Over the holidays, my in-laws were visiting, and one evening we were all at the table drinking tea when the conversation moved in the direction of the body. As we discussed some of the many shared experiences of life that involve the body, such as injuries and aging, I began to express various thoughts that all seemed to have a common thread, namely that I really value spending time attending to my body.
Eventually, my father-in-law, known as Papa to my son, asked, “what is the point of doing what you do?” I was both excited and surprised by this question. Excited because he had never asked me that question before and any opportunity to share with my family about what is meaningful and important to me feels really fulfilling. And surprised because the answer to that question seemed so obvious to me, and, yet, expressing it at the time was not as easy as I thought it would be.
The first thing that I was reminded of is that the way I attend to my body is very different from the way Papa and many others attend to their bodies. What is natural and obvious to me is often unfamilliar to others. Just to refresh (additional insight can be found in all of my past blogs), when I talk about “attending to the body” I am referring to an inquiry filled dialogue between all the parts of my body. When I am “attending to my body”, I am paying attention to the relationships between all of the parts of my body so that I can be adaptable and responsive. This approach allows for each moment to be part of a process of curiosity and exploration, as opposed to an approach that is preoccupied with an end result or final product.
Attending to the body in this manner allows me to better sense when I am feeling uncomfortable, encouraging me to find and choose comfort. Attending to the body in this manner allows me to know when I have had enough of something whether it be a movement practice or a conversation and I can choose to respond differently. Attending to the body in this manner allows me to sense when I am moving with ease or tension and I can choose to shift my approach. Attending to the body in this manner gives me choices and allows me the freedom to make choices around how I am engaging with myself and others in this moment. And I will further explore the importance of habits and choice in the next blog, so stay tuned.
One of the most obvious things that comes to mind is “why not attend to your body?” Your body is always with you. You have the opportunity to feel your body in every moment. Your body is breathing, moving, experiencing sensations, impulses, desires, thoughts, discomforts, pains, and a whole mysterious landscape of changing qualities all of the time. Why not engage with it, feel it, think about it, notice it, inquire about it, and take time observing your own physical experience? To me, the body is the most direct thing we have to shift our attention to being present, fully awake and alive in each moment. The body is full of so much mystery and the more we listen to it, hear it, take care of it and remember that it has an intelligence, the more our body becomes an active participant that directly relates to how we live our life, how we move and the many choices we make.
When we spend time getting to know our bodies better, we begin to realize the range of choice that exists in every moment. This provides us with the opportunity to wake up to more aspects of ourselves and utilize parts of our body that we had not known were there. When we realize that we have choices when we move, the whole body learns new ways of finding support and mobility that allows old patterns that may not have been helpful to be replaced with new patterns. This dialogue between observation, feeling and movement becomes a practice about navigating the dynamic mystery of our own bodies.