by Julie Wylie
It’s morning, an alarm has sounded and all across America women and men spring from their beds, throw open the shutters and begin their day. Eckhart Tolle says, “When you wash your hands, when you make a cup of coffee, when you’re waiting for the elevator—instead of indulging in thinking, these are all opportunities for being there as a still, alert presence.”
For some, starting the day on the right foot begins before even moving a muscle. From awake to alert to aware, many start their day in a moment of stillness, simply noticing. This noticing exercise gathers information ranging from temperature, texture and pressure, to stiffness and pain in muscles and joints. Stretching beneath the sheets brings additional information, including perhaps the feel-good yawning of connective tissue fibers and the warmth of increased blood flow into muscles preparing to start their day. A daylong quest for finding health through movement has begun.
Beginning our day with a basic body scan sets the context for a daylong healthy dialogue between the body and the nonjudgmental self-observer. When our mantra is, “go, go, go,” we may not have enough time to meet obligations, exercise, eat right or mediate, but making right choices for health and healing begins with noticing, and that takes no extra time.
According to the UCLA Mindful Research Center, “Significant research has shown mindfulness to address health issues such as lower blood pressure and boost the immune system; increase attention and focus, including aid those suffering from ADHD; help with difficult mental states such as anxiety and depression, fostering wellbeing and less emotional reactivity; and thicken the brain in areas in charge of decision making, emotional flexibility, and empathy.”
Launching into each day posing the question, “Is this (fill in the blank) making me feel better?” establishes a context for self-healing. When creating a mindful movement program, consider exercise as an activity that has both formal and informal aspects. If approached from the perspective of awareness, personal fitness goals can be achieved by making choices while engaged in day-to-day activities.
Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to our mind and body and noticing pain or pleasure. It’s not uncommon for pain sensations to become intolerable before an individual is stopped in their tracks, essentially forced at that point to make a choice congruent with their healing. Situations like this can be avoided or minimized as sensory IQ increases in direct proportion to time spent practicing, just as a wine connoisseur develops their ability to distinguish subtle qualities.
The creators of the Nia technique say, “Whole-being fitness begins with heightened awareness of both body and mind. Turn off the automatic pilot that so often governs your movements and thoughts. Instead, start focusing throughout the day on all the physical sensations coursing through your body and start moving with purpose.”
The body is designed to constantly inform us of its needs by way of the language of sensation. Our nonjudgmental self-observer can act as a witness to notice this information, making it available for use when exercising choices for health and well-being. Practice developing awareness of sensations in the physical realm by noticing functional fitness sensory information, including flexibility, strength, mobility, stability and agility. They are key to preparing the body to handle real life situations.
Refining the body’s natural ability to distinguish sensations like flexibility and strength frequently begins by noticing just the opposite: tightness and weakness. For example, a personal goal to increase core strength is often the result of noticing weakness in the core.
According to TED presenter Nilofer Merchant, “Sitting has become the new smoking.” Whether at the gym, the grocery store or loading clothes in the washing machine, there are plenty of opportunities to move in meaningful and conscious ways. Energy begets energy. There is no time like the present to begin.
Follow these simple steps: First, move in pleasurable ways that are safe for the body. Second, notice the body’s response (sensations of pleasure, discomfort, pain). Ask, “Is this movement making me feel better? (stronger, more flexible, agile, mobile). If the answer is yes, continue in a similar fashion, and if the answer is no, make small modifications until the answer becomes yes.
Like any technique, our craft can be honed by gathering more information from trainers, teachers, counselors or guides. Ultimately, with personal practice, we will notice that our efforts decrease as skill levels and results increase. Over time, mindfulness practitioners become eminently skillful at exercising their ability to move in ways that result in health and well-being.
The good news about making healthy choices is that we can begin today, regardless of our present condition. Christiane Northrup, M.D., says, “Health isn’t just the absence of disease. It’s being physically and emotionally able to live joyfully and in alignment with your deepest self. You have the ability to build health every day. Just be open to new ideas and to adopting new habits.”
Julie Wylie is an Austin-based member of Nia Technique Training Faculty. For more information, email Julie.Wylie@NiaNow.com.