Working with Body Intelligence (BQ) and Self Attunement

Body IntelligenceHave you heard the term Body Intelligence or BQ? Most people are familiar with IQ; it’s a standard way of rating one’s reasoning intelligence compared to others. And as professionals, we may work with clients around issues of EQ or Emotional Intelligence, defined by Daniel Goleman as the ability to read other people’s signals and react appropriately. Building on Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking theory of multiple intelligences, Jim Gavin PhD & Margaret Moore MBA have developed a framework for BQ.

Body Intelligence Can Make Therapy More Effective

Trauma persists partly because of the body’s inability to release it, resulting in a “traumatized” personality. Our vagal nerve serves to connect our neurophysiological systems with our brains and emotions, a “bridge” running in both directions. As long as underlying physiological patterns dominate our patients’ responses, our clinical interventions are going to be mitigated, if not ineffectual, without focus on the body. As therapists, we can leverage Somatic Experiencing (SE) to re-establish the body-mind connection, allowing our clients to develop the capacity for change.

In Gavin’s own words, BQ refers to “how aware you are of your body, what you know and what you actually do for and with your body. “ Gavin and Moore call the components of their framework “pillars” and identify three of them: Awareness, knowledge and engagement. All three pillars are required for balanced Body Intelligence.

Learn how the principles and practices of Somatic Experiencing® can create permanent transformation of traumatic experiences with Dr. Peter Levine’s May 3 webinar Shifting from Constricted Past to Embodied Presence and Forward Action.


The Three Pillars of Body Intelligence

1st Pillar: Body Awareness

Awareness of the body’s experience can be grouped into two categories: gross and subtle sensations.

  • Gross sensations refer to experiences like muscle soreness or sitting awkwardly. For example, you can notice the gross sensation of your jaw and throat tightening to swallow while drinking a cup of coffee;
  • Subtle sensations refer to something less obvious, such as a feeling of fluidity or excitement in the body. These sensations encourage becoming keenly attuned to the effect of an action on the body. So you might notice certain thoughts or images arising while drinking the coffee.

Application with Clients

We can help our clients to develop mindfulness practices as well as body scans. Encourage them to stop and notice what their body is feeling throughout the day and to reflect on possible influences. Tracking these experiences in a daily log can also be useful and illuminating.

Dr. Norman Farb is well-known for his research on the relationship between present-moment awareness and well-being. Much of his work features mindfulness meditation training interventions to examine how attending to momentary sensations can alter one’s sense of self and well-being.

We can use momentary body sensation as an anchor to focused attention on the present. Developing interoceptive attention through awareness of changing body sensation may be a very effective technique when responding to problems that are created or perpetuated through negative thinking. Guiding clients in turning to the present moment through an anchor such as awareness of body experience can be a powerful tool for disengaging from rumination and disrupting cycles of self-criticism.


2nd Pillar: Knowledge

Knowledge covers scientific knowledge about anatomy, physiology, neuroscience and nutrition. It also refers to personal understanding of those dynamics within one’s own body. For optimized Body Intelligence, we need specialized knowledge of health practices for our individual human organism: how much rest we need to think clearly, which foods make us feel energized or how to keep our energy up throughout the day.

Application with Clients

To assist clients in developing their own body knowledge, practitioners can suggest carefully chosen readings in print or online, workshops, webinars, conferences or visits with specialists. Norman Doidges’ recent books on The Brain’s Way of Healing and The Brain that Changes Itself have been helpful to my clients.


3rd Pillar: Engagement

Gavin and Moore state that “engagement is commitment to intelligent action based on what you need at this point in your life.” Engagement is about our ability to stick with a practice, create a new habit or make a lasting change in choices around food and lifestyle. New habits and lasting change require motivation, self-efficacy and support from other people.

Application with Clients

Clients can learn to change patterns and develop positive new habits by mapping the sensations and thoughts arising during exercise or a specific practice. By taking them just a small bit beyond their comfort zone or “window of tolerance” we support growth and regulation both physically and emotionally.
The vagus plays a significant role in life-long problems with intimacy, trust and safety. We may see such clients presenting with a flat affect and flat vocal tone — signs of vagal shutdown.

How can practitioners create an experience of safety for the traumatized patient? A client’s ability to feel safe — not just intellectually, but also physiologically and emotionally — may begin with the therapist’s own use of techniques to calm the vagus. Our facial expression, tone of voice and eye contact project cues that affect a client’s heart rate and auditory muscles via the vagal nerve.

Recording available soon for The Polyvagal Blueprint for Trauma, Connection, and Recovery with expert Kathy Kain as part of the Expanding Beyond Trauma in Theory and Treatment webinar series.


The Goal of Evolutionary BQ

Just as an IQ score can be categorized as average, above average or genius, Gavin and Moore have developed three ranges for Body Intelligence: deficient, sufficient and evolutionary.

Someone in the evolutionary range combines engagement, awareness and knowledge into the ultimate expression of BQ. Evolutionary persons are dedicated to:

  • Integrating and unifying body and mind
  • Cultivating an active core and fluid movements
  • Mindful eating practices
  • Meditation or conscious reflection
  • Quality rest

This level of engagement may certainly be challenging for many of our clients. But I have found that a path of embodiment can maximize the possibility that they will feel empowered to work towards an evolutionary life.