At the beginning of the month I talked about Body Awareness. Listening to your own body and all the ques that it gives you is very important in living a healthy and happy life. Focusing on your breathing is probably one of the easiest ways to ground yourself and begin to focus. Once you have learned to focus on your physical being, it is important to take the next steps and learn to listen to your inner self. Your mind is very powerful, and when you can listen to your body and mind, you have learned how to help heal your mind, body, and soul, thus leading to health and happiness.
What exactly is mindfulness? To quote UCLA’s MARC (Mindful Awareness Research Center) “Mindful awareness can be defined as paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. It is an excellent antidote to the stresses of modern times. It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one's inner experience. There are many ways to bring mindfulness into one's life, such as meditation, yoga, art, or time in nature. Mindfulness can be trained systematically, and can be implemented in daily life, by people of any age, profession or background.” Simply put, mindfulness is the act of simply being in the moment every moment. It is not about holding onto the past or looking into the future. It is simply being present in the here and now, with no judgements.
Connecting with our inner selves is often times a difficult task for most people. We start with our breathing, focusing on the in and out breathes, until we find a nice, natural rhythm of our own. In my last blog, I had you then focus on various body parts and acknowledge what you notice. So what are the next steps? As a Star Wars fan, and an even bigger Yoda fan, the Jedi's offers some of the best lessons about mindfulness:
Once you learn the art of listening to yourself on the various levels, you will learn how to understand the wants and needs of your body and emotional states. This will thus turn into learning how to be happier and healthier. It will bring about greater harmony both within and without.
I recently started to do yoga. I like to practice what I preach, and having been doing morning stretches for almost a year and a half, I thought I should give a full yoga session a real try. I received a private yoga session from my friend and colleague, and I realized that I needed to start practicing yoga at least once a week. So I decided to go to my local global gym and join in on their yoga classes once a week. At the end of my fourth group yoga class, I had an amazing body awareness experience. I was lying on my back with legs in butterfly position. (Soles of feet together with knees bent creating a diamond shape.) I was doing my big breathes in, slow exhales out, with my hands resting on my hip bones to bring my focus to that area of my body. After a couple of minutes, my body relaxed and released my tight hips. First the left hip muscles let go, then the right side, then a little more on the left. My body sank further into the floor and I felt no resistance, no tension, just my body in a state of comfort and balance. It felt magical.
Now, as a massage therapist and an athlete, I may be a little more in tune to my body than the average person. I am well versed in my muscles, where they are, how they function, and how they should be feeling during different activities or at rest. I have learned when I am working out, when to push through a difficult workout and when I need to back off and modify it. I have learned to listen to my body. It is when you do not listen, or ignore what your body is telling you, that you can cause injuries. Even at rest, your body is talking to you. It is telling you what feels good, comfortable, relaxed, and what is tense, uncomfortable, and not in balance. Being aware in this relaxed state I feel is more difficult, yet so very important. The body has the ability to heal itself; we just need to learn how to listen to it so that we can maintain our health and well-being.
Listening to your body sounds simple, but it actually takes a lot of patience and practice. We all notice any aches and pains that are screaming at us, but what about the rest of your body? What about the tension, the fatigue, or even the feel good parts? Do you pay attention to your body when it says “Yes! I feel great!” or only when it says “Help! I am in pain!”? Learning to listen to your body before it gets to the screaming level will help prevent and avoid potential health issues and injuries.
So where do you begin? There are a couple of different ways I feel are good starting points.
Once you start to become aware of how your body feels while it is resting or moving, you can start recognizing where you are holding tension, what doesn’t feel good, what feels “off”, and you can start to focus on letting go and finding your balance again. Whether that means to let go of stressors that are tensing your jaws or shoulders, or releasing tight muscles holding on from an old injury. Maybe it is recreating the position or activity that made your muscles feel better. Slight adjustments can make a big difference in your entire demeanor! Give it a try!
After you have learned to listen to the physical and muscular parts of your body, take the next big step and start to focus on your internal feelings and emotions. How do certain foods, behaviors, moods, environments, affect you and your body? You will not become a pro at listening to your body overnight. It will take time, patience, and a lot of practice. You will have days that your feel completely in-tune with yourself, and days that you feel clueless. Do not get overwhelmed. The body is a complex and very complicated structure. It comprises muscles, bones, nerves, and emotions to name a few things that are all very unique and individualized to each person. Your body has a lot to say. It can help you prevent injuries, stress, allergies, and even illnesses. You just have to learn to listen so that you can allow it to heal itself and remain happy and healthy.
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.