Compassion

So often we talk about the body as though it’s a machine, a highly complicated machine, but still a machine. We compare our bodies to intricate man-made things with pumps and pistons, filters and gears, hinges and joints.

And even though we liken our bodies to machines or engines, we sometimes feel as though our bodies have their own agenda, feeling separate from the rest of us. 

When we decide we want to go for a run, we grumble at our bodies if the legs feel too tired.  We are annoyed when we get a cold which spoils a holiday, or a stiff shoulder stops us from playing sport.  My body’s let me down, we might say.

And sometimes it shouts more loudly, and we become ill, and we rail against the illness for how it makes us feel, and what it means we can no longer do.

And yet, this is what we expect of our bodies.  We refuel, do some maintenance, some quick fixes, often according to what someone else, an expert maybe, has told us.

And then we might exercise, eat healthily, take sufficient rest, and look after it just as we would look after a machine or an engine. And sometimes we don’t even do that, and expect it to keep going, and going, until it doesn’t go any more.

That would be asking a lot of even a very good friend.

But maybe there is another way – a way of listening  closely to the body.

And that doesn’t only mean eating the right foods, taking enough exercise, having regular dental checks.

It’s about taking some time to really listen to what the body is trying to convey.  Diane Morrow in her book “One Year of Writing and Healing“, says it this way:

The body protests.  It defies us.  At other times the body simply seems to be in trouble.  It has needs, even urgent needs, though it may be having trouble articulating them.  Sometimes a leap occurs when we recognise this.  “Oh.  The body needs something …”

I’ve noticed that those who begin to speak of the body in this way … often become more in tune with the body rather than less. 

To find language for this separation is simply, I suspect, to be honest about the divide, and then, in turn, make the effort to call out across it.

It’s as if [a person] stands at the edge of  a chasm.  They call across.  Or, sometimes, they beckon toward the body.  Or, perhaps, they’re beckoning toward the part of the mind more closely associated with the body.  An unconscious part?  A subconscious part?  In any case, they lean forward a little.  They whisper, ‘What is it?  What do you need?’ 

It’s as if offering compassion towards the body were a beginning.  And then, not infrequently, the body, or some part of the mind associated with the body, finds language to respond – and the person is able to hear it.

Diane is talking about the body-mind intelligence that Eugene Gendlin called Focusing, and is practised by many people around the world.  You can read about some of the benefits of Focusing here and here.

Diane Morrow goes on to say:

It’s like meeting someone who speaks a different language, and then, rather than just continuing to speak one’s own language, ever louder and more insistently, it’s being willing at some point to make the effort to learn the other’s language.  It’s being willing, for some measure of time, to turn away from the cacophony of the external world and give the body and the inner world one’s undivided attention.

I can’t tell you if there’s a good time to learn Focusing, other than any time is good.  And I wished I’d learned it sooner.

When we are under stress or unwell, or when we are feeling great and the world is a wonderful place and it feels as though nothing can go wrong – at these times we might find it difficult to get into contact with what the body has to say about what is going on. So we might choose to learn Focusing then, and that’s great.  And it also a good time to learn when we are feeling just okay. Because we can use Focusing at any time.

I have a Focusing partner and we meet once a week on Skype.  Sometimes there are big issues that want to be addressed; sometimes surprises emerge, that might have been below our conscious radar; sometimes it’s about something that might seem quite trivial, and we learn more about why it has been niggling us; and sometimes we just spend time enjoying the feeling of being connected with our own selves in this way.

It is always nourishing, always worth doing, and I always feel enriched for having spent an hour or so in this way.

Please let me know below if you are a Focuser, and what it means for you.

And if you are not, and would like to learn, contact me here, and we can arrange a session or a course – face-to-face or on Skype or Facetime.” 

Talking to yourself

So often when we talk to ourselves, we are berating ourselves, telling ourselves off.  We might regret having said or did something. We might have eaten too much, drunk too much, been too harsh with family members, angry with someone for something that wasn’t their fault, failed to reach a work target, or pass an exam.

We can be very inventive about the ways we criticise and shame ourselves.  

We can sometimes be much harsher with ourselves than we would be with others, and more critical of ourselves than we would dream of being with another person.

Sometimes this is a fleeting self-criticism, or it can go on – for a few days or weeks.  Sometimes we can spend years living with regrets and failures.

What if, instead of this one-way conversation with yourself, what would it feel like to listen to yourself?

You might begin by becoming aware of your body. 

You might notice your surroundings as if for the first time.

You might notice the floor beneath your feet, the chair on which you sit.

You might wish to close your eyes, or you might prefer not to.

You might become aware of the touch of your clothes against your skin.

You might notice the breath that flows in and out of your body – not trying to change it in any way, just being aware of it.  Some breaths might be deep, some shallow, some smooth, some a little ragged.

Then you might turn your attention to other parts of your body – your throat, perhaps.  Your chest.  Your abdomen and belly.  You might see how they are. 

Don’t rush any of this.

If this is something new for you, your body has to get used to being listened to in this way.

Like a shy child.  Or an untrusting animal.

You wouldn’t rush an encounter with these, would you?  You would take your time, being kind, letting the child or the animal come to you in their own time.

As you stay with this attention on your body, something might arise.  An image might come.  Or a feeling.  A colour maybe.  Or a memory.  Or something else. 

If something comes, however fleeting, however vague, however vivid, allow yourself to pause.

And in that pause, stay with whatever comes.

Be curious about it.  Invite it to be there, as fully as it wants to be.

Allow it to stay the same, or change, without any pressure from your thoughts or your mind.

Take as long as you like.

Try not to analyse what comes.

If it helps, you can say aloud things that arise or change. 

You might notice emotions arising – not always.

You might have an attentive listener, in which case, ask them if they might say back to you some of what you’ve said, but not everything.  And ask them not to add anything, or put their own interpretation on what you’ve said aloud.

And you don’t have to say everything – or anything.

Allow your body to speak to you in this way, without any judgement from you or your listener.

Allow your body to say as much or as little as it wants to.

Allow the feelings, or images, or memories, to change.  Allow this to come from within you, rather than instructing your body.

Resist any urge to tell yourself what you ‘think’ it should be feeling or doing.

Allow your body this time and space to let you know what its wants and needs are.

When you wish to complete this special time for yourself, take a moment to check if anything else wants to come.

Then thank your body for all that came.  Thank your body for this conversation.

Then gently, slowly, mindfully, come back to the present moment.  Open your eyes.

Rejoin your normal day after a pause – not too quickly.

And then what?  What happens next?

It might be that you realised something new about yourself.

It might be that the answer to a problem unfolds.

You might realise why you reacted the way you did in a particular situation – or every time you find yourself in a situation.

You might feel a little more peaceful.

You might find yourself being more kind and accepting of yourself.

You might find that you no longer carry things with you, such as grievances, hurts or betrayals.

You might find, in times of stress or panic, you can notice the feelings that arise, and acknowledge them, and manage them more easily.

I would be very interested in how you find this little exercise.  Please feel free to get in touch, and ask me questions.

How Emotions are Made

surface of water with lightWhether you’re a generally calm person, floating unperturbed in a stream of tranquillity, unaffected by the vicissitudes of life; a more reactive person awash in a river of agony and ecstasy, easily moved by every little change in your surroundings; or somewhere in between, the science behind interoception*, grounded in the wiring of your brain, will help you see yourself in a new light.  It also demonstrates that you’re not at the mercy of emotions that arise unbidden to control your behaviour.  You are an architect of these experiences.  Your river of feelings might feel like it’s flowing over you, but actually you’re the river’s source.

Lisa Feldman Barrett: How Emotions are Made

Psychologist and neuroscientist, Feldman Barrett, recognises the value of Focusing, updating long-held views that emotions are not universally pre-programmed in our brains and bodies.  She says they are psychological experiences that each of us constructs, based on our unique personal history, physiology and environment.

Feldman Barrett suggests that we pay attention to combinations of emotions, feelings in the body, and memories that arise in the context of these.  She calls this ’emotional granularity’, and recommends that this is helpful in order to make sense of what’s going on for a person in the moment, and being aware of choices, rather than being ‘stuck’ in feelings of frustrating ‘blahness’.  I call this Focusing.

I will revisit this as my copy of the book is is like a prayer flag, with many sticky notes sticking out of the edge waiting for me to return to read again.  In the meantime, you might wish to buy a copy, or borrow one from your library.

 

* interoception: an on-going process which is your brain’s representation of all sensations from your internal organs and tissues, the hormones in your blood, and your immune system.  For more on interoception, see Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book, “How Emotions are Made”.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is about releasing and letting go, rather than the use of effort or force.  The postures are a concentration of mind and movement in which the breath undoes the stiffness and tensions of the body, strengthening its weaknesses and restoring breath.

Mary Stewart

If we are brave enough often enough we will fall

If we are brave enough often enough we will fall.  (Brene Brown)

Most of us, when we get beyond our infant years, have some fear of falling.

(And as I was typing this I mis-typed falling and wrote failing instead.  And fear of falling and fear of failing are not so different when you think about it.)

If we never reach out beyond what is comfortable, we cannot challenge ourselves and taste the fruit right at the end of the branch.  We won’t test ourselves to see if doing this particular something, or going to that particular place might be as joyful as we imagine it to be. 

When we stick with what we’ve always known, we get what we’ve always known.

That’s one of the riches to enjoy going to a Yoga class where the teacher invites us to try a new posture, or extend a little further in a familiar posture.

It doesn’t always work. 

We might wobble in Vrksasana – the Tree Pose.

We might need the support of a chair in Ardha Chandrasana – the Half-Moon Pose. 

And even when we have support we might shake and fall.

We might fall forwards in Bakasana – the Crane Pose.  

We might find that some poses that seemed impossible a month or so ago, are almost within sight today.

Or they might not.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that Hatha Yoga practice is that – a practice. 

We are not aiming to ‘achieve’ anything.  It’s actually the side effects that are the most beneficial:

  • When we practise something, anything, regularly, you get used to noticing that some days things come more easily than others, and that’s okay.
  • We find that we can make time in a busy week for something that nourishes us.
  • We learn to trust ourselves more: in Yoga practice we learn that our body might not let us down as often as we might have once thought, and this can extend into other areas of our lives.
  • We learn that our mood can affect our Yoga; and that Yoga can affect our mood.
  • We find delight in the increased strength in our physical body on an everyday basis.
  • We get to know our bodies better, and become aware of changes in it sooner.
  • We might sleep more easily.
  • We might find that we can reduce medication for some health conditions.
  • We learn that comparisons with others are less fruitful than we might once have imagined: in the Yoga class might be people of all ages, body types and personalities, and if we continue to compare our ‘progress’ with another’s we will miss out on the joyful experience that is ours alone in practising the postures – no matter how long we can balance, stretch or hold our breath.

There are so many benefits which can translate directly or indirectly to our everyday lives.  And no, Yoga is not the only one.  But I know of few others that offer such a wide variety of benefits, accessible to anyone, of any age, of any level of health or fitness, of any means, who wants to explore its many aspects and gifts.