The Power of Embodied Awareness by Erica Rayner-Horn
The Mind-Body Disconnect
Most of us raised in Western culture have inherited a disconnection between mind and body. Many of us have developed the habit of numbing out awareness of discomfort, pain, and our body’s needs. Sometimes this has happened because of trauma we've experienced; sometimes because like soldiers, athletes or ballet dancers we've learned to override the body's messages so we don't always experience physical pain. James Joyce nailed this perfectly in his description of one of his characters as someone who "lived a little distance from his body."
Yet it wasn't always this way: as young children we fully inhabited our bodies, feeling our five senses and living fully in our own skin. But because of this inherited mind-body split most of us have developed the habit of dissociating from the body which in turn leads us to mistreat our bodies, resulting in stress, fatigue, and increased vulnerability to illness. When we’re diagnosed with a serious illness many of us come to realize that we have been ignoring these communications from our bodies until things escalate into full-blown medical conditions.
Waking Up to Body Awareness
The first step in healing this mind-body disconnect and reversing this ingrained habit is to reconnect with our body and fully experience our senses, moment by moment. We do this by paying close attention to our body and awakening to our five senses of hearing, seeing, listening, touch, and smell. The body has its own intuitive wisdom that we often ignore in favor of our thinking minds. So, the next step is to tune in and sensitize ourselves to what our bodies are communicating. Over time we learn to value our so-called "gut wisdom" that can be a more immediate and even accurate guide in helping us navigate through life than the thinking mind.
Waking Up to The Miracle of The Breath
Hand-in-hand with bringing more aliveness and awareness to the body is the rediscovery of the breath. Most of us do not breathe well. Our busy minds and compulsive to-do lists tend to override awareness of the most basic and simple human function – breathing fully. Of course, all the time we are alive we are breathing but we're rarely using our full capacity with awareness. Every meditation tradition has many breathing exercises because this is the most fundamental and important place to begin. There are volumes written on this subject and numerous ancient teachings from all traditions extolling the virtues of breathing properly and
the vitality and long life that result. The main point of all these techniques is bringing the mind home to the body and breath. Noticing with full attention as we breathe in and breathe out sounds simple but in fact it is a
great accomplishment of awareness that helps keeps us anchored in the present moment and quiets our busy mind. The breath is one of the most valuable mindfulness tools of all. Your time and energy in developing your awareness of breathing will help you to feel more solid, stable, and grounded. Taking even one full mindful breath with complete awareness can cut through anxiety, fear, and tension, and restore you to balance.
Try the One-Minute Mindfulness Pause the next time you notice you’re triggered or tensing up and notice how powerful it can be in transforming the moment. Consider installing a mindful pause app on your devices that gently reminds you to stop, come home to your body, and breathe.
Erica Rayner-Horn MA, LMHC
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