What is Embodied Mindfulness?
What is the practice?
I am practicing being present. I am practicing listening to my body more, and listening to my mind less. I am practicing breathing my way to the present moment. I am practicing getting to know myself from another perspective. I am practicing asking myself questions without having to know the answer, practicing being in 'a not knowing space' in which some new knowing may arise. I am practicing noticing when I’m not practicing. Yes, not only practicing on my yoga mat or meditation cushion, but also in everyday life situations.
And what do I hope to gain from this practice?
The theory is, that if I don’t learn how to listen to my body’s messages, then it will have to tell me another way. It will have to find a way to give me a wake-up call – it may knock and scream and still be ignored until toxins and dis-ease take hold - something that stops me in my tracks, that acts as a loud message for truth to be heard, and change to happen.
Practicing reduces the automatic loud niggley voice inside my head that thinks it knows everything, that judges, criticizes, compares, and lacks...the mind that holds onto behaviours and habits that do not serve me, and choices that are based on fear. If I can practice listening to quieter parts of me, other parts of my being (multi-dimensional layered human being that I am), I can tune in to deeper wisdom, I can trust my intuition, I can find freedom to be me and allow others to be themselves - feel the joy of that!
Here’s a long stripy tiger story
When being alone feels good -
After a rollercoaster of a challenging, busy and successful year, I felt pleased that I had given myself 3 whole days off alone in India. After working hard, being in the flow of teaching and holding space for 20 people on an 8 day yoga retreat holiday, and celebrating the success of Yoga United Holidays, I booked in some me time and some daily massages. My favourite treatment of all time is an oily ayurvedic massage followed by hot poultice treatment which is basically some herbal poultices dipped in hot oil and tapped on the skin, and then drawn in long strokes all over the body. For me, the sensation of heat is divine on tired muscles, bones, frayed nerves and after a lot of ‘stress’ of all kinds - very passive, just lying on a table and having two women tend to me…I booked in for two consecutive days – 45 minute massage followed by 45mins hot poultices.
So there I was lying naked all oiled up on the table, my mind in the past replaying some interaction I'd had with a student during the yoga retreat I had just finished teaching. I noticed that I was replaying it in my mind. I could’ve handled that better, I could’ve said this, or maybe that, and why didn't I think of it at the time, I wish I was sharper, more articulate, had the right answer at the right time! Oh and I must remember to find out what happened to my laundry, I don’t think they returned it or maybe they left it outside the room, maybe the sea eagles have come down and swooped off with them, and off I went into my imagination - sea eagles and dolphins wearing my knickers on their heads and draped in my Indian kurtas. AH yes, my mind was busy with all of this chatter…it doesn’t need any encouragement - My mind often feels like lots of people all speaking at the same time at a noisy party…can’t hear a damn thing or have a real conversation - sound familiar?
So I noticed, and wondered whether I could just quiet my mind and enjoy the pure sensation of the massage – be here now in this body, right now - I whispered to myself and employed all the practicing – practicing to bring myself to presence, to notice sensation, to breathe my way into the present moment, to become aware of what’s happening right now. The magic took a little while to show up, and as I noticed the way the poultices were moving, the patterns they were making, I felt myself like a large relaxed tiger. The therapist was drawing stripes across my belly and rubbing the hot oil across my neck. It felt as if she had removed a collar and now the fur underneath was being healed. She stroked my large paws with the greatest respect and reverence to my body, a great wild animal hunter at rest, now draped and docile, majestic and powerful – a wonderful hot oil treatment for my fabulous fur, shiny healthy soft striped fur. Instead of feeling like a basted chicken (earlier joke with the massage therapist), I left feeling like a strong, powerful, lone hunter-tiger. I stepped out onto the beach to watch the most awe-inspiring sunset and a dusk of stripes of pinks, oranges, purples and blue and I felt my tiger stripes the same as the sky. I am the same as the sun, the sky, a joyful moment – hey, this presence stuff really helps me feel connected with the world, not just my mind and imagination, I can really feel it, I feel at home in this miraculous body, in this beautiful place we call planet Earth. Cheers – here’s a big appreciative, unique, celebratory roar to that.
Alone felt good, being with myself felt important.
When being alone feels bad:
The next day I woke up in a bad mood – a different experience of being alone. I really needed this time to take some time out from everything and everyone, it seemed sensible, and well overdue. And there I was in the middle of the night, sleepless - checking the wifi, checking my email, seeing if anyone was awake to chat, check if anyone at all liked me, liked my facebook post - being alone seemed hard, I desperately wanted to connect, share and chat. I couldn't let it go. I couldn't even face my yoga mat, and as I stumbled out of my room the next morning, I felt doom and gloom and obstacles everywhere I went. I had some interactions that were irritating and I noticed that I had little patience with strangers around me.
Even the massage was irritating, the poultices seemed to be dragging on my skin a bit too hard, the oil was getting in my eyes, my head was turned to the side awkwardly - my mind was full of niggling thoughts about my inability to be independent for even one day, questioned my ability to teach yoga and meditation. I caught myself in this self-destructive part of my mind and brought myself back to practice, practice practice - noticing what was happening, not pushing it away but feeling it fully. So I practiced my ways of coming back to my body, towards sensation and away from thinking, into my breath and this is what happened. The poultices seemed to be knocking hard on my body and until now, I hadn’t been listening. It reminded me of Michael Lee, the Founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy and my teacher, asking ‘who’s home right now in this body?’ so I narrowed down my life to sensation and felt my body showing me an answer – the strokes were not tiger stripes this time but I was aware of my bad mood, and as I allowed it to be there, I felt the poison, the toxins right there - and as I went further into acceptance, I felt them being drawn out of my body, my nerves were being soothed, the slate was being wiped clean. Yes it seemed like a purification process and so I breathed into that. I usually opt out of the steam bath as I’m already too hot! This time I agreed to the steam bath and I could feel toxins literally pouring out of my skin, being around me like a vapour. feeling myself with all my sides, good and bad together.
As I was turned out onto the beach, it was a little earlier in the day so the sun was hot and bright. The sun made me hotter but I was no longer irritated. I felt like I was melting, glowing heat like a tiny satellite sun. I headed straight back to my room and curled up in an orb of radiant sensation and fell asleep.
Judy Hirsh Sampath is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist. She offers classes, courses, workshops, retreats and 1-2-1 sessions to facilitate the magic insights that Embodied Mindfulness has to offer, leading to a fuller and more meaningful life of joy and connection. Contact Judy