Touch – Body Awareness

Our sub-cultures' body awareness exercises prioritise the sense of touch, even how breathing feels by touching. I believe animals sense and understand their bodies, not only with their tactile sense, but also by smelling, tasting, listening, and seeing.

To start with it's necessary to review a few things about breathing and the sense of touch.

The Five Legged Starfish

In the womb, our body shape develops like a 5 legged starfish, and every one of the 5 ends – hands, feet, finger and toe nails and skull – is hard (bony) and sensitive. Both the sensitivity and the hardness make good sense, because that's where our ancestors kept bumping into things.

As we evolved, we started moving in one direction and collected all the main sensors at one of the ends (the end which got the most bumps), with the other four ends doing what the main-sensor end told them.

It is interesting to realise that every one of the 5 ends can feel, hold and do things. The hands and feet can feel, hold, and do things with objects; and the mind feels (recognises, realises), holds (remembers), and does things with thoughts.

The Elements

I find the traditional idea of earth, water and fire, a useful basic exercise to explore the inside shape and feel of the skin we are in. (Wind comes later with breathing.)

The five ends are hard and sensitive. It's signifcant that all these ends have two sides: the sensitive side, face, palms and soles – and the back bony side. So the palm is actually the face of the hand.

Next are the five limbs (arms, legs and neck), thin long bending areas, hard bony centres covered with watery blubber. Then comes the hard frame – the hips, shoulders and rib cage. And then (very sensibly protected in the middle) is the most soft and sensitive area.

To summarise this picture in elemental terms: the ends are earth-fire; the limbs are water; the frame is earth; and inside is water-fire.

There are various temperatures – where does it feel warmest? And how does your spine feel – does it feel hard? or soft? or warm?

And notice the heart beating. We know the beating comes from the heart, but i find it easy to feel as though the beating comes from the solar plexus and the belly. What is your felt-reality?

There are many questions about inner-body sensation which i would like children to clarify. What can they feel without any scientific knowledge? What is the natural approach to body awareness?


When i was young, every night before sleep, i would lie on my back, be aware of my breathing, feel my whole body expanding and contracting, and feel whole and at peace. This experience filled me with a wonderful feeling of reality and truth.

I thought that i breathed into and out of my belly, and this somehow caused the whole body to expand and contract. There was nothing mystical about it, i'd read nothing, i was just very naive.

In addition the sensation was as though i was breathing in and out through my skin, rather than my nose; i knew this couldn't be true, but it felt good so i just went with it.

My childhood experiences were so normal, habitual and enjoyable that i never even started questioning them.

Science vs. Felt Reality

I was maybe lucky that i never had biology lessons. When i was around 17 (after leaving school) i started reading, and discovered much to my amazement, that we have lungs pumped by a diaphragm.

The anatomical science is good to know, but we seem to have forgotten the subjective feeling which has been at the foundation of every warm-blooded animals self awareness for at least 150 million years.

It is irrational to believe we breathe into the belly and that the whole body expands and contracts, but that's how it feels. No animal or child could ever imagine the air goes first down the wind pipe and then back up into the lungs.

To feel whole we need to be in touch with our feelings. Our culture's therapists know that it is necessary to acknowledge and work with the felt-reality of irrational emotions, in order to be whole. The same applies to irrational physical sensations and wholeness of body.

Rediscovering the Basics

After long years of useless sidetracks, i started remembering and reconnecting with my childhood experiences again about 20 years ago... by observing animals.

Now i know it was not just as a result of the breathing and the inner sense of touch – i was also aware with a subliminal sense of tasting, smelling, listening and visualisation inside my own body. I know this because i can recreate a similar feeling by using all these senses.

Over the years i've spoken with a number of teenagers, who lie on their backs and experience a similar sort of peace and completion... it's a 'just being'. It seems to occur sometimes spontaneously and then develop into a habit just because it feels good; and it seems to stop when 'real' life begins, with the multiplicity of wants, sex, work, learning, and being an adult.

So, among the Questions for Children, the first i would love parents to ask their two to ten-year-olds is: "when you breathe, where does the breath go in your body?"

Contact is welcome with anyone, but particularly anyone who else who remembers, or still has naive experiences of whole body breathing.

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