The body knows

seated woman with gold sparks coming off her skin

“There is deep wisdom within our flesh, if we can only come to our senses and feel it.” ~Elizabeth A. Behnke

Our body holds so much wisdom that we can use to guide our choices, but few of us know how to listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us.

How well do you know your body’s language? How often do you take time to listen to it?

The power of now

I start all of my yoga classes with a brief meditation on the breath. The reason I do that is to help my students become aware of the present moment—the eternal now. Our bodies are always present in the current moment and in our current location. Our minds, however, spend most of the time in the past or in the future or somewhere else other than here and now. The practice of focusing the mind on the breath brings the mind back to be present in current moment and the current space with our bodies. For this reason, yoga refers the breath the link between the mind and the body.

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Just focus on the breath, and it will bring you back to the present moment, the here and now. And it really is that simple. It’s also that difficult. Anyone who has tried meditation knows just how challenging this practice really is. And yet, everything we will ever do or accomplish in our lives must be done with our bodies. All of our actions, all of our communication, all of our work in this world happens via our bodies, which are always present in the here and now. It makes sense, therefore, to spend more time with our minds joining our bodies in the now to maximize our accomplishments.

This doesn’t mean that there is no value in thinking on the past or the future, however. The past can be a rich source of learning as we uncover lessons we have learned, patterns we keep recreating in our lives, or practices that we can make use of now. Thoughts of the future and the goals we hope to achieve can be very important in keeping us on track to continue growing and learning and becoming the people we wish to be. The problem comes when we want to live in some place and time other than the here and now.

My personal measure for determining whether I am consulting the past or the future for useful information or whether I am trying to live in the past or the future is to check my emotional barometer. When I am checking the past for lessons that might be useful to me today or envisioning future possibilities to help me make decisions or set goals, my emotions are those of curiosity and detachment. I am in a place of learning and inquiry. When I am living in the past by obsessing over things that have happened to me or dwelling in the future by worrying over things that I cannot do anything about in this moment, my emotions tend to be anxious, sad, angry, or discouraged. Most importantly, though, I am not learning. I am not detached. I am not curious.

When I find myself in those  spaces (and I often do), I find it helpful to start with a deep breath to bring me back to my body in this moment in this place. Then I can acknowledge the emotions that have come up and inquire about what I can learn from my sojourn in that other place and time that can inform my actions in this moment. By being curious about what it can do for me now, I don’t invalidate my feelings or my concerns, but it reminds me that I can only act in the here and now where my body is.

Here and now is all I have. It’s all you have too. What strategies do you use to bring yourself back to the here and now when your mind has gone off to another place and time?

This post is part of a blog hop series sponsored by students and graduate Coaches of ICA. Please hop on over to their posts and see what else you can learn about ”The Power of Now.

Esme Gosling – Money Coach

Sandra Seibert – Joyful Growth Coach

 Renee Vos de Wael – Intuitive Coach

 Namrata Arora – Life and Career Coach for women in transitions

Tracy Coan – Bodacious Possibilities

Jayde Gilmore – Wings LifeCoaching

Brandy Morris-Chaudhry – Illuminated Perspective

Nuria Lencina – Coachinu

Pamela Rudisill – In Sight Life Coaching

Louise Gray – Communication Coach, Learner Focused Coaching

Jenn Brockman – Kick Ass Website Coach

Rebecca Macfarlane – Turning Stones Coaching (Business Start Up and Career Coach)

We are not our minds

In Western culture, we tend to not only view the mind, the body, and the spirit as separate parts of our being, but we also tend to place the highest value on the mind. I think this is slowly beginning to shift, but the priority we place on the value of our minds is something that is still an often unconscious assumption that underlies our choices, our behavior, and where we place our attention. Our body is often seen as just a housing for our minds. Likewise, western religion has shown a tendency to see the body as just the vessel that holds our spirit, with the spirit being given the greater value than the lowly vessel.

While most of us do acknowledge the obvious effects our bodies can have on our minds—like the fact that we may have a harder time concentrating when we are tired or have a harder time controlling our emotional responses when stressed—research continues to show us that these interconnections are more pervasive and more subtle than we often assume.

I read a fascinating post today in Scientific American online called A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain by Samuel McNerney that shares some history of the field of embodied cognition as well as some of the latest research findings. The entire article is absolutely fascinating! What they are finding is that our thoughts are much more strongly influenced by our physical experiences than we have previously realized.  Many of the metaphorical expressions we use every day are indicators of this connection.

For example, one study found that in a brief interaction with a stranger, a study participant who was holding warm cups of coffee was more likely to find the stranger trustworthy than a study participant holding cold cups of coffee. This impact of warmth on our perception of another person fits well with our expression of “warming up” to someone as we get to know them and develop a positive perception of them. This influence also works the other way. Another study showed that study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were socially accepted judged the temperature of the room to be about five degrees warmer than study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were snubbed.

These sorts of unconscious interplays between mind, body, and spirit are occurring every moment of every day of our lives. When we attempt to place our priority and our focus only on our “rational” minds, we lose sight of the fact that the mind is interconnected with our bodies and our spirits in a way that cannot be cleanly divided into separate areas.

For me, yoga has been one powerful way for me to become more aware of my full state of being. The development of a witness, or observer, consciousness through asana practice and meditation has allowed me to live with greater awareness of my body, my spirit, and my mind in any given moment so I can evaluate my thoughts and feelings with a more complete data set. It brings a greater mindfulness to all that I do.

In one of my coaching classes last night, we discussed how often we react to situations based on past experiences that have pre-conditioned us rather than responding in the present moment to the situation that is actually at hand. The most powerful way to break these pre-conditioned reactions (or what yoga calls samskara) is to take a moment to become aware of the information that our emotions and our body itself is giving us before we respond.

Not only has taking that time to notice helped me begin to change long-standing habits and make better decisions, it’s also helping me place a higher value on taking care of my body. I still have LOTS of room to grow in this area, but I am finding myself paying more attention to how much I sleep, what I eat, how much water I drink, my physical posture, and how much activity I am getting. I’m starting to make better decisions about my self-care, and I am learning to take the state of my body into account when I consider the messages my thoughts and feelings are telling me. It has truly broadened and enhanced my world.

How do you make these connections between your mind, your body, and your spirit? Do you give an equal priority to all of who you are? If not, can you think of one thing you can do today to start bringing better balance?

Yoga for strength training too

I was talking to someone yesterday who is trying to find a good exercise program that fits her life so that she will practice it consistently. Knowing that I am a yoga teacher, she was asking me about yoga. As we talking, she asked me whether yoga could be used to build strength. The answer, of course, is yes. There are plenty of poses that require a lot of strength (headstands, arm balances, the warrior poses) and practicing these postures will build strength in practitioners over time.

The thing that really struck me in the conversation, however, is how often people come to yoga with a preconceived notion of what yoga can do for them. One of the most common ones I hear is that yoga is only for flexible people, and it only helps improve people’s flexibility. The truth is that while it does improve flexibility, it also builds strength, and improves posture, and stills the mind, and improves breathing, and deepens meditation, and can bring physical and emotional healing.

With as many different styles of yoga available today, it is possible for everyone to find one that emphasizes whatever particular benefit that they are looking for—from strength to endurance to flexibility to spirituality.

It’s the only “fitness” activity I’ve ever tried that continues to deepen my understanding of myself and of how it can benefit me the longer I try it. I won’t claim that it can do everything—there are still many reasons to incorporate other activities into our fitness and wellness routines—but it is definitely one of those practices that is more on the inside as one begins to practice it than it appears to be on the outside.

Do you know where your head is?

Our heads are designed to sit neutrally on top of the spinal column so that our ears are aligned with our shoulders. Most of us in this society, however, hold our heads in an unnaturally forward position that creates strain on our necks (often causing headaches), rounding of our shoulders (reducing mobility), misalignment of the spine from its natural curves, and even reduced breathing capacity.

This often happens because of the time we spend on computers and other sedentary tasks that are performed with poor posture. The challenge is that most of us are entirely unaware that we are not holding our heads in alignment. How often do we even stop to think about where our heads are relative to the rest of our bodies? Given the amount of time that most of us spend “in our heads,” it’s ironic that we so seldom know where they are!

Yoga practice can be very helpful in teaching us to become aware of where our heads are and in learning to hold them in a more neutral position. Many postures, like tadasana (Mountain Pose), include a focus on holding our heads in alignment. However, it is also easy to create additional strain to an already challenged neck with other yoga postures are performed without taking stock of our head placement.

Yoga Journal has a wonderful article by well-known yoga teacher Richard Rosen called Get to the Root of Neck Problems that is full of suggestions for ways to use assistance from a partner to discover what it feels like hold your head in a neutral position. Given the many negative effects of holding your head too far forward, it’s well worth the time it takes to find out where your head should be so you can begin to retrain yourself to be aware of the location of your head relative to the rest of your body.

Do you know where your head is?