than words right?

I would argue our bodies can convey a lot to a trained eye, hand, nose or ear (Keep your tongues to yourselves though). If you’ve ever been applauded after a performance or you could sense you were about to receive bad news, you know what I’m talking about. It’s how you can see some films without any sound and know exactly what’s going on.

There’s entire discourses happening through our bodies with every person we pass on the street, but since only the biggest gestures have english words attached to them, we’re barely conscious of it. The more subtle uses of body language usually just get written off as a gut-feeling or a sense, but we still pick up on them.

So if body language can convey as much information as a spoken or written language, and if you believe like I do that we develop our sense of identity through language, than you could argue that one could develop an identity through one’s body language, right? Well yes in theory, you could, but I’m sure that doesn’t convince the most skeptical of you. And you’ve probably never consciously tried to develop your identity through body language so you wouldn’t even know what that would look like, right? Well don’t worry, because I know someone who has tried to develop a body identity and can tell you all about it. That person is me. This is the part where you gasp.

Growing up I never had a strong idea of who I was mentally or emotionally. I wasn’t sure if I was smart, cool, nerdy, pretty, strong or any other singular trait that I thought made up other people’s identities (I watched a lot of TV growing up). I didn’t realize then just how complex an identity could be, all I knew was style, and I could see that style in movies, on TV and in every person I looked at. I loved seeing how some people carried themselves, almost like they were dancing their way through life, and I strived to find my own dance. Some moves and gestures I borrowed from Athletes or characters on TV , others I made up on my own, combine all those moves together on top of the quirks of my personal body and you have Ben Hyclak’s physical identity.

People who know me might be able to attest that I have some interesting physicalities, I stand on one foot a lot, I might grab an object in a unique way, and god help you if you’ve ever seen me dance. But largely I think a lot of my physical identity goes unnoticed, which can sometimes be lonely but I understand why it happens.

It’s just like what I was saying above. We tend to value our mental/emotional connections and identities through written and spoken languages, while our physical identities largely go unexplored. It’s why computers aren’t navigable through sign language. Well not the only reason, but you get what I’m trying to say.

I’m trying not to come off here like a kid who makes up his own language and expects his parents and friends to speak it. I’m just saying that there’s an entire part of your identity that rests in your body and you might not even realize it. So why not try experimenting with how you move through space, you just might find a new way that pleases you.

 

 

 

 

You can unfreeze now.


 

Thank you so much for reading! This was a very interesting and surprisingly personal essay for me to write so I really appreciate you sticking around and reading my ramblings.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness of your body and body language, you should check out this episode of Tom Ashbrook’s radio show On Point.

Also if you want to see a great example of the use of body language in TV, watch Bob Odenkirk’s hands in Better Call Saul (FYI This link has mild spoilers). His performance in that show is so inspiring I might make a video essay about it in the future. 

Finally, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne has written a very comprehensive guide to body language for Psychology Today, but if you’re looking for ways to change your physical identity, the best resource for that is you!

Also If you’re interested in getting new stories sent to you via facebook, feel free to like the brand new Living Through Language Facebook page!

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