Do you have a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders?
Do you find these symptoms appear regularly, maybe at the weekends? If this happens to you it may well be due to stress. Could increased body awareness help with this?
Very often we only become aware of our body when the tension has reached such a critical point where the pain is over-riding and cannot be ignored. However before it gets to this point the body is busy giving us signals that all is not well. It is because we are not aware of what the body is saying that they largely go ignored & as a result the tension within the body increases, sometimes sadly to critical levels!
When was the last time you were aware of your body?
When I ask this question to my students the answer is usually: “When I’m in pain” or “When I’m tense”. I don’t think anyone has actually answered “When I feel relaxed and at ease”!
In today’s class we were exploring the many different layers of tension that can exist in the body and mind without us being aware of it. To help prevent stress causing so much tension and problems we need to first of all train ourselves to become much more aware of the body and the subtle connection with our mind…we need a complete body awareness.
I’d like you to try this exercise for a minute…
Make a fist with your right hand and clench it as tightly as possible….I mean as tightly as possible…..even tighter!!! And notice how that tension is creeping up your forearm, upper arm and possibly into your shoulder!
So did you notice how when tensing one part of the body other parts started to join in as well? This is quite a simple way to show you what is happening in your whole body a lot of the time without you being aware of it! If one part of your body is tense it will eventually affect much more of your body than you might imagine.
BUT YOU CAN LEARN TO CHANGE THAT!
It begins with our awareness. Over the years I’ve discovered that many of us have very little body awareness. It’s not something that is taught (like so many useful skills!) when we are young and so it often is not on our radar.
Why would we place much importance on it? It’s often only when things start to go wrong that we explore new ideas and other options. The good thing is that our body awareness can be trained and increased. As a result we can use it to heal our own body and mind.
Increase your body awareness with Tai Chi & Qi Gong
In Tai Chi and Qi Gong training we spend a lot of time focusing on correct alignment of the body. Whilst correcting and adjusting our body alignment is of vital importance, we are actually also training the mind in ‘one pointed focus’. This in itself can be a meditative practice. This helps us to focus our attention, settle the mind and become less distracted from outside influences.
It can be extremely challenging for beginners to hold their attention for any length of time so we begin by focusing on one part of the body such as the shoulder or the knee whilst doing the tai chi form. This is quite a skill and needs to be practiced regularly in order to increase the ‘awareness’ capacity.
If you want a flavour-some tea it needs to be left to infuse and if we want to be completely aware of our body in order to be able to heal it we need to thoroughly infuse our awareness or consciousness into the body so that the intimate and subtle inner connections between the mind and the body are revealed to us.
With time this gets easier and easier, thoughts become less distracting and as a result the physiology of the body becomes amplified. We can settle into a space where we fully experience and feel the body rather than being in the distracting thought mode.
The beauty of getting better at this is that one pointed focus training will also lead you into ‘being in the present moment’ which is the only place that we can really understand, feel and heal the body.
This is not possible when we are mentally ‘living in the past’ or ‘projecting into the future’. It is a fantastic way of bringing the mind home to the body, to the present moment. This is a wonderfully restful place.
Tension can appear in surprising places!
In today’s class we were exploring the many ways stress and tension can affect the body. One interesting area to explore are the eyes. “The eyes are the windows of the soul” is a saying I have always found intriguing. It is interesting to observe that all our feelings, emotions & stress show up through the eyes.
When someone is happy the eyes sparkle. It is equally obvious when someone is in love! It is just the same for other emotions like sadness, anger & worry. No matter what we are feeling it will appear in our eyes.
Whatever the emotion behind the stress a lot of tension can build in and around the eyes. Holding onto this tension, as in any other part of your body, will drain your energy and leave you feeling tired and run down.
‘Softening the gaze’ is an exercise in Tai Chi which helps relieve this tension and begins a process which gradually encompasses more and more of the body in your awareness until you are fully conscious and in control of your whole body during movement and stillness.
Start to bring your ‘feeling awareness’ to the eyes and notice how they feel. Does anywhere feel tense, tight or maybe you can feel yourself ‘holding on’ in this area. Is there a feeling of discomfort in or around the eyes?
Sometimes during strong emotions we can send that anger, fear, worry energy out through the eyes….is that happening? Whilst experiencing very stressful moments we can seemingly ‘grasp hold of’ or fixate on what we’re looking at? Either right now or when you feel stressed spend a moment noticing what’s going on for you.
Now ask yourself if it would be OK to let go of the emotion causing the stressful feeling and start to soften your gaze. Bringing your whole attention to the eyes gradually release and let go of any tension in or around the eyes. See how far back into the eyes you can release.
It’s quite an interesting exercise then to walk or practise the tai chi form with the intention of continually softening the eyes and not ‘grasping hold’ of what we see rather letting the gaze softly touch each object without getting stuck on it.
It takes quite a lot of skill but it is fascinating to observe the change in our perception to what we see when we let go of any story that we might be projecting onto the object being observed and see the true reality. Of course this holds true for people as well!
As we saw earlier if we tense one part of the body it will gradually affect another part. The reverse is therefore also true when it comes to relaxing the body. When you start to release the tension out of the eyes for example the rest of your body will inevitably follow.
Have fun experimenting with this exercise and let me know how you get on.