esther m palmer

Movement is part of who we are

Whether your capacity (or desire) for movement is small or great, whether you're thinking of visible movement of our external bodies or "invisible" movement of our internal spaces, movement is part of being alive.

Perhaps because movement is so fundamental to life, we often don't notice it. Or we notice it when it gets in the way.

For myself, I'm inclined to notice limitations before capacities, and capacity more so when it is extraordinary. I notice difference before sameness. I notice pain before pleasure. Or at least, I would say I used to --before I started paying attention.

As a yoga and movement teacher, I tend to notice all of it these days. I look out for possibility and limitations. I look out for objectives and curiosity. I look out for joy and boredom, pain and relief. I strive to notice what biases are interwoven into my observations -- mine, society's, or the individual's.


Where I see movement

We move to get things done. To build a house or keep up with others.

We move to show our spirits. To dance, to play, to feel alive.

We move to stay healthy. To exercise our bodies and minds with routines that sustain us.

We move to get healthy. To create a shift or change in our bodies and minds with new movements that can challenge us.

We move to heal.

We move to feel. To release feelings, to bring on feelings.

We move to flee. To get away from ourselves and others.

We move to approach. To draw towards ourselves and others.

We move to endure. To build strength through challenge.

We move to overcome. To break barriers and build bases.

We move to be social. To feel connected and to laugh.


movement is something we need

And movement of all kinds! For all reasons!

As a movement teacher, sometimes my emphasis lines up with my students' -- and sometimes it doesn't, like when I show up remembering they like a challenge, and on that they day they just need to feel good in their body. The same can be true of how we approach our internal conversations about movement -- what we want to need and what we actually need don't always sync up.

I encourage you to be curious, to explore the kinds of movement that suit you (whether for health, healing, joy, or no particular reason that you know of). When you discover movement that resonates -- whether it the shape of a sport or practice or just moving without a label, let it become part of your life. Notice when you need it and when you don't.

Gradually, one move at a time, you can build your own movement resource library, just by doing and noticing.

Be moving, be true, be you,

photo credit kristen alyce, found on unsplash

We’re feeling creatures

Do you ever wonder why we feel things the way we do?
Are feelings things that happen to us?
Are feelings things that are us?
Things that come from us? Things we do? Things we make?
What do our feelings mean once they happen, once we have them?

As human beings with bodies and brains, of course, we feel a lot of stuff and a lot of different ways.


Some feelings make sense.

You know what they mean, you feel them often and have learned to trust them. In my own body, I’m familiar with the feeling of hunger, the feeling of being overheated, the feeling of being cold, the feeling of being tired. And the feeling of being angry that I'm tired. These are all things that I'm very used to. I live with them and I accommodate them and I have learned to what actions to take based on what I feel.

For example, when I'm tired I know that my productivity goes down. I know it's really hard for me to be at my best --or even just pleasant-- when I'm tired and so I either try to rest or in some way give myself a break for being tired.


Some feelings are puzzling.

When we don't know what something is telling us, we also don't know whether or not we should listen to it. We might also not hear that it’s there at first.

My fingers and toes started going numb. I didn’t know what it meant and I didn’t know what to do about it. And for a long time, I just observed that it was happening, until I started to question: What is this? Why is it happening? I looked it up and apparently some people’s fingers and toes go numb in cold and under stress. Who knew? So gradually I conceded that I should try to keep my toes and fingers warmer. This took a minute because my narrative has always been that my feet get warm quickly and I’m forever sticking them out from under blankets to avoid overheating.

But now my story is a bit more complex. I still stick my feet out to cool down, but I also wear thicker socks in the winter. And when my hands + feet get cold, it means something different to me now. I'm learning to trust this new sensation experience and respond accordingly.


Some feelings are in our brains and some feelings are in our bodies.

Some feelings are thoughts. And some feelings are sensations.

I have knee pain. That’s a sensation in my body, I guess. The frustration in my mind, the pain in my regret that this physical pain in my knees limits me -- those are more of feelings in my mind.

Really, though, I don't think there's too much distinction between feelings in the brain and feelings in the body. That may be how we distinguish or perceive what's happening -- we think of feelings as coming from our brains or bodies, of being in our minds or physical being, of happening to us or being us. Sometimes these distinctions are useful, sometimes they’re not. My knee pain, that I’ve lived with on and off for years, feels like an all-of-me sensation.


Some feelings make us take action.

Pain, hunger, frustration, exhaustion, love, anger, embarrassment, desire.


Some feelings make us sit still.

Pain, love, anger, frustration, embarrassment, comfort, ease.
Very often the same feelings can motivate or immobilize us. It depends on the context, it depends on the moment. It depends on the unique person and circumstance.


Some feelings are predictable.

If you don't eat all day, you'll probably feel hungry by the end of a day. If you don't sleep, you'll probably feel tired. The pain in my knees -- I'm pretty certain it's gonna be there when I go to workout later. I always hope it's not there, but it usually is. And so I plan for it. That's one that I'm trying to get rid of and yet I plan for it being there, even while I do what I can do to heal.


Some feelings are unexpected.

There’ve been times when the simplest little gesture has made me overwhelmingly happy, when the smallest kindness or consideration from another person has created a deeply emotional response. We’re wired to thrive in the kindness of others. It’s in these moments that I recognize instinctively that we're all in this together, that we all feel and want many of the same kinds of feelings.


Some feelings we seek out and some feelings we avoid.

I avoid what I expect will give me pain. This is an instinct. I seek out a feeling of strength and comfort and joy. This took years to learn -- to learn what creates actual comfort and joy… and how to trust it.

Crowds and parties usually make me anxious, so I avoid the feelings that come up from being in crowds. Long conversations about my favorite topics tend to light up my spirit, so I seek out that feeling of being intimately connected.


Some feelings we’ve learned to understand

When you've experienced something enough times, you might start to recognize it. For example, when I don’t like being at a party, I feel small and out of body. This is a signal from my body that I didn’t always understand, but it’s grown reliable over the years 😉

Through my time teaching movement and meditation, I've come to learn that we feel what we feel -- and then we seek meaning to explain it.

Sometimes we get a pretty good story going on. We say, “Okay, this feeling means this kind of experience. These sensations from/in my body have to do with this kind of feeling from/in my mind.” And it can be powerful to put a label on physical sensations --or to identify the physical sensations that fit a label you’ve already given yourself.

You can learn about what you're feeling in both directions.

Once you've got a name for a physical sensation, it can help you learn how to change what you want to change and leave what you want to leave.

Physical sensations that go with a feeling can also help you shift from the body side. Let's say you recognize that you’re growing anxious because your belly is starting to cramp and your breathing is becoming shallow. You might start to take some deep breaths to calm the flutter in your chest and ease the cramping in your belly. If this creates change in your body, you might feel a change in your anxiety, too.

Sometimes we need the feeling or sensation, the indication of what we're going through, to know where we are.

Sometimes my body tells me I'm okay or I'm not okay long before my brain does.

You can go back and forth. You can dive in from one perspective. You don't have to do anything at all. You can just get to know that feelings are there.

There are so many feelings in my body that I am keenly aware of today that I don't think I ever paid attention to 20 years ago. Some are sensations I didn't actually have 20 years ago -- aches and pains and things like that -- but others are nuances of sensation, feelings that go along with routine experiences in your digestive system, that I just wasn’t aware of. In my younger years, I was cognisant of two feelings: pain and relief. Now I pay attention to all kinds of nuance within pain and relief, and feelings that fall under neither category, but rather just being alive.

Observing and discovering layers in what we feel can help us understand who we are and what we live. How our experiences move with us through the day, when they are part of us and when they aren't part of us. How feelings become part of us, or how they live with us, is something we have a say in.

Not always a very easy say, sometimes a say that takes a lot of work, but a say nonetheless.

Be moving, be true, be feeling, be you.


You're practicing observing your thoughts. Maybe you're recognizing the power of thinking. But how exactly do thoughts lead to action?

Remember Newton and the roughly equal force (F) of sudden (high a) vs. daily (high m) thoughts?

Well, if fundamental physics got us to the idea of the thoughts having power (F), it was the algebra that helped us understand the different ways thoughts wield force.

The truth of the equation teaches us not only about F, force, but also m, mass, and a, acceleration. You can look at the different roles the parts play in the equation to see how one effects the others.

Because math is math, all true equations work this way. So we can use this feature again to figure out what thoughts are made of and how they are connected to actions.

The equation of thinking

If you were a thought, what might have had to take place to stir you into being? When do you find yourself thinking?

All the time, I know, but specific thoughts tend to arise with actions, right? You do something, you think something that goes with what you're doing or comes up because of what you're doing.

So, thoughts (t) = Actions (A).

Then what? Does something need to be added to the action to create thought or determine the nature of the thought? Is thought the action amplified or deconstructed by something?

To sort through this, let's say you're doing a walking meditation. That means you're walking (pretty slowly) and thinking only "left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot..." (or similar) and presumably you're feeling nothing about what you're doing. You're at an emotional neutral.

In this scenario, t = A is sufficient. But t = A can also be expressed as t = A * 1. Thus there can be an algebraic equation t = A * x, right? Just so long as x = 1 = neutral feeling/emotion.

But what if you've been sitting in a traffic jam for half an hour? When the cars start to move, you'll likely feel relief and think something along the lines of "Oh, thank goodness we're moving".

Your emotion here is other than neutral and it has contributed to your thought. So, we can replace x with a more precise variable f, feelings, and allow it to have a value other than 1. Thus: t = A * f

Your thoughts are the result of your actions and the feelings they stir up.

Of course, because of algebra, where t = A * f, it must also be true that f = t / A and A = f / t. Oh, how I do love equations! But even still, let's not get too attached to the exact equation. I concede you could as easily justify t = f / A as t = A * f because we're dealing with the mind in a broad, non-scientific way, so maybe just roll with it for me...

Whatever the actual "math" for any one situation might be, the point is that your thoughts and feelings and actions are undeniably, mathematically (!), intertwined.

Your thoughts are the product of how you feel about your actions.

Your actions are the result of your feelings analyzed by thoughts. It doesn't matter if those actions are automatic or calculated.

Your feelings are the result of transforming your thoughts into actions.

Want to change the value of any part of the equation? 

You can go through either of the other two parts to get there. Change your Actions and you'll create a shift in your thoughts and/or feelings.

Feel rotten? Make yourself smile and jump and dance. Fake it till you believe it.

Feel antsy? Do something that requires a hefty physical effort or mental focus.

Feel joy? Soak it in. Know that you'll be OK when the feelings of joy morph into something else.

Some days, it'll feel like you're fighting yourself. But the more you let yourself dig in, the better a shot you have of your better self coming out the victor.

How do you dig in?

Thinking nasty thoughts about a colleague? 

Find a good feeling: search for at least one thing about her that makes you smile. Go the extra mile and tell her.

Thinking critical thoughts about yourself? 

Take action: do something you're really good at, even if it's a mundane task.

Assess and repeat!

Sometimes, though, making these shifts isn't the right move. Certain thoughts you should engage with and shouldn't try to walk off. If you feel challenged and resistant to any of the above suggestions, try to ask yourself why. Do you just need to feel the way you feel for a while? Are you going through something tough that does indeed need processing?

Those aren't the thoughts and feelings to ignore or throw away. Engage freely in turning them over in your mind. Talk them through or write them down. (External processing can speed the healing process.)

When the challenge of observing without engaging is too much, trust that. 

If, rather, you just seem antsy or bored with the task, well, you can do better, I promise! (As long as you want to do better.)

Change your approach, or give it a break today and come back tomorrow. Then, keep at it, a little bit each day.

By doing so, you'll have the fuel for transforming your thoughts, feelings, and actions!

Once you can observe your thoughts enough to realize that they're effecting you, you can take an action to change them directly or indirectly, as per our equation above.

You will always have the three components in your equation to create the change you seek. If one doesn't work, you can try another.

Keep at it, day by day.

Observing with you,


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