Do you know how much I love the human body? ALOT. I really do. All the muscles, the organs, skin, your beating heart (keeping you alive while you read this) yet how often do we really think about it? Like really think about it? I know, you might not geek-out on the wonder that is our body like me, but please keep reading, because I want to talk about patterns.
Our thought patterns, emotional patterns and physical movement patterns, about how we have lived in our body everyday of our life and have etched these deep grooves, some consciously, many unconscious. And how it is through our body that we can learn the most about who we are.
In my experience working with people in yoga and movement-based settings for the past 10 years, I have found that the most effective ways to create lasting and effective change in our emotional and mental thought patterns is to get into the body first. The body is our anchor for our minds. When we can discover and reawaken how we move, sit and stand, it is a tangible and often immediate change. This change then leads to creating new and healthy patterns of movement. We can feel the difference in our body and that tangible feeling is an effective and concrete example that we can work with.
I find too often in a yoga class you will hear vague abstractions like 'feel your spirit soar', 'let go', "open your heart' (which I too, have been known to say), 'feel your bliss' and so on. While I can get where they are coming from, it can leave us stuck in the mind as we try to figure out where our spirits will soar to, how exactly my heart will open and where I'm going to feel my bliss as I let go of what?
As a culture, there is the very deep pattern to be in our heads- thinking about the past, future, worries, what that person said, what they didn't say, what I'm going to eat and so on and so on. As a result, one of the patterns that our culture needs more of is awareness of our body. Which again, is the anchor for our minds. So when we listen to a cue such as 'feel the weight of your body drop into your heels', 'expand your breath into the ribcage' or 'soften the hinge of your jaw', these concrete actions drop us out of the busy thinking mind and teaches us to listen to the cues and wisdom our body tells us.
How about an example... let's say you have been feeling really stressed out (sound familiar?). This means you have been living in a stress pattern that needs to change. So the solution would be to let go of stress. Sure, sounds easy but if you really think about it, that is a vague and abstract concept. But because our body tells the story of our mind, very likely you will be holding that mental stress somewhere in the body. One of the places many of us hold stress is in our shoulders and neck. So right away you can get into the shoulders, do some simple stretches and movements combined with deep breathing and begin to feel the stress leave your body. In the space of 5, 10 minutes we can anchor a sense of relaxation in the body and create a new non-stressed pattern. And the more we can bring attention throughout the day to the shoulders and neck (or anywhere we need to) to check in, fix the alignment, stretch out the stress, we are re-patterning our minds and our muscles to stay in the healthy place.
It is important to combine this with the work of uncovering those situations, people or perspectives that cause us stress. By moving the stress out of our physical body we can make that work easier and the feeling of stress less acute. We are actually changing our nervous system from the fight or flight stress response into the parasympathetic system of rest and repose.
Change the body- change the mind. The more familiar and habituated we become to checking in, observing and adjusting our old patterns into healthy new ones, then the mind will follow. We don't need to get lost in the abstract of the spiritual path. We can get grounded right here, right now in the body. Refining who we are through the tangible sensations of a deep breath, an aligned body, and relaxed muscles. Maybe then it will be easier to 'soar on the wings of our hearts while we let go and find our bliss'... (while actually feeling your bare feet on the earth!)