A few years ago a friend sent me a link to a multiple intelligences test. When I saw my results, there was an explosion of acknowledgement inside me, and my body whispered, ‘what do think I’ve been trying to tell you all these years?’. My score for kinesthetic intelligence had dampened out the scores for my next two or three highest forms of intelligence by a huge margin.
I wondered why I had needed this test to tell me this, when ‘Life’ had been telling me the same thing since I had been a kid. Perhaps even though I had been acutely aware of my preference for kinesthetic modes of being, knowing, and learning, nobody (including me) had used the word ‘intelligence’ before. I had only heard (and subsequently learnt to use as labels for myself), words like – ‘restless’, ‘overactive’ and ‘fidgety’. Mostly these had been observed as characteristics that made me unfit and/or a pain for others, during classes, meetings, journeys where one is seat-belted, or concerts and parties where you are expected to be seated throughout.
Apparently, I used to cry a lot in nursery because I hated sitting in class. The only activity (amidst what was offered to me) which I agreed to do, was tag along with one of the helpers whose job was to mop the corridors of the school. So eventually the teachers just let me spend my school hours pottering up and down the corridors alongside this cleaning lady. By LKG (lower kindergarten) however I had been socialized and trained well enough to sit through classes.
One of the telling characteristics of Kinesthetic Intelligence is that it requires you to be able to move the body to be able to ‘think’. In fact kinesthetically intelligent people don’t ‘think’ just in their heads but they ‘think’ in their entire bodies and their bodies often need to move to stay engaged and interested. Even in higher grades, and college, I did my most effective studying outdoors – in gardens, on terraces, while walking, on trees, and even while cycling.
I now teach management at one of India’s leading business schools, and while I have been able to conduct some sessions and activities outdoors, I still land up teaching a lot within the walls of the classroom. Fortunately for me, I get to walk around and move my body as I teach. However, my heart goes out to the students who have to sit boxed up in their chairs for more than an hour and somehow manage to remain intellectually engaged.
Kinesthetic intelligence is not just about the need to move in order to stay engaged and think (although that is an important aspect of it). It is also about being able to ‘understand’, ‘learn’ and literally embody knowledge through and in your body. It includes being able to receive signals and cues from your body and being able to decode and respond to those signals effectively. In 2004, I had taken some time off to go and stay at a yoga ashram, and I eventually got trained as a yoga teacher. This was the first time I was exposed to an institutionalized system that at least acknowledged the role played by the body and attributed some intelligence to it. I have since then been drawn to several modalities like ninjitsu, dance, reiki, pranic healing, and tai chi – each of which included the body (to varying degrees) as a key player involved in learning, performance, and wellbeing.
I have typically found it difficult to sit in cars or airplanes for long durations unless there is a vacant seat beside me to put my legs up, wriggle around into different postures or even curl up and lie for a bit. My body stiffens to the point of making me feel ill and nauseous – unless I allow it to move, shake and twist a bit. For many years I used to blame myself for my inability to ‘adjust’ and sit still. However my judgement around the ‘inability to sit’, vanished when I gave birth to my own son. I watched with great intrigue as my son (and other toddlers) put up heroic battles to avoid being strapped into their buggies. The only times my son would want to sit in his buggy was when he was really tired or if he was falling asleep. I can now only marvel at this magnificent creation of a human body that does not give up it’s rights and desires – to move, to bend, to twist, to jump, and to curl and rest in varying postures.
I wonder how we can create modalities of learning that recognize that students do not need to be forced to cut themselves off from their bodies in order to sit in class benches to ‘learn’. How about learning as we lie or sit around in a circle in the grass, learning while we hike up a hill, and learning as we sit on rocks – feet immersed in flowing water. I wonder how we can create home spaces and furniture that don’t assume that only a particular posture is best – each time we eat, read, write, watch TV, or even chat on the phone. I wonder how we can design planes and cars and busses that allow us to stretch our muscles, curl up for a bit and enjoy the journey not just in our heads (by watching a movie), but also in our bodies by letting them stay alive. I wonder how we can create workplaces where people will be able to bring their whole selves to work – mind, body, and spirit, in ways that will be win-win for the employee and the organization.
I am amazed at the naivety with which we abuse and torture our own bodies and then wonder why they don’t cooperate with us in keeping us healthy and happy. I wonder how we can start tapping into the intelligent capabilities of our bodies and acknowledge our bodies as the living beings they are – not just as empty shells that we inhabit and drag along. I wonder what it will take to see our bodies as the vivacious miracles that they are and to acknowledge the joy and fun of being embodied in them.