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Principle 5: Awareness … short, sweet & superpowery

p5 baby aware in mirror
Body awareness is like having a superpower.

Don’t know what to do?  Overwhelmed, frightened, stressed, excited or anxious?  Sense your body.

Neurologically, awareness turns on your high-level thinking brain (your prefrontal cortex that’s in charge of language, reasoning, communication) and gets you out of the lizardy fight-flight-freeze brain.

Awareness opens the door to self-healing. Sense pain in your body, stimulate it with movement, then sense if you feel better. No story, just sensation: feeling (even a little) better is self-healing.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s awareness: a mindful relationship to self-healing!

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what in tarnation the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

First Landing and False Cape 029

Principle 5 – Awareness

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

There is nothing mystical about awareness. In fact, it is our birthright. Awareness literally means to pay attention. …

In the Nia White Belt, we emphasize awareness of the physical body. Usually this is the last thing we are aware of unless we are in serious or consistent pain. When prompted, people can easily report thoughts or feelings, but rarely do they describe physical sensations. …

Think about it for a moment: Your body can only be aware of sensations in the present moment, providing you a direct, uninterrupted “sensory view” of your current overall state. Your thoughts, however, may have little to do with the present moment. You might be working at your desk while thinking about a trip to Hawaii. Your thoughts may also be tied to deeply rooted or long-held beliefs and stories. For example, if your shoulder hurts, you might just think, “Oh, there is my shoulder hurting again,” without checking in to discover what the sensation is actually telling you. Instead, what if you explore the sensation in your arm? You might notice where it is tight, where it is free and where it aches. Then you might allow other information to arise from this sensation – thoughts, emotions, images – and realize your arm is tight because you have been overexerting it or using it in an unhealthy way.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.”
— The Buddha, from the Satipatthana Sutta

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if I could teach only one thing and practice only one practice it would be awareness, in particular, awareness of the body. Okay, maybe it’s not much of a limb seeing how the Buddha was so into it and everything. But you get my meaning. Cultivating awareness in the body is like having a super power.

Principle 5: Awareness is a principle that is officially and explicitly designed to expand beyond the Nia class experience. It is a rich principle, too, with three layers teaching. Last fall, I did a couple of posts on Life As Art (or as I unofficially expanded Living Life As An Artist) which you can find here and here. For this unofficial guide, we’ll focus on what is Nia calls The Pain Triad. I prefer to call it the Self-Healing Practice and here’s how it rolls:

1. First, become aware of the sensations in the body, paying particular attention to pain, discomfort or limitation and noticing if it is slight, moderate or acute.

2. Next, move your joints to stimulate self-healing.

3. Then notice if what you did feels better or not.

Simple, right? Think about it, every time we choose a movement that helps the body feel even a little better, we are creating self-healing! That is miraculously super-cool. Even if you walk into class feeling basically pretty good without any particular pain or injury and you walk out of class feeling better, that’s self-healing.

I have to tell you, though: it’s a mysterious thing, healing. There is something in our human brain that wants the whole story behind what we’re feeling. We want the why. We want both pain and healing to be logical. Even the greatest doctors in the world, if they are honest and candid about it, will tell you that there are a lot of things, maybe even most things, they just don’t know or understand about the body.

Medical professionals can offer tremendous help and support, of course. Go to them. Let them offer their expertise. But when it comes right down to it, nobody knows your body better than you do. Approach the practice of self-healing with trust and curiosity. Something that felt good yesterday, might feel lousy today (the opposite, mysteriously, is also true). Make no assumptions and see how the body responds.

Awareness is paying attention and paying attention is making an investment in yourself: an investment in savoring the pleasure of the moment and appreciating and participating in the mystery of self-healing.

Having a body is a gift. Cultivating awareness of that body is a super power.

Just ask Buddha.

savoring living meditation rock cairns 3“It doesn’t matter how many times you fall out. It only matters how many times you get back in.”
~ Amy, Susan’s yoga teacher

Savoring is direct experience.
Savoring is being with what is …not what I remember or what I wish for.
Savoring is available in all situations.
Savoring is heightened awareness.
Savoring is living meditation.

Student: My whole life, every single thing I do can be a meditation!
Teacher: Yes. But is it?

I forget to savor. Then I remember.
I come in and out.
The practice is choosing to come back, to start again, over and over.

savoring seeing signsRecently, I got a speeding ticket in a construction area. The officer said I’d been going 40 in a 25 zone.

“25?!” I said. “I didn’t see any signs that said that.”

The patient officer sighed and pointed to a huge sign that said

WORK ZONE
25 MPH

It had two big orange flags on it.

I hadn’t expected it, I wasn’t looking for it, so I hadn’t seen it.

I want to savor what I see, not just look for what I expect.

For fun, watch this video about looking and seeing. In the comments, please share what you notice!

Reade with carrots from Wig Hill Road garden“I asked my body and my body wants dessert.” ~ my step daughter, Reade, at age 10

Your brain is in your whole body, not just your noggin. Listening to your body taps you into a wisdom beyond your intellect.

But it’s not always so straightforward.

Take that cookie, for example. Or that bag of chips. There are times when I would swear my body really really wants them. Actually, that’s my mind telling me that I will get comfort, pleasure and love from that flour-sugar-chocolate morsel (or crunchy-potato-salt crisp).

Body & Mind: practice helps us distinguish between the two.

* * * *
Full-Grown-People-logo-FINAL1
WOW! I’m honored (and a little stunned) to announce that today one of my pieces was published on an excellent site of literary essays called Full Grown People. You can find it here. EnJOY!

DragonLily purpleYears ago, my teacher Carlos approached me at breakfast.
I was so excited and moved so quickly that I spilled tea all over his shoes.

I am agile. A dragonfly.
Sometimes, I could use more mobility.
A little more water lily.

Knowing how we do what we do is powerful. Awareness of my tendencies gives me choices.

Mobility: the constant flow of movement around the joints.
Agility: quick, crisp starts and stops.

Both increase fitness in the body (and mind) but most of us tend toward one more than the other.
Dancing with both creates health and well-being.

Be a DragonLily.

practice on your own mat savasana w bowWhether or not you do yoga, “Practice on Your Own Mat” applies. We all distract ourselves with short-hand stories about the people around us. (See a police officer and notice the story you tell.) We do it to help us navigate the world more efficiently. But if I drop my stories and wonderings about people and feel sensation, I connect with what is actually happening in me. My thoughts and stories feel real and true but practicing on my own mat brings me back to my own experience. It is the only one I can access and do anything about.