By Grace Edmunds
A teacher of mine once said, perhaps instead of calling it "Mindfulness," it would be better suited as "Bodyfullness." Interesting, I thought, having been a practitioner of mindful movement practices for many years, this made a lot of sense.
Many people get caught up on this word, "mindfulness," perhaps assuming the intention of the practice has only to do with what is going on above the eyebrows. While understanding the mind is an important aspect of these practices, one of the most beautiful gifts of this collection of practices, is reconnecting us with our bodies and the information they are sending to us. Have you ever been sitting at your computer all day and at the end of the day you feel tight shoulders, stiff back and a desperate need to pee? This happens because we often ignore the signals of the body in order to "push through" and while one day of disregard may not leave a lasting impact, a lifetime of not listening can lead to chronic illness and dis-ease.
My fiancée, Josh, is in graduate school right now and recently told me that a few of his peers are required to wear heart monitors, to monitor their stress as they have had alarmingly elevated levels during the course of their first semester. Many westerners experience a constant level of high stress, living in elevated cortisol states which can lead to depression, disrupted sleep, digestive issues, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. Is it worth it? Do we know another way? YES! Pay attention to the body!
Your body is constantly telling you what it needs, now it's our job to develop fluency in our body's language because often times the messages are more subtle, more nuanced.
So, what are the ways we can get to know the language our body is speaking, you ask? There is a practice in mindfulness called the Body Scan, where you meditate on the different areas of the body and listen for information, eventually noticing how bodily sensations, emotions and thoughts influence and inform each other. This can also help us connect the dots on our habitual reactions, and the deeper layers of conditioning, history, and trauma from which they may originate. Mindful movement practices such as yoga, qi-gong, and 5 rhythms help us to connect the mind to the body and listen more deeply to what it needs moment-to-moment. This does not mean going to a hot yoga class and pushing your body past its limits so you can get that "yoga butt" you've always wanted. Rather, it's about slowing down, asking in each moment, "what does my body need now?" I have found that the more I listen to my body the better I am at making and trusting my decisions, grounded in the truth of the body.
I have been wondering lately, if there could be more movement integrated into the mindfulness 'movement'. While I have sat on many retreats that even included yoga, and walking practice, I still leave feeling that there are more ways to utilize the many practices of body awareness and mindful movement. Simply a restorative movement practice in the evening could greatly shift a practitioners connection to their body throughout the retreat, lessening distraction and deepening awareness. I was recently on retreat with Leslie Booker at the Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford, CT and she integrated movement with her teachings in such a beautiful way, where my body felt cared for and I was able to drop into deep stillness. While I do appreciate the discipline and repetition a traditional retreat requires, perhaps there are ways we can maintain discipline while learning to truly listen to and care for our bodies.
What are your thoughts on integrating more BODYfullness into this movement of mindfulness?