The benefits of mindfulness and meditation abound these days. I'd like to discuss them from a body-centered, psychotherapy perspective.
Yes, a mindfulness or meditation practice has the capacity to help bring us into the present moment. It also has the capacity to stir up a lot of physical, emotional and mental discomfort. This may be pain from past traumas or difficult feelings that we are dealing with in the present or worries about our future. We may not know how to sit with or deal with these difficult feelings, which may lead to over whelm and possibly re-traumatization. Not what you want as a daily practice. Don't get me wrong, I believe whole-heartedly in mindfulness and meditation when approached with some awareness and readiness.
Let me first say, we as human beings are able to loose ourselves in thought. Have you ever just listened to your thoughts or more challengingly written down every thought you've had for 10 minutes? It is an astounding and virtually impossible task. The speed with which we think can outrun our capacity to record it. Internally, we are able to speak, respond, judge, scold, apologize, reflect and re-run a scenario in our mind, all within a minute or two. We have mini theatrical productions gong on in our mind with multiple characters interacting in a well-rehearsed fashion all day long. We can fly away from the present moment effortlessly, in a flash.
You may observe this mental flight through people's words and gestures. Their eyes may wander or glaze over for a moment. Someone you're having a conversation with might make a comment that's clearly not from the here and now. Collectively, we do this so much of the time it's barely noticed. Try observing this in yourself and others. Stay in the moment with your thoughts and connections with another. Observe or count the number of times you or your companion leaves the present moment in a conversation.
We're leaving the present moment through thought all the time, which is fine, unless it begins to rob you of the present moment. You may feel less connected to yourself or your partner or friend or family. They may feel preoccupied and less available to connect with you in present time. You may be escaping from feelings you would be experiencing in the moment if you stayed present in the moment. It could be fear of intimacy or judgment (by yourself or other) that causes this disconnect from the moment or a host of other causes - present, past or future.
Those “unwanted" feelings might be too painful, uncomfortable or shameful for us to feel. Then we begin the difficult task of blocking and suppressing this growing number of problematic feelings and we end up with less spontaneity, vitality, energy and emotional flow.
We don't need to believe all the thoughts we hear ourselves saying or believe all the beliefs we have collected along the way through our lives. They may have been created years ago and no longer relevant or applicable to our lives today. We don't even have to act on all of our feelings since they may be from a past situation and not the present.
All thoughts, beliefs, feelings and body sensations are welcome in every therapy session. It's there that we can understand the what, where, how and why of their creation. This acceptance and understanding can free up emotional energy and space.
Therapy can help to update these outdated beliefs and feelings. It can release the old, no longer relevant thoughts and stored feelings that stand in the way of us experiencing a fuller, more satisfying, present moment. Attempting to achieve this on one's own without professional help can be onerous at best and painfully difficult or impossible at its worst.
Building mindfulness can begin simply by noticing more details through your 5 senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling (physically) ie: “I feel the soft snow under my feet or a chilly wind on my cheeks" as you travel through your day.
Observe physical tensions in your body. Breathe deeply while you hold that area in your awareness and bring micro movements into that area of your body. You may gently massage the area, bringing the warmth of your hands to that area.
You may even acknowledge to yourself that you are noticing the discomfort and you are bringing something nourishing in response to the area that's tense. This can be comforting. It is a positive message we that we can give to the self. This conscious nurturing is very healing since we are our best healers and we have unlimited access to it 24/7.
You can also slow yourself down periodically - your breathing, thinking and movements. Set an alarm and have it remind you on the hour to breathe deeply or get up and stretch or visualize yourself in a white room which is comforting to some. Find the imagery that works for you. Also, drop your jaw and feel your tongue sitting heavily on the floor of your mouth. Drop your shoulders or lift them up to your ears, hold them there for a few seconds and drop them with an “haa" sound.
Become more aware of the physical tension you are gathering throughout the day and respond to it with a little TLC. It is easier to track and respond to physical tension than emotional tension but we can also do the same for our emotional tension and internal felt sensation. I'll discuss that at a later time.
Ask yourself, 'how is my energy right now?' If it feels manic or scrambled watch the YouTube video, 'Donna Eden 5 Min Energy Routine' and follow along or learn this routine so that you have it in your body and you can draw from it whenever you need to. I especially recommend the Wayne Cook Posture which you could do at your desk periodically during the day without attracting attention. If you have it solidly in your body you can visaulize doing it in your mind and gain the benefits.
Remember...respond to your body from the level it is calling out to you from, be it physical, emotional, energetic or mental with a loving, nurturing, conscious response. You will be cultivating mindfulness. Add this into your day to day, in a playful, light-hearted way and you will be well on your way to building a healthy, mindfulness practice.
Until next time…be well.
PHOTO: SOUL CARDS, Deborah Koff-Chapin