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Bringing awareness into practice

For most of us, body awareness is a blurring of what we feel in our body and what we've learned about our body. Can you recognize this in your own awareness? Perhaps notice where that blurring --which you might experience as complex or unsure, among other things - feels ok for now.
 
Listen to "soft stance: 10 movements standing" on Spreaker.
 

What’s in the "soft stance" episode of moved to heal?

  • Welcome + introduction
  • Description of the movements (see list below)
  • Movement cueing (begins at 11:30)

 

The 10 movements offered in the soft stance episode

  • Standing, side bend
  • Standing, roll down + up
  • Warrior 1, arms hug or cross
  • Warrior 1, bend + straighten leg
  • Standing balance, tree
  • Standing balance, lift straight leg
  • Warrior 2, lift + lower arms
  • Warrior 2, reach + tilt torso
  • Standing, backbend
  • Standing, pause

I guide you through this practice step by step, and you can choose to skip or stay with any area you like.

 

What makes this trauma informed?

Choices, invitations, noticing, open-ended experiments. Read more about those here.

 

Integration suggestion

After listening to the episode, perhaps take a moment to check in: did you notice something that you want to remember or follow up on? If yes, maybe jot it down in a notebook or record a voice memo to help you remember.

 

You can give it a try when you're ready

Listen to "soft stance: 10 movements standing" on Spreaker.

 
Be moving, be true, be you
esther
 
 

photo credit birger strahl, found on unsplash

Let’s all take a deep breath…

Have you heard that deep breathing is a good way to calm down and relax? Well, I’m here to say it’s true! …except when it’s not. Like the day I left meditation class with my heart racing because I’d overdone it on a breathing exercise. I was surprised because this wasn’t my usual experience in meditation class. What had happened and why?

 

Your breathing is linked to your nervous system

The explanation for my odd reaction is simple. I had, through breathing (and probably a lot of attitude), revved up my heart and charged up my nervous system for a confrontation –when I had no need of fighting anyone. Our breathing and physiological state (and therefore our emotional state) are causally linked. Breathing is part of a network of systems with many moving and interrelating parts. It ebbs and flows with the risings and fallings of your autonomic nervous system and is a key player in autonomic regulation – when you can access it.

Before I get into that, it’ll be helpful to review the fancy terms and some basic facts about your nervous system.

 

Your nervous system in brief

The human nervous system (and probably that of all animals with brains, but don’t quote me on that) has two main parts: the Central Nervous System and the Autonomic Nervous System. The CNS is made up of your brain and spinal cord. The ANS is made up of everything else – all the nerves running from the spinal cord out into your body. Nerve signals travel between CNS and ANS, between your body and your brain, and that two-way communication is essential. The rest of what I’m going to share sounds like it’s all about the ANS –and it is, but I just want to make to point out that the ANS is sending and receiving signals to the brain throughout it all!

Your Autonomic Nervous System
Within the ANS there are subsystems that are in constant interplay for each of us throughout the day, regulating our response to our environment (both external and internal) so that we can stay alive. These subsystems are useful to know by name, because I’ll refer to them a bunch:

  • Sympathetic nervous system – responsible for preparing the body/brain to respond to danger. A sympathetic response charges up our muscles and brain for a physical fight or flight. This process diverts resources away from slow thinking, digestion, reproduction, and immune system function.
  • Dorsal vagal system (part of the parasympathetic nervous system) – responsible for shutting down the body/brain as a last attempt to survive a threat. A dorsal vagal response freezes the body and/or mind, essentially “playing dead.” This can explain fainting, and also depressive moods and behaviors.
  • Ventral vagal system (part of the parasympathetic nervous system) – responsible for restoring or continuing the body/brain in a state of safety, healing, and life maintenance. A ventral vagal response puts the brake on any sympathetic or dorsal activity and resources are re-routed to all those systems necessary for not just surviving, but also thriving.

 

How do these responses affect your breathing?

Changes in nervous system activity can change your breathing (and vice versa).

When your sympathetic response charges up, your breathing rate speeds up as part of the need to power up your muscles with more circulating blood and oxygen. Rapid or sharp or irregular breathing is a sign of an SNS response.

When you start to move back into a ventral vagal response, your breathing returns to normal and can be steady or deep and slow.

 

It goes both ways

You can also use breathing to shift your nervous system activity. We use breathing to move into a ventral vagal response all the time with practices like calm deep breathing and lengthening your exhales in a comfortable way. There are simple breathing practices you can learn and use when needed or daily, and I’ll share two of my favorites next time.

For the other side of the ANS, you might also use breathing to stir up the sympathetic response to prepare for a physical challenge. This is how I got stuck with my heart racing –except that it wasn’t intentional! The primary breathing practice we use in ISHTA meditation uses a challenging breath ratio, and I was working on lengthening my breath retention. Normally this would be ok with the long exhales and shorter inhales. But I was pushing my body further than it was comfortable going. Without realizing it, I had entered into a competition with myself, waking up my sympathetic response. My body was ready for a fight!

After that, I wasn’t really in a state to use “deep breathing” to calm myself down, at least not without help. Luckily, my next appointment was a teaching swap with a colleague and friend who immediately understood the state I was in and suggested I teach rather than be put through exercises. Seeing a friendly face, hearing a reassuring voice, and getting to teach (which usually grounds and centers me) all helped me gradually shift back into a ventral vagal state.

My meditation episode came about by taking a conscious practice too far. It was quickly brought on, but also pretty quickly resolved. Had I been alone, I’m confident I could have calmed myself down one way or another because I know my body well, know what calms me, and am used to doing practices to encourage a certain body/mind state. I’ve learned how to regulate my nervous system responses using various practices.

What happens when you don’t know how to regulate?

We all have the same ANS, the same capacity for engaging with it – either to take conscious control of our body/mind state and to be shifted “automatically” in response to an event, a thought, or a trigger.

Triggers awaken a stress response that was once useful for survival. These are sympathetic or dorsal vagal responses that were stored in your body/mind for quick retrieval in future – in case your life is threatened again in a similar way. And while our nervous system is really good at protecting us, it’s not always so good at splitting hairs when it comes to things that may or may not be life threatening. A loud sound is a loud sound. A rejection is a rejection. Whatever your body or mind links with a past experience is likely to be broad enough that there are other examples in the world. Your nervous system still calls on protective action before your mind has a chance to assess what kind of threat you’re experiencing – a manageable one or a life threatening one. This makes what might otherwise be a manageable experience into a trigger for a strong response.

As we’ve seen, your nervous system state and your breathing are intertwined, and how you breathe may trigger or come about with a triggered stress response. More importantly, you might breath the way you do to keep you in a protected state. Changing it, even if it would eventually be useful, might in any given moment be frightening and feel impossible. And so if “take a deep breath” initiates a sympathetic response, whether it’s to avoid a direct threat or to avoid lowering your shield, the calming effect of lengthening and slowing your breathing will be inaccessible in that moment. Thankfully, you can learn how to gain access again. (Movement practices on Moved to Heal are all created with this learning in mind.)

 

Breathing is universal and personal

Breathing is very personal. In my teaching, I avoid instructing the breath, offering instead options, suggestions, and rhythms you can choose to follow or ignore. I encourage you to find your own way in, over time. Once you can feel comfortable tapping into your breath as a resource, you can use it to help regulate your ANS (we call that autonomic regulation). When you start working with breathing as a practice, there may be some experiences along the way that are unsettling or uncomfortable or even scary, which is why it is helpful to start breath work with a teacher who can help you regulate in the moment through other means (more on that in a future post). If you’re a survivor of trauma, you might consider seeking out a therapist with some kind of body-based modality in their methodology (such as trauma-sensitive yoga, somatic experiencing, NARM, and many others). Of course, if you’re already seeing someone you like who doesn’t have that experience, consider trying a separate body-based practice, which might be as simple as joining a yoga class, either one that is expressly trauma-informed or taught by a teacher with trauma-informed training (such as my Sunday classes!).

In a follow up post, I’ll share some breathing practices and suggestions for how to find a comfortable way in whenever you’re ready to try them.

 
Be moving, be true, be you,
esther
 
 

photo credit mahdis mousavi, found on unsplash

Going deep without process

A few episodes back, I shared my image of noticing layers of yourself (physical and otherwise). Which I kept paying attention to in my own practice, especially as one day I observed myself going straight for the center. I was feeling my innermost depths!

Sort of. Not really.

What I was really doing was rushing my way into meditation, looking for a sensation that signaled "now I'm meditating" rather than going through a process. Because of course it's the process --and practicing it with patience-- that is really where the meditation is, and where the magic happens.

Do you ever find yourself going straight for the result you expect rather than staying with the experience of the practice? Maybe today, see what it takes to go for the process.

Enjoy!

 
Listen to "Ep 503 - Practicing Patience + a Humming Meditation" on Spreaker.
 

What’s in this episode of Everyday Meditation?

  • Welcome + getting situated, with a few thoughts on rushing experience
  • A little lead-in movement: Arm reach/lift + lower
  • Breathing practice: Long exhale breathing
  • Meditation technique (awareness kriya): Humming sounds (bija mantra)
  • A little re-grounding movement: Seated twist

As always, I encourage you to make yourself at home in this practice: substitute, modify, do as you need to feel safe and present, including taking breaks!

 

Integration suggestion

After listening to the episode, perhaps check in: did you notice something that you want to carry with you? If yes, maybe jot it down in a notebook or record a voice memo to help you remember!

 

You can give it a try when you're ready

Listen to "Ep 503 - Practicing Patience + a Humming Meditation" on Spreaker.

 
Be moving, be true, be you
esther
 
 

photo credit max bohme, found on unsplash

Sometimes, it can be good to just observe

Does all that we’re aware of in ourselves need to have meaning? Do we need to explain all that we can sense in our bodies? I don't think so. Being aware of being, of sensing without explaining --or being aware with curiosity and patience-- can be a gift, especially when it's a practice you choose.

 
Listen to "upright: 5 movements standing" on Spreaker.
 

What’s in the "upright" episode of moved to heal?

  • Welcome + introduction
  • Description of the movements (see list below)
  • Movement cueing (begins at 11:00)

 

The 5 movements offered in the upright episode

  • Standing, side bend
  • Warrior 1, arms hug or cross
  • Standing, balance (tree)
  • Warrior 2, lift + lower arms
  • Standing, backbend

I guide you through this practice step by step, and you can choose to skip or stay with any area you like.

 

What makes this trauma informed?

Choices, invitations, noticing, open-ended experiments. Read more about those here.

 

Integration suggestion

After listening to the episode, perhaps take a moment to check in: did you notice something that you want to remember or follow up on? If yes, maybe jot it down in a notebook or record a voice memo to help you remember.

 

You can give it a try when you're ready

Listen to "upright: 5 movements standing" on Spreaker.

 
Be moving, be true, be you
esther
 
 

photo credit brandon couch, found on unsplash

There's a Meditation Frame of Mind

When you're calm, attentive, and open to anything, you're likely ready to meditate (among many other things you could do). Meditation can take some determination to stick with, and coming to it in a "ready" frame of mind is a big help. Have you experienced this? Or perhaps you've never tried meditation because you've always assumed this is a necessary condition to be able to meditate?

If so, you're likely to walk away from the practice when you feel anxious or frazzled or riled up -- the opposite of calm and focused. I'm here to encourage you to come back! No need to put the cart before the horse, meditation can help you out of your frazzled state, and a small attitude shift can help you get there. More on that in the opening minutes of this week's practice episode --I hope you'll tune in and see what you think 🙂
 
Listen to "Ep 502 - Being in a Meditation Frame of Mind + Figure 8 Breath" on Spreaker.
 

What’s in this episode of Everyday Meditation?

  • Welcome + getting situated, with a few thoughts on entering your meditation practice in a not-so-ready-for-it frame of mind
  • A little lead-in movement: Seated twist
  • Breathing practice: 1:1 inhale:exhale breathing
  • Meditation technique (awareness kriya): Figure 8 Breath, aka Arohan/Awarohan
  • A little re-grounding movement: Reclining rest, aka Savasan

As always, I encourage you to make yourself at home in this practice: substitute, modify, do as you need to feel safe and present, including taking breaks!

 

Integration suggestion

After listening to the episode, perhaps check in: did you notice something that you want to carry with you? If yes, maybe jot it down in a notebook or record a voice memo to help you remember!

 

You can give it a try when you're ready

Listen to "Ep 502 - Being in a Meditation Frame of Mind + Figure 8 Breath" on Spreaker.

 
Be moving, be true, be you
esther
 
 

photo credit gowtham munukutla, found on unsplash

Everything has a beginning + an ending

Most beginnings and endings get a lot of our attention. Whether in a good way or a dreaded way, they tend to be exciting. Some beginnings + endings, however, don't always rise up to our notice because we experience them more like middles. Like with breathing or meditating. Each breath, each moment of shifting awareness, has a beginning moment, a continuing, and an ending. It wouldn't be useful to always be aware of these, and yet as a meditation practice, turning your attention to one breath or moment beginning and ending and becoming the next breath or moment could be transformative.

I invite you to let that idea be part of your practice today, or you can ignore and just practice in the way that suits you best! Enjoy!
 
Listen to "Ep 501 - Beginnings + Endings + Swaying to Stillness Meditation" on Spreaker.
 

What’s in this episode of Everyday Meditation?

  • Welcome + getting situated, with a few thoughts on beginnings + endings
  • A little lead-in movement: Seated side stretch
  • Breathing practice: 4-part Breathing
  • Meditation technique (awareness kriya): Sway to Stillness
  • A little re-grounding movement: Reclining knock knees

As always, I encourage you to make yourself at home in this practice: substitute, modify, do as you need to feel safe and present, including taking breaks!

 

Integration suggestion

After listening to the episode, perhaps check in: did you notice something that you want to carry with you? If yes, maybe jot it down in a notebook or record a voice memo to help you remember!

 

You can give it a try when you're ready

Listen to "Ep 501 - Beginnings + Endings + Swaying to Stillness Meditation" on Spreaker.

 
Be moving, be true, be you
esther
 
 

photo credit halacious, found on unsplash

How are we aware?

Awareness can come through your knowledge of something. Like what we collectively know about our bodies. Your knowledge affects your awareness. Body knowledge is part of how you can be aware of your own body.

Awareness is also your sense of, or consciousness of something. Awareness is what you can tune into and feel or notice or hold in your mind's attention, either while it's happening or after it’s happened. You don’t need to be able to label or define or understand an experience to be conscious or aware of it.

If you'd like, perhaps notice how you use your awareness in your practice today.

 
Listen to "strong footing: 15 movements seated + standing" on Spreaker.
 

What’s in the "strong footing" episode of moved to heal?

  • Welcome + introduction
  • Description of the movements (see list below)
  • Movement cueing (begins at 13:30)

 

The 15 movements offered in the "strong footing" episode

  • Cross-leg seat, fold forward
  • Cross-leg seat, cat/cow
  • Cross-leg seat, twist
  • Forward-leg seat, lift arms
  • Forward-leg seat, side bend
  • Forward-leg seat, lean back
  • Low lunge, lift + lower back knee
  • Low lunge, twist
  • Low lunge, lift back knee (high lunge)
  • Side lunge, arm reach
  • Side lunge, lift arms forward + lower down
  • Warrior 2 (or side lunge), lift + lower one arm
  • Downdog, peddle feet
  • Standing forward fold, sway
  • Standing, roll up + pause

I guide you through this practice step by step, and you can choose to skip or stay with any area you like.

 

What makes this trauma informed?

Choices, invitations, noticing, open-ended experiments. Read more about those here.

 

Integration suggestion

After listening to the episode, perhaps take a moment to check in: did you notice something that you want to remember or follow up on? If yes, maybe jot it down in a notebook or record a voice memo to help you remember.

 

You can give it a try when you're ready

Listen to "strong footing: 15 movements seated + standing" on Spreaker.

 
Be moving, be true, be you
esther
 
 

photo credit ben ostrower, found on unsplash

Body awareness and being you

You might be here because you want to feel joy in moving in your body --and in being yourself. One way to recognize joy as such is through cultivating your body awareness. So what is body awareness?

 

Defining body awareness

There’s the body and then there’s the awareness.

 

Body

Body can be “a body,” a specimen of the human body. The kind of body we study through many lenses (science, medicine, sociology, history, art, and more). Collectively, humanity knows a good deal about this body!

Body can also be your body. Unique, experiencing, being. Individually, you can know a good deal about this body, too.

 

Awareness

Awareness can come through your knowledge of something. Like what we collectively know about our bodies (and any one of us can then look up or study). Your knowledge affects your awareness, which is why I’m including it as a kind of body awareness. Body knowledge is part of how you can be aware of your own body.

Awareness is also your sense of, or consciousness of something. Awareness is what you can tune into and feel or notice or hold in your mind's attention, either while it's happening or after it’s happened. You don’t need to be able to label or define or understand an experience to be conscious or aware of it.

Some sensations guide our basic survival behaviors (hunger, shelter, sleep, community). If we feel them, we usually understand them instinctively. Without anything else to get in the way, if you feel tired, you will rest, if you feel hungry, you will seek out food. Of course, there is plenty that gets in the way, including our own history of experiences and our meaning making.

Because we are all meaning making creatures. When we become aware of sensations we don't understand instinctively, or can’t explain through all we’ve learned, we tend to seek meaning. Sometimes it’s an urgent quest, sometimes we come to that exploration gradually.

Making meaning is not body awareness. It comes after. It's the stories we use to make sense of what comes into our awareness. It's the individual contribution or connection to the collective. It's the knowledge building that we do. Of course, once the knowledge is learned, then it can become part of our capacity for feeling, for being aware through our own senses.

For most of us, body awareness is a blend or blurring of felt sense and learned knowledge of our body. Where that blurring can happen I’d like to unpack further in a future post and for now simply share some examples of what might be just one type of awareness or the other.

 

Felt sense
  • Sensations coming from within
  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Fullness
  • Emptiness
  • Sex drive
  • Pleasure
  • Pain
  • Being warm
  • Being cold
  • Being hot
  • Feeling stiff
  • Feeling sore
  • Feeling numb
  • Wholeness
  • Separateness
  • Belonging
  • Being
  • Being you
  • Stillness
  • Movement

 

Learned knowledge
  • What part of me are bones
  • What part of me are muscles
  • And all my parts in anatomical terms
  • Strength
  • Weakness
  • Shape
  • Size
  • How I fit in
  • How I stand out
  • What I look like
  • Belonging

 

What can you do with body awareness?

Does all that we’re aware of need to have meaning? Do we need to explain all that we can sense in our bodies? Of course not.

Being aware of being, of sensing without explaining --or being aware with curiosity and patience-- can be a gift.

When I’m meditating, my sense of my body, how my body feels, is unique to meditating. As a novice, I sought labels and explanations for the feeling, but that search yielded more mysticism dressed up as science than solid information, so I let it go. I try to just enjoy the experience, understanding it in myself -- even if I can’t explain it to anyone else.

On the other hand, pain in my body, in my muscles, bones, and organs, tends to drive me to seek meaning, and persist in the search. That’s why I study anatomy, teach yoga, and love helping others move out of pain and into healing. When I’m hurting, I want an explanation or cause, so I can either understand and accept or accept and heal.

I’ve learned over the years strategies for cultivating awareness --and being ok with whatever it can teach me. Movement and meditation practices have been key in my own education, which I love to share here, and of course there are also many, many other ways to go about it. I encourage you to explore what works for you, and let awareness of your body, of yourself, be part of being you.

 
Be moving, be true, be you,
esther
 
 

photo credit lisa yount, found on unsplash

What's your reason for meditating?

Today, I meditated as a way to transition between one type of activity and another. I wouldn't say it was to clear my head, but to be present in being me --rather than in doing stuff. A sort of palate cleanser between doings, if you will.

Different days, different years have different reasons. Maybe ask yourself: Why do you meditate? Why are you choosing to practice today?
 
Listen to "Ep 500 - Your reason for meditating + Sat Yam" on Spreaker.

 

What’s in this episode of Everyday Meditation?

  • Welcome + getting situated, with an invitation to consider "what's your reason for meditating?"
  • A little lead-in movement: Seated Cat/Cow
  • Breathing practice: Padadirsasana (hands under opposite armpits --I don't think it feels as weird as it might sound!)
  • Meditation technique (awareness kriya): Sat Yam
  • A little re-grounding movement: Seated forward fold

As always, I encourage you to make yourself at home in this practice: substitute, modify, do as you need to feel safe and present, including taking breaks!

 

Integration suggestion

After listening to the episode, perhaps check in: did you notice something that you want to carry with you? If yes, maybe jot it down in a notebook or record a voice memo to help you remember!

 

You can give it a try when you're ready

Listen to "Ep 500 - Your reason for meditating + Sat Yam" on Spreaker.

 
Be moving, be true, be you
esther
 
 

photo credit eddie sundgren, found on unsplash

What's in a body?

Body can be “a body,” a specimen of the human body. The kind of body we study through many lenses (science, medicine, sociology, history, art, and more). Body can also be your body. Unique, experiencing, being.

If you'd like, you can ask yourself to notice which body --or bodies-- you bring into your practice today.
 
Listen to "wandering road: 10 movements seated + standing" on Spreaker.
 

What’s in the "wandering road" episode of moved to heal?

  • Welcome + introduction
  • Description of the movements (see list below)
  • Movement cueing (begins at 11:00)

 

The 10 movements offered in the "wandering road" episode

  • Cross-leg seat, cat/cow
  • Forward-leg seat, lift arms
  • Forward-leg seat, lean back
  • Downdog, peddle feet
  • Low lunge, lift + lower back knee
  • Side lunge, lift arms forward + lower down
  • Side lunge, arm reach
  • Low lunge, twist
  • Downdog, breathe
  • Cross-leg seat, fold forward

I guide you through this practice step by step, and you can choose to skip or stay with any area you like.

 

What makes this trauma informed?

Choices, invitations, noticing, open-ended experiments. Read more about those here.

 

Integration suggestion

After listening to the episode, perhaps take a moment to check in: did you notice something that you want to remember or follow up on? If yes, maybe jot it down in a notebook or record a voice memo to help you remember.

 

You can give it a try when you're ready

Listen to "wandering road: 10 movements seated + standing" on Spreaker.

 
Be moving, be true, be you
esther
 
 

photo credit joshua hoehne, found on unsplash

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