Moving into Stillness, Mindfulness of Movement & Breath
Abraham Lincoln famously said that by the time you are 40 you have the face you deserve. To some extent our bodies are “set” in a similar way, although I would not use the word “deserve”. Rather, our bodies represent the lives we have lived thus far, our history.
Many of the habits in our nervous systems, habits exhibited by our muscles, reflect the struggles we have encountered and survived as children. These are the defenses and bracings we have needed to get through life. We shut down difficult feelings by holding ourselves in a particular way, in an attempt to make ourselves feel safe.
Our breathing, shoulders and stomach all play major roles in the containment of feelings, but any muscles can participate. This is particularly true when we try to hide our discomfort. The muscular disguises we wear in order to avoid revealing our real feelings, and this holding of tension eventually becomes familiar and a part of us.
Emotional and physical habits get played out over and over again in everyday life and often bring us discomfort or pain. Therapists might be able to help with the identification of our physical and emotional problems but the real work starts when we start to reflect on our habits and patterns and slowly strip away the mask we no longer need.
It is not easy to move away from old, ingrained ways of being, but in Mindful Yoga it starts by inhabiting our bodies with full awareness by the gradual capacity to pay attention to the breathing and body sensations. Initially this might be simply how we organize the body in space, then developing into an awareness of muscular movement pattern, and how we deal with breath. Through this awareness we become freer, better off than if we continue to plod along a reflex pathway that is self confining.
The practice of Mindful Yoga is done without striving and without forcing, accepting our body as we find it in the present moment. While stretching or lifting or balance, we learn to work with and dwell at our limits while maintaining moment –to- moment awareness. We are patient with ourselves. As we carefully move up to our limits in a stretch, we practice breathing at that limit, residing in the creative space between not challenging the body at all and pushing it too far.
This is very different from most exercise and aerobics classes, which focus on what the body is doing and emphasize progress – “the push, push, no gain without pain” maxim. Little emphasis is put on the experience of inhabiting our bodies as human-beings.
For so much of lives our bodies are nothing more than the vehicle that carries around our brains. But when we experience our bodies as an integrated whole we start to redress the balance.
Mindful Yoga is a way to move into stillness in order to redress that balance, to experience our bodies in the moment, to wake up to the details of that experience and become interested in the way we feel and respond. We may even find that as we learn to inhabit our bodies more fully we become more fully conscious of ourselves and of our humanity and in doing so find health and wellbeing.