Free Your Body – Part II

Holding On vs. Letting Go

Just for a moment, think about what you are doing right now. Feel your body. How are you sitting? What muscles are you using? Are you sitting still? Are you relaxed or are you holding tension in your body?

Next, let’s move to thinking about the concept “holding the body.” First and foremost, we hold our bodies upright against gravity. How effectively we do this is a major determining factor in the efficiency of our everyday movements. Not only that, but we need to hold tension in our muscles. And, for the most part, this is normal tension. A muscle has to tense — or contract —  to lift a weight or to carry out a task, like when we sit down or stand up.

But sometimes we hold too much tension in our bodies. When you are learning a new movement skill, whether dance, tennis, yoga or learning to play the cello, there is a pronounced tendency to hold excessive tension globally, all over the body — in your face, jaw, neck, fingers and toes. This excess tension translates into extra effort. To complicate matters, the tension could also be psychological in origin. Continue reading “Free Your Body – Part II”

When is Less More

Just for today can you tune into what brings you pleasure? No, what really brings you pleasure?

Do you need to rest? Do you need to exercise? If you didn’t sleep well last night, what might you do to help you get a good night’s sleep tonight? Do you feel lonely? Or do you need more alone time?

Do you need to push yourself or lie back a little today? How about food? Take a minute. Check in to see what your body really needs in terms of nourishment. Or relaxation. Or stimulation.

Is it time to take a day off? Or would you feel better abandoning the comfort of procrastination and getting to work on that project you are excited (and maybe fearful) about.

Can you pause right now to tune into what you’re really feeling and thinking. Then, can you do just one thing that will make you happy. Just one little thing — whether it’s indulging in a 10-minute nap in the afternoon or putting 15 minutes into the project you keep pushing to the side.

Just for today, maybe less is more.

The Body Electric

Dancing is more like high-interface action verbs than nouns and subjects. I’m very interested in the electric threshold; dance can be like live voltage, or crossing realms. Sometimes the body is flooded and energized by an excess of impulses, spasms, jerks, shakes, tremors, and responds with quirks and undulations. -Kenneth King

If a dancing body is capable of these responses, these expressions — spasms, jerks, shakes, tremors — then where do these responses go in everyday life? Where do we put that kinetic energy while we sit quietly in front of the computer or clutching our cell phones, thumbing our blackberries and iphones? Do we even breathe when engaged in these activities, never mind allow our body its natural expression?

Part of our successful socialization, or the price of success if you will, is based on the ability to suppress physical, visible, reactions. We freeze our faces (Botox anyone?). We freeze the muscles in our bodies. We do this whether we are excited, disappointed, angry or overwhelmed. But remember, the brain and its extension, the body, are coded for action/re-action. If we can’t flinch, quiver, cry or grimace, what happens to those impulses? Do we take these neural stimuli into hiding? Might it be these inhibited impulses that unexpressed hide out in the neck (spasm), eye (twitch), head (pound), back (grab), stomach (gurgle), intestines (run)?

Instead of releasing, do we repress? Maybe it’s the crazy person, the schizophrenic off his meds on the subway platform who might still embody his own natural reactions, reactions that haven’t been re-pressed. Scary, isn’t it? Or think of the disorder of Tourette’s syndrome, where the nervous system is operating without the appropriate neural brakes or neural inhibitions. (For it is the inhibitory part of the nervous system that allows it to operate smoothly by applying braking mechanisms that allow for smooth, controlled movements.)

Paradoxically, one of the beauties of meditation is that it allows us to sit quietly and to be with our own mental and emotional processes. It is why it can be so uncomfortable to meditate. All of the sudden, we give permission, time and space to those thoughts and feelings, the same ones that we try, with decreasing effectiveness, to control, to keep down, to run away from. We give these very thoughts and feeling permission to bubble up, as if from the primordial soup, and they want to be heard. In meditation, we can study this live voltage, this energy that gets trapped in our bodies. We do this by sitting quietly, tuning into the repetitive cycles of the breath.

One appeal of yoga is that we invite ourselves to slow down and to feel the body. We are invited to extend the head on the neck, the neck on the spine, the fingers, hands and wrists, torso, toes and limbs out of habitually tight ranges. By doing this, we give ample time and space for the muscles, thoughts and emotions to unwind. Is it any wonder that we feel calmer, with fewer aches and pains after giving the bodymind its say?

Think. What posture is most typical of Western life? Sitting. We sit in front of the computer, the TV, at our desks, in our cars, on the airplane. We are a nation of sitters!

Many, if not most, of our aches and pains, our illnesses (including diabetes and heart disease) are caused not by overuse of ourselves, our bodies, but by under use. We move too little in quantity and variety. So, let’s get up and move, dance to get the electric body moving, and we will all feel better and be healthier for it.

Get Up and Move

Your Brain and Well-Being May Depend on It

The brain is the CEO of the body, the chief organ, the director. It initiates and sends the signals that allow us to accomplish tasks. Making and drinking that cup of espresso. Reaching out to reassure a loved one through a gentle touch. The brain also governs organ function. It monitors and creates neurotransmitters and hormones, complex and dynamic interactions in the body we still know very little about.

Besides sending signals for movement, action, reaction and creating homeostasis within your body, your brain receives and interprets information coming to you from the environment outside you, as well as the environment inside — your body, mind and emotions. Are you hot/cold? Is it light/dark? Are you afraid or calm? Are you sleepy or rested? Happy or sad? Is it safe out there? What does it feel like in here?

We tend to think of the emotions as originating in the brain, in our minds. Buddhists and many psychologists believe that emotions are caused by our thoughts. Become aware of the faulty thought, identify it as such, and the painful emotion will change, switch or even disappear. Becoming aware of the emotion may mean learning to feel where the tension of that emotion is felt in your body. Continue reading “Get Up and Move”