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The Most Important Thing





Diet. Exercise. Herbs. Plans. Routine. Discipline. Therapy. Do this. Do that. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Why’d you do that? Put this up your nose. They said what? If you’ve been around alternative health at all, it is quite a maze for the uninitiated. Often times the more you learn, the more confused you get – which can actually be a good thing if you have the right resources. This forces you to start forming your own understanding, not just parroting things you’ve read. More importantly, this makes you able to start to listen to your body and what you do to it. It is this skill of listening to your body, forming a relationship with your body, that is sorely lacking from most “holistic” paradigms. While many of them do say this, they are often trying to get you to listen to your body through a pre-conceived notion of who and what your body should be or where it has been, but not necessarily where it is in this exact moment. It is only by getting in touch with THIS moment that we get in touch with what is, and ultimately, we are able to move beyond the limitations of our minds from its activities in the past and future. While I do feel these paradigms are extremely useful, they require us to be able to tap into ourselves and not merely accept their platitudes. Without this skill, most any therapy will ultimately be ineffective or at best troubling. For example, Eugene Gendlin studied why psychotherapy worked on some patients and not others. He found that he could predict successful therapy by just listening to the first one or two sessions between a client and patient. Those patients who were able to go deep within themselves and found words for what they were feeling in their bodies, in the present moment, were successful in therapy. As opposed to those patients who merely remained in their heads talking from memory. In learning asana or pranayama, the experience is much the same. The quicker you can quiet your mind and actually feel a pose, often through mindfulness of the breath, the quicker you learn and progress. However, most students struggle with this. They think about the instructions of a pose or merely listen to the teachers words without taking themselves deep in their body. Similarly, a lot of people studying Ayurveda will often repeat what they have read somewhere, without actually testing it in their body or their mind. One of the other hurdles to “listening to your body” is that we have spent a lifetime doing quite the opposite, and we are at a loss of how to even approach this. Men are especially vulnerable since they are often taught to suppress their emotions, yet women have their own struggles too. Many paradigms, as stated above, often try to fit us into a pose or diet without giving the fundamental skill of listening first. I have seen people get hurt under the supervision of highly trained instructors merely because they didn’t know how to listen. They were too busy focusing on the technical details and pushing themselves without using this fundamental skill. Everything we experience gets stored in our body on some level. Our mind often tries to trick and deceive us into thinking it knows better, but this is usually far from the truth as our thinking mind is only one small part of the equation. While there are many nuances to begin listening to your body, which we delve deeper into in our coursework, start doing this practice right now. It is deceivingly simple, yet can be a powerful tool if you stick with it and let the listening take you deeper. While it is built off of a technique called “focusing,” it is really quite yogic in its essence and something I have explored in my own practice to great effect. To start, get grounded in your body and start to recognize anywhere your body comes in contact with the outer world. See the sensations going on in and around you. Be careful not to put any pre-conceived notions on what you should be doing or how you should be feeling, just start to be aware and listen. Start to notice any areas of the body that are calling for your attention or trying to communicate to you. It could be as obvious as a pain or something so subtle that you merely think your body is trying to call its awareness there. Generally if your attention goes there, there is probably something to look at. The most common areas of tension and emotional storage are the eyes, throat, chest, stomach, and abdomen. Watch these if nothing is communicating, as there are often some subtle blockages in these areas at the very least. Start to listen and see what is going on in the area or areas that are calling for your attention – there may be more than one. Make sure to recognize that area and acknowledge it, without trying to do anything about it- merely be with it and accept whatever is going on there. See if there are any feelings, sensations, or images that come up for you. Be careful not to invent anything or try and enforce pre-conceived notions of what you should be feeling or doing in regards to a particular area. Use your breath if you need to focus, pretending as if you were breathing in and out of that area. You may or may not have a shift here, but often as we accept parts of ourselves needing attention without judgment and go deeper, the energy shifts by itself. Once you feel you’re ready to move on, slowly start to let your body know you are shifting attention away and be grateful for anything you may have learned. Move out with awareness and back into the world. This is a very simplified form of this practice, but a good place to get started. The main idea is to build a relationship with your body without any judgment or criticism that we are often prone to as the body often knows more than our conscious mind will allow us to admit. Always check in from time to time. It is invaluable. You can check for any reason, not just your health or if in a meditation posture. It is only through forming this relationship with our body, instead of constantly letting our minds push it around, that we can form a proper relationship with ourselves and by natural extension - the world. It is that important.

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