I had finished a swim and was standing in the locker room when I felt a familiar twinge in my back. “Oh no. The pain is coming back.” It was the early 90’s and I had injured my back while finishing up massage school. My back would feel better after treatments like chiropractic care and massage. But a year after the injury the pain would still return. I felt like I would never be back to normal.
While that familiar twinge had returned many times, this time was different. I realized that what I was feeling was the tightening of a muscle, not pain. I breathed and focused on relaxing. The twinge left and the pain did not reappear! I realized my fear about the pain had been causing my muscles to tighten hence restricting the blood flow and ultimately causing more pain. You mean I could control this? Wow.
I wasn’t new to yoga, but this was awareness was new.
I’d dabbled in yoga since the 70’s. Regular yoga became a part of my routine after other treatments weren’t healing my injury. I’d started a consistent practice to help my body. I hadn’t counted on the“side effects” of yoga including increased awareness.
Your Go-to System
Awareness is a powerful tool. What do you notice right now? Your achy neck? Your breathing? A distracting thought? A feeling of happiness?
Most of us have a go-to system that we check in with WHEN we’re being mindful. We are not mindful all of the time, nor do we want to try for that state. Our habits and patterns serve us well by freeing up focus and energy. For example, I don’t have to think about how to type. I’ve done it enough that the neural pathways take over and I can focus on what I’m writing instead.
As you develop your mindfulness skills through meditation, yoga, chi kung, art, hiking, gardening, knitting, etc. you usually have a system you go to first. You notice your body. You pay attention to your breath. It’s gives you a starting point. Noticing everything at once would be too hard.
As you build your mindfulness muscles you can start to access more information. If you’re new to the gym a trainer will introduce you to a few pieces of equipment. You don’t need to lift every weight, try every machine. Over time you build your repertoire. It’s the same with mindfulness.
You are Connected.
Your body, mind, spirit, energy, and emotions are connected. Think a happy thought and you will feel differently. Your body will shift to meet your emotion. But sometimes the message from the different levels of your wholeness will conflict.
Your body aches from too many hours of sitting in front of the computer. So you commit to prying your butt from your chair on a daily basis and hitting the gym. Great plan, right?
While your body might be screaming for movement your emotional body might be singing a different song. Maybe you’ve recently had a loss and your emotional body wants nothing more than to sit in that chair and eat a daily pint of Hagen-Dazs.™
If you listen to your physical body and ignore the call of your emotions you will end up sabotaging your efforts at the gym. And the bummer is that you’ll probablyfeel even worse because you didn’t succeed.
What’s a Whole Person to Do?
- Acknowledge and celebrate whatever awareness/mindfulness practice you do have. When I say “practice” I’m not referring to a formal practice. Every time you pay attention to some part of you you’re practicing mindfulness. To be mindful you don’t need to travel to India and sit at the feet of a guru.
- Add another layer. You notice your body is tense. Check in with your breathing. What do you find? When you get comfortable with that layer, add another. What is your mind focusing on?Eventually you’ll be able to check-in with a wide range of awareness. It’s like being a painter and starting with only red, yellow, and blue in your paint set. Over time you add burnt sienna, orchid, sea foam green… And you get different results with a bigger tool kit.
- Honor the discrepancies. Find creative ways to honor the different messages you get. How can you nurture your grieving heart while getting your butt out of that chair?
- Look for themes. When I coach clients we sometimes do an exercise where they listen to a number of different levels. The cool thing is that there are always themes. Those themes help direct the course of your life. Those themes can lead you to a path that will be supported by yourwhole team.
So what’s your go-to mindfulness system? Are you noticing any themes? Would love to hear your wisdom.