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inner-belly-power-091916

Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

After a lifetime of wrassling with my outer belly, generating all manner of suffering around what I thought it should look like and how it definitely did not measure up, I felt a wave of relief when my yoga teacher, Lizzie said, “The outer belly is going to do what it’s going to do. The inner belly is where it’s at. That’s where the fire is.”

Lizzie’s words help me release my attachment to the outer and get busy with what’s going on inside. Today’s Art in Action digs into the inner belly, inner body, and inner purpose.

Inner Belly

Over and over again in my physical practices, I am reminded about the radiating effects of cultivating a strong core. I mentioned some of what I’ve noticed lately in this week’s post but simply put a strong core will help you do everything better. Our culture tends to put a heavier emphasis on the outer core, and truly the two are deeply intertwined.

Of course, what with the World Wide Interwebs and fitness experts all over the place, you can find all kinds of core exercises:

• I offered some in an Art in Action post earlier this year a couple of my favorites for deep core are Plank Pose and Air Chair (it looks simple, but if you keep your hips and knees at 90 degrees, you will feel your core turn on — SHAZAM!).

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• Yogis use a root lock (Mula Bandha) to strengthen the pelvic floor and an upward abdominal lock (Uddiyana Bandha). I wrote about them some last year.

• Aikido and other martial arts practitioners put their awareness on the center point of the body, sometimes called the Hara or Tan Tien, to ground and balance. Try this exercise with a friend: stand with your feet shoulder width apart with soft knees, focus your attention on the tip of your nose and have your friend gently but steadily push your shoulders with their index and middle fingers. It probably won’t take much to push you off balance. Then do the exact same thing but focus your attention on your inner belly, two inches below your belly button and two inches inside your body. Your friend probably cannot budge you when you drop your attention to your center.

Give your deep, inner core attention, it has powerful benefits for your physical movement and more than that…

Inner Body

Similarly, it’s easy to get caught up in what the external body looks and feels like even though the inner body is where the real power is. Our culture tends to put a heavier emphasis on the outer body, and truly the two are deeply intertwined. Connecting to the inner body can quiet the mind, offer perspective, a reminder of what is really essential.

Right now, feel your outer hands: notice if they are warm or cold, what textures they are feeling and if there is weight or pressure on them in any way. Now sense below the surface to your inner hands: there you may feel a sense of flow or tingling or pulsing that is different from your heart beat. This is the sensation of life force, energy, what yogis call prana, what martial artists call chi, moving through you. Now experiment with feeling your inner body in other parts of you.

By dropping your attention into your inner body, you can get out of the flow of thought and reside more fully in the present moment. You can do this any time but it’s particularly helpful when you want to be fully present or when you feel upset, worried, or rattled in any way. And it’s best to practice when you are relaxed so you have access to it when you need it.

Inner Purpose

Again, similarly, we can get caught up in the externality of our lives – what we do and have and how it looks from the outside when our attention is really needed inside. Our culture tends to put a heavier emphasis on the outer purpose, but truly the two are deeply intertwined. For this part, I’ll let Eckhart Tolle explain:

So the most important thing to realize is this: Your life has an inner purpose and an outer purpose. … Your inner purpose is to awaken. It is as simple as that. You share that purpose with every other person on the planet – because it is the purpose of humanity. Your inner purpose is an essential part of the purpose of the whole, the universe and its emerging intelligence. Your outer purpose can change over time. It varies greatly from person to person. Finding and living in alignment with the inner purpose is the foundation for fulfilling your outer purpose. It is the basis for true success. Without that alignment, you can still achieve certain things through effort, struggle, determination, and sheer hard work or cunning. But there is no joy in such endeavor, and it invariably ends in some form of suffering. (from the wonderful book, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, p. 258)

Go to the inner – belly, body, and purpose – as Lizzie says, it’s where the fire is.

 

body teacher lizzie“I’m Lizzie and I’ll be leading you through class this morning. I may offer corrections or suggest adjustments, but your body is your teacher. Always listen to your body first.” ~ Lizzie, my yoga teacher who I adore

Let’s say it’s Monday morning at 10:45am. Wise creature that you are, you’ve stepped into the studio where I am setting up for Nia class. When you walk into the room, you see me plugging in my iPod, checking the volume, then standing in front wearing the microphone. I lead some super cool choreography, reminding you to sense your body. Also, I tell hilarious stories. Seeing all this, you might say I was the teacher.

When you come to my class, I am your guide.
I am your witness.
I am your fellow practitioner.
But your body is your teacher.

Our bodies are incredible systems of sensation that are constantly communicating with us about what is happening and what it needs. Despite this wealth of information we rarely listen or trust our own sense of ourselves. Often we ask other people about our own health and well-being. We hire doctors and psychologists, nutritionists and trainers, physical therapists and chiropractors. They all have potentially helpful and insightful information to share based on their training and education. They certainly can offer guidance in making choices about your body and your health.

The first teacher to turn to, though, is your body.

Right now, check into your body. Take a second to stop reading and just sense what is so in your body right now. When I do this, I sense that my feet are cold, I need to use the bathroom and I’m thirsty. But here I sit, writing this post, with my mind overriding the needs of my body. (Hold on. I’ll be right back after I get some socks and tea and have a pee.)

We’re trained to do this. Our culture glorifies those who forget to eat, work long hours, hardly sleep. A lifetime of mind-overriding-body can leave us at a loss as to what’s actually happening inside our own skins, our own minds, our own hearts.

A friend was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. The doctors told her to have a lumpectomy and to do it immediately. She didn’t. She took a month to make the decision. She did research, she talked to lots of people (some medical folk and some not), she listened to her intuition, and she listened to her body. At the end of the month she decided to have a double mastectomy. The doctors strongly disagreed but she held to her choice. When she went in for her operation, the surgeons saw that the lump was not as well-defined as they had believed. They would have had to go in for a second surgery if she had followed their suggestion. The best choice was exactly the one she made.

Go to experts. Do. Listen to what they have to say. But also listen to your body.

The mind can be a guiding, caring force or it can tangle us up. A focused mind is alert to an urge that distracts us from what is happening. A scared or impatient mind can criticize and judge what we are or are not doing. An anxious mind can convince us we have to push harder or do more. A defeated mind can persuade us that we can’t do what we are attempting. A peaceful mind can soothe and calm us.

Mindfulness yokes the body and mind; gets them pulling in the same direction.

We call them mindfulness practices (whether it’s yoga or meditation or golf or gardening or whatever works for you) because it’s practice. Practice away from the cultural pull to deny the body and worship the expert. Practice so that when life throws us a curve ball or a train wreck or a heartbreakingly beautiful sunset, we can be there for it. Practice allows us to have a direct experience of what is happening right now and connects us to the deep wisdom and intelligence that resides not just in our brains but in our very cells.

All this body wisdom stuff doesn’t have to be heavy or woo-woo. It’s accessible to everybody and it can be fun. I have a great time in my yoga classes even though I’m focused and concentrating. Sometimes it’s challenging, of course, sometimes I’d rather be digging a ditch than doing my practice. But I’m never sorry I spent time listening to my body. However you connect to your body, your greatest teacher, listen to what it has to tell you. If you happen to have a guide who tells hilarious stories, that’s just a bonus.

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