The human body is a fantastically complex, self-sustaining organism that has something like 10 trillion cells and 11 different systems all working together to keep us active, healthy and alive. Our body is something we take for granted but completely rely on every day for walking, talking, thinking, breathing and many other things. Apart from aches and pains, for much of the time, our body remains outside our awareness.
For 90% of human history, it would have been normal to see our body as part of nature, no different from the plants and animals that we encountered. This makes sense, as all the cells in our body are built and replenished from food from the earth, which, at one level, makes us no different from all the other living organisms on the planet. As human beings in the 21st Century we’ve almost become “heads on sticks”; spending most of our attention lost in thought or pulled into external distractions like smartphone apps, with little awareness of our body.
Up until recently, science treated the body as a passive servant of the brain. This idea has now been turned on its head with the discoveries from embodied cognition; that the whole of the body is involved in forming a sense of self and emotions that support much of our thought and how we relate to other people. In one experiment, people had their face stroked as they watched a random face being stroked on a screen at the same time and reported that they face on the screen started to feel like their own. Experiments like this show how we tend to feel closer to others when they mirror our expressions and posture.