Awareness is the Key

Yesterday I did something I hadn't done for  a long time - something that used to help "set the tone" for the day, making me more aware of my own perceptions and thoughts. I went over to my bookshelf and took out the first book that my eyes rested on. It was one of my favorite books, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. I opened to the first chapter. I knew there would be a lesson I could apply to my day. As I drank my morning coffee I absorbed his words:

  • Stilling the mind through meditation, communion with nature and non-judgment can help you discover who you are.
  • The turbulence of the mind keeps us from knowing who we are.
  • The  mind is like a pond, and your "potential" for your life is like a stone thrown into the pond. Too much chatter and "noise" in the mind, and you won't notice the ripples that the stone makes when it lands in the water. You won't notice your Self.

The first step, he said, is to put time aside every day to be still and meditate - practice the skill of letting things "be" without judging them.

If you can sense it and feel it, you can change it.

I was struck by how similar Chopra's advice was to what we teach in Hanna Somatics. He could have been Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., who talked about how motor output (movement) changes when you stop first and sense your own body. The more you sense, the more you can change movement habits, relieve muscular tension, and regain physical control of your body - at any age. When you become aware of your reflexive responses to stress -  whether you tighten your back muscles or hunch your shoulders and "withdraw" inward as if to protect yourself - you learn something about yourself. You are the only one who lives in your body or feels your feelings. The first step is to notice what you sense and feel, from the inside out.

When we begin a session with a student, whether he has sciatica, frozen shoulder, or low back pain, we have him lie still and notice his body: where does he feel the weight of his body on the floor? Is the lower back arched? Flat? How are the feet lying? What does the neck feel like?  We encourage him to stop, quiet the mind and pay attention to "what's there," so that the chatter of the body begins to wane. We also encourage non-judgment. If the student lies there thinking, "well, this isn't like my Pilates class," or "so when are we going to start moving?" he's missing valuable feedback.

Some people get impatient lying still. They feel that they’re not doing anything. Sometimes slowing down can be very irritating, especially in our constantly moving, constantly connected society.

For those who've never done Somatics, start small: Lie on your back and breathe. Breathe deeply into the center or your body, and notice whether you breath from your chest or your belly. Like with meditation, don't force anything. Just notice. If your back hurts, notice the differences between both sides of the back. Notice what other parts of your body respond to that tightness. Notice how your hips and legs feel.

For two simple exercises you can do to relax the muscles of the back, check out the Essential Somatics® Video Library. After you've done those exercises, be still and notice any differences between how you felt before and how you feel now.

Just as meditation can bring you closer to a sense of who you are through the observation of your thoughts, breath, and stillness, so can a daily practice of physical awareness bring you closer to regaining movement that you thought you'd lost. Awareness is always the first step.