How I hold myself is never simply a matter of body and bones and muscle It is also subject to what’s happening in my mind and what I’m feeling in my heart How am I being present to myself? Am I grounded and centered or caught up in some mind story? Am I feeling the heat of emotion pulling at my heart? Do I feel my feet on the ground? Am I focused on difficulties and challenges that lead me to “I can’t?” Or can I simply be present to what is and trust that I am really at home in this body And then settle into myself in a way that expresses the knowing that posture arises out of presence. Because the possibility of being truly present is what we have each moment of every day and every tomorrow as well.
Tag Archives: Body Awareness
Of late I have noticed an interesting phenomenon happening in my body. Expanding and contracting seem to best describe what it feels like. It’s a shift that originates in my core – in the center of me. My whole being expands, feels lighter, taller, fuller or I contract, fold in, release. It’s not a change in moments but in larger units of time and space. I don’t know if it’s perceptible to anyone though it’s bigness may be eye-catching. More than movement – this change inhabits my whole body and my attitude as well. Maybe it’s a different me. Is this what shape shifting really means?
What I know is that I can’t always identify a trigger for the change. And it doesn’t happen in an instant but more gradually over the course of hours or so it seems perhaps because I don’t recognize it right away. I try not to attach judgments either way – being contracted is not good or bad, expansion not better or worse. Each serves a different purpose – each is another way of being that serves me.
Being contracted is, of course, a more inward stance. My energy withdraws into my core and pools there. These are the times when I may be mulling or maybe not. Could be that the ideas or feelings need more space to rub up against each other. Sometimes it seems like a time of planting seeds and paying attention to what’s germinating. Never dull or numb but a place of richness and potential.
Then again there are definitely times when I choose the contracted way of being in order to conserve my energy. I told a friend recently that my body is keeping me honest – meaning that I pay attention to the messages my body gives when leaning into depletion. Checking in so I don’t push too hard. I’m past the youthful mindset of believing my actions won’t have permanent consequences. But I do realize that there can be a tendency to make up a story to rationalize my actions or contribute to the anticipation of potential outcomes that may not happen. And I’m old enough to be aware that fear can take up residence and give unhelpful advice.
What of the other way, that of expansion? It undoubtedly has intention in it as well as a sense of going forth. Stepping out and being fully present to the action undertaken. The quality of knowing, or at least knowing that you don’t know, and not letting that get in the way of acting. There is an ease and clarity of purpose, though stories can be made up here as well.
Both are equally significant and must be accompanied by awareness. I cannot live only in one way or the other. Expansion and contraction – It’s my life that hangs in the balance between these two.
Consider the quality of being present in your body right now. What is the quality or character of that sensation? Is it in fact a sensation – or something else? Maybe you’re curled up in a chair, computer in your lap, maybe sitting on a train reading the screen on your cell phone, or sneaking a moment for yourself while at work – notice whatever posture you find your body in right now. Take a moment, this moment, and focus your whole attention on what is happening in your body. Don’t wait for the instructor in yoga class to coach you there or the teacher at the meditation center to offer guidance, you can take this trip yourself any time you want.
Sometime the simplest action can generate the deepest awareness. It doesn’t always require special equipment and herculean effort. You are, after all, in your body. Should it be a big leap then to inhabit it fully, to be totally there? If you are caught up in thoughts, don’t be thinking that you are in your mind and not in your body, because, as my former teacher used to say, “Your mind is part of your body, isn’t it?” Perhaps you can be in your mind and body at the same time, fully present to both.
Usually the act of bringing focus to the body means noticing the purely physical sensations that are happening. Pain, constriction, fatigue, hunger or sometimes what seems to be neutral or without clearly articulated qualities. I often wonder that what draws our attention are the primarily negative or neutral characteristics, not the energized or “feeling good” ones. Don’t these last speak loud enough to be heard? What might be the quietest sense you can tune into?
Now make the shift to notice what kind of feeling state is inhabiting your body in this moment. We don’t often acknowledge that feeling states are in our bodies, but they are also physical sensations and certainly manifest in the body. We don’t simply walk around with concepts of anger, sadness or joy in our minds. We experience them in a physical way. The heart can seem to be the locus of feeling for us, but is it a source or a container for what’s circulating through our bodies? Perhaps it simply feels like the center of who we are.
Imagine your heart is this center and holds you in the space between being grounded in the earth and reaching for the sky. Stand with your feet hip distance apart, your spine long and arms stretched down, held away from your sides with palms facing forward. Inhale and slowly bring your arms overhead so that your palms touch. Exhale and bring your hands down to the level of your heart, palms still together. Stay for a moment and receive another breath. Then give your breath away and stretch your arms down and away from your sides again. Breathe in and continue to bring them overhead so that palms touch each other. Repeat this sequence a few times and see where your attention goes. Does it seem that it fills your entire body?
Notice that with these movements you have created the peace sign with your body. Rest in that awareness.
Welcome change! Where would I be without you? Well, think about it – I wouldn’t be alive, that’s for sure. Yet looking in the mirror, I find myself wondering who this is looking back at me. There is some part of me that must have expected that I would continue to look the same. It would be the familiar face of me, the one I’ve become used to over my adult life, always. Interesting that now I think back to adolescence, which was certainly a time for changes in my body and appearance. But not the same as now. I believe the difference then was the sense of excitement that accompanied what was happening. Even if I wasn’t pleased with a particular change, the overall sense of it was looking forward to what was to come. There were plans and goals and new experiences to be met. Changes then may not always have been greeted with open arms, but the energy in them was about moving forward. Why is it that, in the later years of life, what lies ahead can often feel more like sliding down a slippery slope than rising to meet challenges?
There seems to be more attachment at this point to what was. And perhaps years of perfecting the voice of judgment within. This voice is the one that is not liking what’s happening, wanting the body to stay the same, considering desperate measures or placing blame for what’s changed. All as if these shifts in one’s body could be avoided.
Where are our role models for growing old, for aching joints and sagging skin? Even if a role model exists for us it isn’t his/her body that is the focus of inspiration. It is more likely what he or she is accomplishing in spite of the physical body. Maybe the bigger question is how to show up fully human with all that’s shifting and changing and be ok with that. We are a culture that relies on reflection – not the inward kind but the mirrored image of who we think we should be. It’s generally a full screen representation of who we want to be or the image we desire to project to others that drives the ability to accept changes in our bodies.
So how do we turn the mirror back on itself? Would it even work? Imagine a world without mirrors – where the only option to “see” oneself is in someone else’s eyes. We might then have to accept a new level of vulnerability – the reality of being seen by another. Mask – less. It may seem more difficult than what we do now, but somehow I think not. This could be a practice that leads us to the wonder of feeling connected to other human beings in a way that doesn’t easily happen now. It might help us realize that we are all the same, we all change and that change has the capacity to reveal to us who we truly are. How bad can that be?
Everyday some part of me calls my attention and has the potential to carry me down some road away from my centered self. I wouldn’t mind but for the fact that I feel better whole, not parceled out or divided up. It seems that I can lean into the day with my head, my hands or perhaps with a body part that is sore or hurting. At other times it can be the part of me that contains the story of feeling tired or overwhelmed or riding a wave of solid and secure. There are definitely days where I am all about where I’m going or what I have to do next. And, of course, there are other days where the weight of yesterday or even a lingering dream from the night before is what takes up space in the bigger part of me.
Rilke, in the Duino Elegies, writes that “We live our lives, for ever taking leave.” He may have been talking about situations or places, but do we not take leave of ourselves many times in the course of our daily living? It’s not simply that we are distracted; we are actually living outside of the corporeal self that supports us through this lifetime. Our awareness is elsewhere often far from the here and now, with the sense of looking past or through this physical body. Mostly we believe that this is how we are supposed to function.
How might is be to lean into the day from an anchored point – a breath and body awareness? We are often reminded to go back to the breath and that can certainly serve as an anchor for awareness. However, breath is in the body; the whole process of breathing occurs in the body. It’s not something that happens outside of our physical selves but requires movement and involves the whole body. While we may think of breathing as pertaining only to the pathway in and out with a brief pause in between, it is our entire embodied self that is being breathed.
A friend and colleague of mine has been known to suggest that students practice “receiving” a breath instead of “taking” one. This is an offering that can change the posture of breathing so that it becomes more of a whole body experience. In the moment of whole body breathing is an opportunity to pause and shift attention away from whatever part is dominating and drop into a more centered stance. Even if the shift doesn’t last very long, the fact that you’ve experienced it can be enough to bring a different energy to that part of you demanding attention. And, in this way, you have already taken another step in the direction of living your life from the point of wholeness.