Slow down, you move too fast.

One of my yoga class participants recently said that she’s never still – she’s always busy doing something, gardening, cleaning, community projects, etc.. This is all great, but it left me thinking about our cultural programming around stillness and busyness. We’re taught to value constant productivity. It’s not okay to just be still.

What I mean by stillness is really mindful being or meditation/contemplation/prayer or even just reading a book. Remember books? I suspect what she meant by stillness was the dangerous state of being a couch potato. These are two different things.

Our country thrives on do more and do it faster! And that mentality has given us some amazing gifts like outta-sight technology, for which I’m very grateful.  But that mentality has also seeped into our nervous systems, and done so to such an extent that anxiety and sleep disorders are a national epidemic. We no longer know how to slow down, to be still, to connect to ourselves.

And yes, it’s in our nervous systems. The autonomic nervous system settles into patterns at an early age. When we’re constantly looking for the next thing to do, we’re in an exteroceptive state (constant external stimulation) that’s fueling the fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system). When we slow down and relax, especially when we let our selves feel that state of relaxation (interoception – internal awareness), we move into the rest and digest part of the nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system) where the body restores and heals itself.

So what’s a person to do? Take a mindful moment. Notice what your senses are offering you: what do you see around you – even if it’s mundane, really notice the colors, shapes and textures. Then notice what you’re hearing and smelling. Notice the textures on your skin or temperature of the air. Notice what your breath rhythm is feeling like right now. Take a moment to think about what you’re grateful for today.  Notice what if feels like to just be still for one minute. Then go for broke and try 10 minutes.

What does it feel like to do nothing, to just be? Did thoughts come up like, I don’t have time for this or is this really doing anything? What you’re practicing is mindfulness – noticing what’s really happening in this moment. And when you do it regularly you’re rewiring your brain (that’s cool). You’re teaching it to slow down, pay attention and maybe even relax.

If you’d like to get better at this come to my meditation class this fall or to any upcoming Yoga Nidra and Meditation events.

A Happy Body

I’ve been writing about gifts to give yourself and this month I’m writing about the gift of a happy body.

What’s a happy body? I think of it as a body that can move with ease and has no, or only small, discomforts (those are normal).

Happy Body image.2

I also think that a happy body means you have a relationship with your body. In that relationship, you actively care for yourself. You offer your body what it always needs – movement, healthy food and rest. And you listen to its signals like, I need more water! Then you respond to those cries for help like giving it more water or getting a massage or going to the doctor.

Many of us don’t have this kind of relationship with our bodies.

Much like a long marriage, we settle into habits with our bodies. Maybe you’ve been sweeping things under the rug for a long time. Maybe you’ve given up on exercise. Maybe you don’t take care of yourself because everyone else needs your attention and you tell yourself that you just don’t have the time.

Or maybe you ignore sensations until they turn into real pain. One thing I’ve noticed in my work is that many people only pay attention when pain is screaming so loudly they can’t ignore it, even though they’ve been getting signals for weeks.

All these ways of avoiding a relationship with your body are simply habits.

So let’s build some new habits. How? Here’s a simple 3-step process to building a new relationship with your body: Offer, listen, and respond.

  1. Offer your body what you know it needs:
  2. Listen to messages from your body. We can be so externally focused sometimes it’s easy to miss signals from the body. Take a moment each day to quiet your mind for a moment and check in with your body. What’s it telling you? Maybe try learning how to body scan.
  3. Respond to your body’s needs. When you don’t know how to respond to a body issue, try taking a baby step in one direction (like trying a new lotion for a skin condition) or find someone to help you.

Your relationship to your body is precious. Give it quality attention by offering, listening and responding.