Our bodies are magnificent teachers. They lead us to joy, awareness, and wakefulness. They facilitate – and enhance — all of life’s experiences both beautiful and painful. Yet actually being present in the body can be less than easy, often less than comfortable, and sometimes entirely unthinkable.Even if we are physically active there is no guarantee that we are actually aware of our body in a way that allows greater presence, responsiveness and wisdom, and who wouldn’t want that?!
To set ourselves up for both a more satisfying workout as well as an opportunity to listen more keenly to our body — keep ourselves safe, go deeper, and in general cultivate greater satisfaction — there are several simple tools we can use. (By the way, you can do these all the time, anytime, because after all your body is ALWAYS with you!)
Mindfulness meditation almost always begins by following the breath – physicality at its most fundamental. And so the breath is where we begin.
The following instructions will be the basis for the remaining four practices.
Breathing the body into the present moment
When to use this: As you settle into the mat before a class or sitting quietly before any activity. Best done once you have arrived where you are going to be doing the activity.
Why do this: Brings you into your body, intentionally connects you with your breath, and allows you to get/stay present in your physical surroundings.
How to begin: Eyes closed, seated or lying down in a relaxed position. Start by hearing and feeling your breath, allowing it to be natural. See your breath as a lightly colored fog and begin to send your breath to your feet. See and feel the breath fill your feet, expanding into all the nooks and crannies. Let the breath bring any and all sensations in your feet to life including the outer edges where you feel the air on your skin. Your feet and ankles become enlivened and slightly tinted with the color of your breath. (I usually use a gold or amber color, which feels warm and compassionate. Choose something that works for you, or no color if it just doesn’t resonate.)
Continue the same practice up your legs, into your pelvis, back, belly, ribs, chest, shoulders, arms, neck and head. Once you’ve done the whole body imagine that you are being breathed without any effort on your part, acknowledging the breath as a constant and friendly endeavor that helps keep you grounded and present.
How to use throughout your practice/activity: No matter what you are doing remind yourself at regular intervals (like before each new exercise or pose) that the breath is the steady foundation of every movement. See and feel your body tinted with the color and energy of the breath and then move from that place. Enjoy the quality of presence and ease even when things get really tough.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Chantill’s series “Anchoring Your Center”!