Want to Feel Better and Move More Easily For Longer? Pay Attention.

Not to me, though you might want to finish reading this post! You want to pay attention to your body.

Collaboration. Cooperation. Success.

Hard + Soft = Balance

(These 2 little word plays are part of a thread.)

You’ve just started reading this. Before you read any further, adjust your attention so that it is on body sensation. If you are not accustomed to this kind of work, take a little time to listen to the kinds of sensations your body is giving you right now. Do you notice tension in your neck? Does your chest feel open and free or closed? Bring your attention to the other end of you, to your feet and ankles, what do you get? Give it 15 seconds, then slide up to your knees. Did your shins have anything to report? 15 seconds and up to your hips. A more complete body meditation will come in a later post. I’m going to move on but you’re welcome to continue with your body check, ofcourse. I’ll be here when you’re ready.

Oh, and did I mention no trash talking?  There is not mind chatter, no scores, and no judgment. It is you noticing how you do what you do, with respect, honor and love. So if you’re still paying attention and I interrupted, please continue and I’ll be here when you’re ready to move on.

I like the expression “being in your body”. I use it with my students and I’m looking forward to using it with one-on-one clients.

“Being in your body” identifies a state of presence.

Like most states of being, there are several levels. You may simply be aware of your body’s existence. You know that you have a body, you are aware of the shape of your body and chances are pretty good that you have defined what sort of mover you are.

If you are managing an injury, the injured area may be what draws your attention, possibly to the exclusion of the rest of your body. This injury may affect more than your attention to your body; it may also affect how you live in your mind. It may be that this injury has damaged your ability or desire to move as you did before and it may feel like a natural shift to spend less time living through your body. You may be more cerebral. Injury can also affect how you interact with the world outside yourself and negatively affect how you manage your emotions. It may change you.

You may become acutely aware of your body when you have strong emotional reactions. A pounding heart that accompanies fear. Shaking hands and wobbly knees that follow a fight or flight shot of adrenaline. The ache in your chest from having lost someone. The expansiveness of joy.

You may notice when creativity kicks in and you are totally immersed in the process. Cramping fingers from hand writing, drawing or painting longer than usual; blisters from guitar strings. A stiff back from sitting in one position. Tight trapezius muscles in your upper back and neck. You may even be aware of a tension headache.

Every day of our lives we are in relationship with the body in which we live. We go about our usual schedule and the body gives feedback. If we pay attention to the information our body is giving us, we can create a better existence. When our bodies are properly cared for, we can spend more time out of our heads and more deeply enjoying life; we have a sense of confidence in moving and a certain level of self-trust.

Our body speaks to us through sensation. Sensation can be considered the language of your body. Unless  neurological damage is present, every inch of you experiences sensation. If you’ve been reading me, you know that I have a penchant for repetition. So…

Every inch of you experiences sensation.

As Debbie Rosas Stewart, co-creator of Nia shares, every single one of your 7ish trillion cells has access to sensation.

Often, even those areas with nerve damage will register the sensation of pressure since the brain processes pressure a little differently and even processes the types of pressure differently.

If you don’t believe me, take a little field trip with your hands. Even if you know this is a true statement but haven’t tried it for yourself – don’t take my word for it – go on. I’ll wait.

Ok, so you’ve made a discovery or two or a dozen – that’s cool.

So now what do you do with this little jewel? How about building a sensation vocabulary? You won’t need any awesome new toys, but you can get one to keep up with this new life project if you like. All you need is your attention – every so often. You can begin with once a day. Get your phone and set an alarm or put it in your calendar – whichever one you prefer. At this time (you pick it, you know your schedule), you’re going to pay attention to the sensations you’re getting through your body.

You might start by asking yourself – your body not your mind – if you’re comfortable. To be clear comfort is not the absence of pain, it is a sensation unto itself (and yes, I did just say “unto”!). When my body is experiencing comfort, I am relaxed or able to relax. I am settled into a position that, for however long it is comfortable, is creating ease. I feel as though I could be in this position for the rest of the day. Does this sound familiar? While we all have generally the same parts for locomotion, there are details that make us individual. Movement history, trauma and injury history. In other words, the way we have lived in our bodies. What I described as my experience may or may not be similar. How do you experience the sensation of comfort?

The truth is that I probably couldn’t be in that same position for much longer than a few minutes. I have joints and a couple of muscles imbalances that will ask me to adjust. Let’s go back to the fact that I have joints. We all have joints. If we didn’t have joints, movement would be enormously limited. So limited, in fact, that we might give it up altogether and evolve into something else! Joints come in several varieties, some more movable than others. What they have in common is that they need to be used in the way in which they were designed to stay healthy.  Synovial joints are the most movable. The facet joints between the vertebrae are examples of synovial joints. “Synovial” refers to the nutritional lubricant or fluid that every one of these movable joints has. This fluid acts as a shock absorber, and helps to keep friction to a minimum (’cause you know that the more friction there is, the more heat and break down is a likely consequence). Enough with the technical stuff.

How do you keep your synovial joints happy and healthy? Move them. Experiment 2: move your joints and notice how movement is created without force. Move and listen to the feedback your body gives. If comfort is present, you know something about your design. If pain was created, you know something else.

Pain is not a sensation to be worked through. Here we go…

Pain is not a sensation to be worked through.

Pain is a guide. Pain is a way of alerting your mind that something is wrong or maybe just not-quite-right and needs to be tweaked. If the pain is a whisper, then a tiny shift may be all that is necessary. So tweak your movement. If the tweak does not resolve the pain, create a slightly more significant shift in how you’re doing what you’re doing and make an adjustment. If pain persists, change the movement altogether and do something different – if you’re running, walk. Making these shifts before pain is screaming and chronic is a smart way to stay healthy, mobile and excelling at whatever movement you love.

What if you’re a type A, hugely competitive athlete? More reason to learn to pay attention. You may drive your body harder and it is especially important to listen to the cues your body gives you. Whatever type you are and however you move, give your body what it asks for when it asks and barring any unforeseen natural disaster, chances are good that you will be able to do whatever you love for a very long time.

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