Sensation – Mindfulness for Moving Bodies

Sensation – Mindfulness for Moving Bodies

  • By Susannah Steers
  • September 17, 2013

“No pain, no gain.”(So keep going, or you’ll clearly prove yourself to be an incomparable wimp!)

“Just do it!“(Even if every cell in your body tells you it feels wrong… get out there and do it, you lazy bum!)

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”  (Um…sometimes… it’s just pain!)

“If I ignore it, it can’t hurt me.”(Really? How’s that override system working for you?)

Our society has really adopted some strange ideas in the pursuit of physical fitness. Yes, you have to work outside your comfort zone to increase your strength and stamina. Does that mean constantly and relentlessly pushing through pain? No.

And yes, in order to see any kind of results, of course you have to put aside excuses and do the work. Does that mean ruthlessly pushing through when your body is giving you signals that something isn’t quite right? No.

And pain – well, pain is information you’d better learn how to use if you’re into intense physical activity. There is the pain of pushing boundaries. And then there is the pain that kicks you out of the game completely. Whether you’re an athlete or a couch potato, most people won’t avoid pain altogether. Better learn to negotiate with it. Just don’t assume you can work your way through every kind of pain.

My personal favourite?  Override.  Many of my most troublesome injuries came about from deciding that I didn’t need to pay attention to something that felt “off,” but that didn’t slow me down too much either. Ignoring it is never good. You don’t have to let it rule the day, but if you’ve got a recurring issue, you’d better pay attention before that issue stops you cold.

What would it feel like to start a new dialogue in your body? Instead of a top-down, continually brain driven approach, why not open things up a little? Why not let the body start to give you information. Information that you receive without immediate judgement and dismissal, without attaching stories to it or creating drama around it. Without deciding that this or that action is required now. Just FEEL. Sensation is like mindfulness for moving bodies. Just experience it. Let it be. Allow it to live inside you. When you can experience the fullness of your own sensation, you can often come to a much better understanding of your body in motion. Self-care, healing, optimal function and high level performance: all of these can be improved with some uncensored experience of sensation.

Every second of every day, your senses provide you with a multitude of messages you receive and process in the moment. In each split-second, you choose (consciously and unconsciously) either to act on that information, or to file it away. Your senses give you immediate and on-going information about yourself and your environment. Your sensations offer you an experience of now, unfettered by what was or what will be. What you do with that information will colour how well you live in your own body and in the world around you.

In terms of movement, there exists an amazing spectrum of sensation which allows you to get in touch not only with what hurts and doesn’t hurt, but with the greater sense of yourself as a physical being; encompassing the subtle nuances of everything that you are. When you can attune to your senses as you move, you enrich the experience beyond measure. You can simply enjoy that richness, or you can use it to help you move well, for longer, in a greater range of activities. You can use sensation as a guide to help you find your best moving self.

Open yourself up to whatever your body tells you in the moment – without judgement, without expectation, and the information you receive will  give you a neutral starting ground for wherever you choose to go. When you sense where you truly are, right now, you can move forward in your physical pursuits with a real sense of when it is possible to push limits, and when a more conservative approach may be necessary. Yesterday is different from today. Today is different from tomorrow. The clearer your perception of this incredible range of sensory information, the better your ability to ask your body to perform for you on demand (or not) – during workouts and in the myriad of activities that make up your life.

Deep connection into your body can open up resources within you for intense athleticism, create an understanding of your own systems for the maintenance of general  physical health, and offer new tools for healing and self-care. Developing awareness to sensation in movement can:

  • Bring clarity and focus to physical activity and fitness training
  • Facilitate a state of attentive calm, enabling the body to be responsive, rather than reactive
  • Create a frame of reference for the “work” of the day, in the context of conditioning or training
  • Create a context and a container for pain, transforming it from a purely negative force to an informative sensory language
  • Allow acknowledgment of emotional and mental states, and their effects on physicality

Once experienced, this access to sensory information can then, in the context of  “working out,” inform:

  • Pace
  • Intensity
  • Range of motion
  • Roots of specific challenges & inconsistencies
  • Opportunities for new directions
  • Degree of mastery

Each one of us has a unique flow to the movement in our bodies, coming from very deep within. If you can tap into that flow as a foundation for whatever movement you’ve undertaken, you will find the results you are seeking dramatically improved. Sensory information creates relationships in the body. Follow your sensation. Make a practice of maintaining a conscious awareness of what is happening in your body. You will find that this one simple thing has the ability to  help you organize and maintain space in your body, and significantly improve your ability to affect change.

Here’s a great way to get started; anywhere, anytime:

Feel the ground under your feet. How do you connect to it? Do you feel heavy on the ground, light on your feet, or somewhere in between?  Reach the crown of your head toward the sky. Do your shoulders hang easily on the spine, or do they feel rucked up around your ears? Tune in to the textures in your body – what feels soft and easy? What feels tense or brittle? What other qualities come to mind for you?  How do you connect with the things (tools, equipment) in your environment? Do they feel like a part of you, flowing easily into use? Or do they feel apart from you, a little cumbersome or stiff to use? Can you invite what feels good to continue as you move? If you’re exercising, check in with your sensation as you ramp up your effort. Can you still find ease? Explore what space you can create in your body, even when you’re working at maximum load. How do you feel after exercise? Exhausted and spent?  Tired, but invigorated? Broken? Re-vitalized?

Hands-in-the-air-e1466470344864As you go through the course of your day, take a few moments periodically to observe your sensations: sitting at your desk, talking on the phone, out for a run, making dinner, playing with the kids. Becoming aware of how you are in your body is a powerful tool for self-awareness,  self-regulation, and self-care. Like anything else, it takes practice! It’s a “soft” skill, but body awareness is a learned skill. Try it… you just might like it!

Here’s a poem to invite you in…

Tasting Mindfulness

Have you ever had the experience of stopping so completely,

of being in your body so completely,

of being in your life so completely,

that what you knew and what you didn’t know,

that what had been and what was yet to come,

and the way things are right now

no longer held the slightest discord?

It would be a moment of complete presence, beyond striving,

beyond mere acceptance,

beyond the desire to escape or fix anything or plunge ahead,

a moment of pure seeing, pure feeling,

a moment in which life simply is,

and that “isness” grabs you by all your senses,

all your memories, by your very genes,

by your loves, and,

welcomes you home.

(Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Insert Image