By Sandrine Harris
Did you ever notice how easy it is to remain on auto-pilot mode on a day when you’re tightly scheduled or have a gigantic to-do list? Have you noticed that when you pause on those days, you spontaneously take a deeper breath, sigh, or notice where you’re holding tension in your body — if only for a moment?
So much of our noticing happens when we pause, when we create space to slow down, or when bodily or psychological discomfort grabs our attention. Now, imagine what it would be like to be more fully present in your body through a gentle process of noticing and tending to its needs, just like the level of attention and concern you carry for your to-do list, or responding to emails.
In the increasingly fast pace of our lives, our bodies can get lost in the shuffle. There is so much functioning in the nervous system that we charge ahead, even sometimes in moments of deep stress. Our culture also encourages the cult of busyness and being “on” for much of our waking hours.
Learning to listen to our bodies is a skill, and arguably one of the most important pursuits we can ever devote our kind attention to. Mindfulness brings us into our present moment experience with greater clarity. It is one of the valuable tools for coming home to ourselves skillfully.
When I’m working with feeling and sensing in my own body, and when I facilitate body-based movement and meditation explorations with others, we start by slowing down, and giving ourselves time to transition into deeper listening. Even these initial moments of shifting into a practice - preparing ourselves to pay attention and grow awareness - is its own process.
When was the last time you gave yourself permission to slow down and notice sensation in your body in the midst of your hectic day, and not in the context of a yoga class or a meditation session? There are so many ways to do this, and we begin first by recognizing how much our bodies need us to pay greater and more tender attention.
If you have a habit of gripping the steering wheel when you’re driving and running late for an appointment, you have a chance — in the moment — to notice that you’re doing this, and gently transition into loosening your grip. If you tend to clench your jaw when you are interacting with someone whose opinion differs from yours, you can invite yourself to soften in the hinges of your jaw and make space between your upper and lower teeth. These are just a few examples of ways to bring your awareness into your body mindfully.
Mindfulness is not “all in your head.” It is an orientation and skillful process that includes your body. Though we carry lots of unconscious habits in our patterns of movement, just as we do emotionally and psychologically, we learn anew when we create the space to listen. And in this space, we begin again.
In May, I’ll be offering a six-week program on Thursday evenings, to awaken your experience of your body and learn ways to work with your whole self through gentle movement and mindfulness meditation. We’ll explore powerful practices for tuning in to your senses, soothing your system from the effects of stress, and harnessing more physical energy. This program, “At Home in the Body,” is a warm invitation to people from all walks of life, and you don’t need any experience to join in. We’ll explore together through discovery and curiosity, with trauma-informed approaches and modifications and pointers provided for injuries and other physical challenges. Just bring yourself!