Name It!

Nov 02, 2023

Your body is a kaleidoscope of information. This information comes in the form of “sensation”. You feel a rumbling in your belly when you are hungry. You may feel like there’s a ball of lead in it when you fail a test. That zingy excited feeling that starts in your belly and rushes up through your body? That’s excitement…or fear…or something else. Everyone has their own feelings. Yours may be different from mine, but we all have them.

One day the thought came to me, “I’m happy.” Then I wondered, “How do I know I’m happy?” I checked the sensations in my body to find out what happy feels like. The words that popped up were “buoyant, calm”. My body felt quiet and steady. It also felt like a big colorful hot air balloon ready to take off with all the people I love on board.

Next time someone says, “I feel (tired, hungry, excited, mad, bored).” Ask them where they feel it in their body. What’s the sensation they’re aware of that makes them say how they’re feeling? Where’s this feeling born in the body?

The truth is, at first, this can be super annoying. Because often you don’t know. At first, you’ll say something like, “Huh, I don’t know.” But when you’re patient and pay attention, you’ll start to notice different feelings in your body that relate to states in your mind. 

It’s like walking into a darkened room. At first, you can’t see anything. As you spend more time in the room and your eyes adjust, you start to make out some shapes. Then after some time, you can see even more.

If you have chronic pain, a medical condition or a physical disability, you may think about your body all the time. Your body may communicate with you more, or differently, or in some areas, not at all.

I’ve been teaching families about how to live well in their body for many years. Someone who taught me a lot about this is Matthew Sanford. He’s been paralyzed since he was 13 years old. He now teaches body awareness to people with physical disabilities. He teaches them to listen very carefully to their body. There’s an energy – a hum or a buzz – that you can tune into even when the signal lines are down, as is the case with paralysis.

Matthew told me once that, in some ways, it’s harder for me to learn about body awareness than him because I have an “easy” body. He needs to pay closer attention to do physical things like morning stretches so it makes him more aware. You have an opportunity to befriend your body, however it is. A feeling of wellbeing can be experienced by anyone in any body.

Here’s a great practice to help kids become more aware of the physical sensations that pair with their emotions. 


To “Name It!”, it can be helpful to start with a menu of sensations you can say “yes” or “no” to. Here are some examples: 

Another common response to this question of “Where do you feel an emotion or experience in your body?” is “Everywhere!”

That’s what seven-year-old Jackson said. His brother had just pushed him down as they walked into their after-school program causing his new Pokémon backpack to twist off his back and fall to the floor. The tension had been building up for a while before they came in. His brother teased him for spilling milk at breakfast and he tripped him on the way to the bus.

He was angry and said so. He had some practice exploring the kaleidoscope of information in his body and knew the “Name It!” game.

Me: Hey, Jackson! What’s up?

Jackson: I’m angry!!

Me: Where do you feel that in your body?

Jackson: Everywhere!!!

Anger is a big, strong emotion. It can feel like it’s taking over the whole body. I gave him some options, like a menu, to pinpoint the sensations a bit.

Me: Do you feel it in your big toe? Do you feel it at the tip of your nose?

Jackson: No and no.

Me: Do you feel it in your belly?

Jackson: Yes!

Then, he could describe it.

Me: Tell me more.

Jackson: It’s hot, heavy, moving fast. 

Locating and describing the sensation was enough to help him feel less angry. Instead of the anger driving him, “Name It!” put him back in the driver’s seat.

Sometimes it feels scary to let in a big emotion. It feels like it may get bigger and bigger and take over. But that’s not true. It’s like a flower. It starts as a seed, comes into being, lives as a flower for some time and then dissolves back into the earth. Emotions and sensations have a natural life cycle too.

If you’d like more practical techniques for managing your mind and mood, check out Anxious to Awesome: A Practical Guide for the Whole Family.

Get 5 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Help Kids Feel Less Anxious and More Awesome

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