Why keeping in touch with your body is important

Body painting

This is a short blog about why keeping touch with your body is important

The body, your body, is always there. It is always changing and updating, but in essence a constant feature of the present moment.

The mind however, goes off. It travels forward and back at a whim so it seems. But reality is only here and now, the rest is just in thought. However, each thought, each feeling, each sensation and each movement are all embodied. They are also embedded within a context, an environment and a society.  The mind simply cannot be considered in isolation.

This in mind so to speak, means that what we focus on governs how we feel. Our emotional state is a biological state, orientating us towards a particular experience, to meet a particular set of needs. What is interesting is that when we focus our attention on the feeling itself, if it is a state of pleasure or joy or any other positive feeling, it grows. When we focus on a negative feeling such as anxiety or anger, what happens? Well, you can either try it or wait until the end to discover the answer.

The whole person

Regular readers will be familiar with my writings on the whole person. In short, the premis is that it is always the person as a whole who has an experience. For example, I feel pain in my hand rather than my hand is in pain. The importance lies in the need to address the person to successfully address pain. As I tell people I see, the biology of pain (and there is nothing specific to pain) is largely not where you feel it.

To feel oneself then, requires a completeness. A wholeness that needs both body and mind to be in the same place at the same time. Only when the two are together as one are we truly present. In our world where we learn early to escape the body from horrible feelings, emotions and sensations, this can seem like the thing to do. We are encouraged to drink, smoke, take drugs, buy something new and distract. Except trying to avoid and escape results in on-going suffering instead of facing and transforming. We cannot escape suffering in life. It is part of life. But no-one teaches us how to suffer. To know how to suffer is to reduce the impact and overcome the cause(s) of one’s suffering.

A simple practice

One simple way to be whole, and to connect and re-engage with the body is with the body scan. This is where you pass your attention through your body from top to bottom. You notice without judgement, with acceptance of what is, and an openness to all experiences and sensations. In so doing, you are whole, which is the true person.

The awareness, or check-in as I sometimes call it, is a way to address our biological needs. Checking in, I am aware that I need to move, to stretch, to drink, to eat, to scratch, to go to the loo etc etc. Without this bodily awareness, I miss the cues and conscious feelings of need states. And to miss out on the basics can add up over time. Place stress on top and soon our bodily systems are in survive mode, increasingly interpreting sensory information as possibly dangerous. What do we feel then? Headaches, body wide pains, irritable bowel, fatigue, poor concentration, low mood, anxiety and more.

Make a commitment

So what can we do?

We can decide to commit to a route of wellness and practice certain skills each day to build. Without wellness life is even more of a challenge. Part of being well is being present and we can only do so with body and mind together. Each moment is made up of our perception, action and cognition. They are inseparable, yet each adding something distinct the the richness experience.

If you like, now, you can sit or lie and pass your attention through your body to see what is what. Remembering of course, impermanence. Things are always changing, otherwise life would not be possible. So notice the ever changing biology at work. You can spend a minute or a few minutes or an hour. That’s the beauty of checking in. It is easy, and you can do it anywhere, anytime.


This is one of many practices and tools from The Pain Coach Programme

What training do I do?

My own practices each day

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During our conversations in the clinic, people often ask what I practice to keep well. The simple answer to the question is that I have grooved several key practices that enable me to think clearly, and see things for what they really are. Now, to qualify this, yes I have been practicing for a long time, and no I am not perfect at them! They are always work in progress as we learn more and more about ourselves, the world and how the two come together.

So, the main practices are mindfulness and exercise. Sounds simple! It does actually get easier and easier to live them as they become second nature and part of who are are. More importantly they are part of your ‘why’, or your purpose in life. Starting with a vision of success, you can then choose to orientate you thinking and actions toward this picture. To achieve something takes practice and focus and learning. Mindfulness and exercise are both important for this as ways to improve performance, but of course they themselves are to be practiced.

The idea of the Pain Coach came to me having thought about the best way we can address the huge problem of chronic pain. I wanted a way to authentically reach the person and encourage them to take the steps to success, feeling inspired by what they are doing and achieving. In essence, the person is coached to become their own coach, simply because we are with ourselves all the time and need to make decisions and take action. To overcome pain, which we can, this needs to be consistently in-line with the health ‘me’. But, we are all coaching ourselves. That inner dialogue we all generate and experience can be so influential in our perceptions, actions and thinking.

~ how am I choosing to feel?

One of the areas I have worked upon in my practices is the inner dialogue. The realisation that the inner dialogue is saying ‘……….’ and that I do not have to listen and instead choose another route, is empowering. Of course that does not mean that the ‘negative’ voice is not heard. It means we can choose to think in a different way, feel a different way by actively carving a new thought pattern or action. How am I choosing to think? How am I choosing to feel? Two great questions to ponder as they create space to make a decision in line with the best you captured by the vision.

Mindful practice

Mindful practice takes a number of forms. I find the practices described by Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön to be highly relevant and effective for the modern world in which we live ~ here’s an example.

The formal practice of sitting and being mindful or mindfulness meditation develops our skills in paying attention, knowing our mind’s habits, experiencing a healthy flexibility with our emotions and often a calmness that is welcomed. However, in practicing, we are not trying to get anywhere or actively creating a certain state. Instead, we are open to whatever arises each moment, whether pleasant or unpleasant, seeing things for what they are.

~ paying attention and being present gives us great insight

Day to day practice, or through the day practice, string together awareness of what is happening in this moment. Our mind’s natural state is to jump around, into the past or future, which if unskilled means that we embody this flitting to the point of discomfort and suffering. There is a difference between being aware that you are holding a memory about a particular event and re-living it. Both will be emotional, but one causing much more suffering than the other. In being mindful, one learns to let go instead of gripping on and replaying the tape, building the emotion with the knock on effects for the day.

A simple way of achieving this is by consciously taking 3 breaths and slowly breathing out. Setting a reminder of having a prompt can be helpful until it becomes second nature.

Learning to ease your own suffering

To learn to ease your own suffering allows one to present the ways to others, so that they might ease theirs. Undoubtedly, everyone experiences suffering through their lives as it is unavoidable. This suffering, when transformed, becomes one of the most valuable learning experiences that can be used to benefit others and society. The great people people we listen to about the ways we can ease suffering have suffered enormously and this is no coincidence.

The most potent example of suffering is the loss of someone you love. And whilst the pain may never go, the suffering can and does ease. Indeed, when the experience is then looked at, if some good were to emerge it would be a deeper compassion for others’ suffering and an ability to help and support others to move onward in a chosen direction.

On a more day to day basis, suffering comes on the form of anxieties, fears and wanting to be someone or somewhere else. Resisting what is happening and how you are right now causes great tension and discomfort. People can behave in unpleasant ways when they feel they are not getting what they ‘deserve’.

Mindful practice, which is simply being open to all experiences, seeing how they naturally transform and pass, letting go of attachments and being non-judgmental, relieves all of the causes of suffering mentioned above. We can also develop the insight to understand the causes of our suffering: ‘know thyself’. Exploring the question: ‘who am I?’ can be most challenging, but most revealing and the way to perform our best at home, at work or on the field of play

We can all develop our own ways of practicing according to our philosophy of life. Starting by defining that philosophy and writing it down alongside the clear picture of what the desired life looks like, sets the stall. These are some of my tenets:

  • We are designed to change and we can choose the direction we take by choosing an attitude to life
  • We are great learners and opportunities to learn exist all the time
  • We all have incredible potential
  • We can choose to do our best each day
  • We have the basic tools, but it is down to the individual to take responsibility and flourish

What will you choose?

RS

Compassionate abiding

A way to approach unwanted feelings by Pema Chödrön

Man and woman holding hands at a table

Pema Chödrön writes with deep compassion about the challenges we face in the modern world. Pema and Thich Nhat Hanh are two of my favourite reads, as they bring the philosophy of Buddhism to the people in a practical way. The practices do not need to be considered spiritual, instead ways to gain insight, patience and build compassion toward ourselves and the world. They offer a great deal more than that too!

My Pain Coach Programme is a range of simple and practical skills that you use to overcome your pain and live your life meaningfully. These skills are based on understanding your pain, the key foundation from where new healthy habits emerge. Here is a wonderful practice from Pema, compassionate abiding, which is a way to bring warmness to your feelings of discomfort. We all experience uncomfortable emotions and feelings, yet we are rarely trained how to face them, instead encouraged to avoid them. These feelings are a NORMAL part of life and hence unavoidable. Therefore, having the skill to be open to these feelings is a way to ease suffering.

In relation to pain, we have many associated feelings and emotions that increase suffering. There is the pain itself and then the suffering we live from the way we think about it. When you realise that you have a choice, it is hugely empowering. ‘How am I choosing to think about this pain?’ is the question to pose to self. As you step back from being embroiled, you gain insight and actualise the opportunity to make a choice to think differently and feel better. This is why it is so important to understand pain. To understand pain is to know that you are safe and free to make choices, and to live.

The practice

When you realise that you are hooked, which is that familiar feeling you have when a habit is about to arise, you use this practice. We all have many hooks that lead to the unpleasant or unwanted emotions and feelings, from seeing that the loo seat is up to the way a partner says something, from Monday morning blues to the craving for a cigarette. Other examples include addictions, phobias, fears, prejudice, shame, and rage

The embodied feeling emerges often with a familiar inner dialogue. However, we can choose to write a new script, a positive script. Interestingly, our self-confidence is determined by what we are telling ourselves and listening to (these are different) in this moment ~ watch here. Remember though, it is normal to feel the range of emotions. We need them all, even if we don’t enjoy some of them. No-one ever said life was wholly enjoyable!

In 2 parts

Breathing in

Being in touch with and open to the feeling of being hooked, breathe in deeply, allowing the feeling to really be there. Allow the feeling to exist. We can be tempted or in the habit of pushing away. You will be aware of the urges and discomfort, and that is normal. You can be ok, you can be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You abide with the feeling.

Breathing out

As you breathe out, you ease the tension that is part of and surrounding the discomfort. The out-breathe frees us from this tension as the space in which the embodied feeling exists becomes apparent.

When to practice

There is no limit to how much you can practice. I think a useful start point is to sit somewhere familiar and practice for a few moments and over time gradually increase the length, or blend with other mindful practices. Of course, drip-feeding our selves through the day, so little and often, has a really beneficial effect because we form a healthy habit. We can also practice as we become aware of the feelings of discomfort as they arise, touching the experience with our own natural warmth and compassion. You will notice how your typical reaction softens.

We are not pushing the feeling away. Instead we are fully there and present as the feelings transform, as all feelings, thoughts and emotions do. Nothing is permanent. No matter how ‘bad’ you are feeling right now, it will change because we change, every moment, like the water of a river that continues to pass by. This fact and the science of pain that gives us a new understanding of our potential, gives great hope and reason to be optimistic. Be inspired to live well, because we can.