Why should we try? Why struggle to control our own base desires? Why should we try to be more compassionate and aware? Where do my interests end and my others begin? Why not do anything you want?
Reality check. How can we transcend anxiety and dread from where our ego confronts the world?
Whatever we do, we tend toward an egocentric approach ( the ego is very persuasive). Our base desires run the show of our day to day life, so we must aspire to an awareness beyond the ego.
Preventative health or mindful practice is a practical reason to do yoga, martial arts, meditation, and bodywork. But how do we do that, and, what’s at stake?
Coupled with self-defense, you create more energy, increase positive sleep and engagement in the world.
Here are a few reasons to engage in mindful practices.
1. 'Know Thyself'
Martial Arts controls the ego - one must conquer oneself before you can conquer others. Knowing one's boundaries in Martial Arts is key; not in an egotistical way but a critical defense of self. The balance of boundaries can happen with a regular meditative practice. Without knowing what you are you wouldn't know who to defend and why.
It may not be comfortable at first, but you must work through the pain, negative emotions and memories. These are experiences of change. Over time we can override our primitive lusts and negativity to uncover our true self. We can unite mind and soul (including ego!) encouraging deep trust and bliss. This is a feeling we get when we are sitting in our power- an honest connection and expression of self.
2. The "ego chases" what it wants like an errant child. The ego tests to see if what it wants is quality in nature. Without testing our ego we may be acting on the impulses of our own unchecked inner child. Over time, if we don't test the inner child, nothing changes and we cling to that identity - we encounter ’ arrested development’.
Yoga, bodywork, Martial Arts and meditation offers a chance to see who you are. If we can get a glimpse of this inner state, our inner cage unlocks and reveals the vibrant force of dynamic life. The ego can integrate, as it is a reflection of our dynamic internal force. We can be aware of our higher purpose and true intent. By knowing our true intent we can unify mind and body. By unifying mind and body there is no fear, the ego becomes a natural and necessary expression of self.
Take a long look at the swirling stars at night and you can see the universe is breathing.
The breath, in its entirety, is the animating force; quantum level particles are here AND there...inhaling/ exhaling – wave and particle; all vibrating with possibilities.
We can breathe with that energy now! We only need to get out of the way of ourselves.
A Taoist proverb says: “ empty the mind and fill the belly” . Can you really do that? Are you breathing in to your fullest potential without over thinking or being emotionally attached? Can you breathe out, letting go and allowing yourself to resonate with the universe?
Healthy breathing works every cell in the body. It helps absorb nutrients and expels waste, creating a more energy efficient cellular respiration. In biology, it is represented as ATP and the Krebs cycle and this extrinsic energy exchange happens at the cellular level working on the intrinsic energy.
Breathing is our life and it is who we are. We need clean air, water and food containing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Breathing helps with the elimination of waste products through inhalation/exhalation, urination, perspiration, defecation.
In Taoist alchemy, correct breathing helps you achieve optimal health and longevity. It begins by becoming aware of the lower abdominal area called the lower Dan Tien or 'field of elixir'. By concentrating on the movement and relaxation, the breath eventually gets smoother. And with sustained conscious awareness, a pumping action begins to develop, condensing chi energy to the area. This pumping improves circulation and allows the body to create more internal“space” or “air”.
Our vitality is directly dependent on correct breathing, but what about our emotions and mental health? The breath must be the center of study because it is the center of self. Practicing mindful breathing helps us connect to the inside and outside world. It gives us opportunities to receive insight into our habitual mental patterns. Overtime, breathing becomes easier in times of emotional crisis, pain, and despair.
Correct breathing, or mindful breathing, affects our whole body system. When we practice mindful breathing, we are practicing a state of mind and body. This is where the two connect to become whole; we need this in order to survive the journey of selfhood.
Change brings discomfort and a feeling of defeat. We try anything to help release emotional and physical pain but still feel anxious or depressed. We can be over the hurt but our body is still holding onto the injury- 'memory pain'.
Memory pain is when we continue our habitual patterns of reactions to stressors. This directly affects the way we feel about ourselves and others- mind, body, and soul. In order to begin to change, we need to allow ourselves to let go of memory pain. By letting go, we allow opportunity to change our neural connections that allow us to adapt to new circumstances in a healthy way.
The development of memory pains is unconscious. An example would be the demands of work or school create neural networks, and these networks are important to get the job done. The problem is when the demands are finished and we continue to live in this unconscious mental habit. We've conditioned our mental neural habits that can't be let go or changed. So much of life does not require these kinds of connections, but we end up using these same patterns to try to change. We have created dominant patterns based on stress and when things change, as they inevitably do, we have a nervous system attuned to a specific way of functioning.
When we try to change, like taking up a new exercise regimen or diet, we encounter an internal struggle that limits our ability to adapt. During stressful periods, we eat in certain ways and move or not move in certain ways - we have trained our nervous system for stress. In cases of abuse, injury, or PTSD, the memory pain is there; always influencing how we perceive and respond. A stress pattern is always ready for more stress - it's like a hammer that treats everything like a nail. The hardest part is most of the stress pattern in our nervous system is beyond our conscious control. The pain however can be very real!
So how do we make good neural connections that enhance feeling good and reduce those based on stress and memory pains??
The first step is taking up a practice of mindfulness, not just meditation but observing. Practice seeing without judgment, observing the memory pains and stress response. This is challenging because it makes us uncomfortable to the awareness of the problem but the practice and diligence of mindfulness begins to define the boundaries between how we feel and how we react. By practicing awareness we have more control of our choices to our response.
How do you know if you are practicing mindfulness? Besides meditation,Yoga and Tai Chi, or any number of mindful exercises, they require 3 things:
relaxation, breathing exercises or breath control, and correct postural alignment. Mindful massage/bodywork/acupuncture are essential modalities directly affecting memory pains because the nervous system is immediately aware and responsive to the changes.
We may not be able to adapt to every change that we want but we can choose to not be a broken record repeating stress.
Mindful Exercise and Bodywork supports the weak and softens the hard aspects of Body/Breath/Spirit.
Mindful massage/Bodywork creates space in the body; space that has been filled with waste product, and the nervous REFLEX of stress. Bodywork is a safe and effective way to purge, tone, and, regulate, the Meridians (where the nervous reflex ' memory pain' lives) .
Like exercise, massage can have varying degrees of mindfulness. When we talk about mindfulness, we say it's an "attentive self- awareness" integrating how the body feels physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Mindful exercise is breath centered while less mindful exercise is results based (how far, how fast, how much). Results based exercises pay less attention to the process and quality of awareness.
If we are looking for ways to reduce stress, mindful exercise and massage trains you to control your nervous system.
Let's take an example: You may have a high stress job, working long hours and you manage to squeeze in time to workout, runs several kilometers a day, and do adrenaline inducing hobbies like rock climbing.
What kind of training is your nervous system getting? It will be trained to be highly 'Fight or Flight' response. This response is natural but can lead to problems because the parasympathetic response (rest and digest) is subjugated and is unable to balance the sympathetic side. The parasympathetic nervous system regulates our 'Rest, Digest and Repair' and is vital to restoring our internal organs and every cell and function of our bodies.
Stress makes us lose our parasympathetic power. We can suffer from poor sleep, poor absorption of nutrients, shallow breathing, poor memory and concentration. This in turn effects the body, manifesting as chronic pain with acute flare ups. This is how stress becomes a killer in sympathetic dominant people.
Sympathetic dominant people are much more susceptible to heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, low immune system function, reproductive and hormone irregularities. Most of these diseases are natural reactions to chronic stress held over time.
A Mindful massage treatment allows you and the therapist to be fully relaxed and aware. During the massage, you can often experience different kinds of sensations such as tension, numbness, tingling, heat, coolness, etc., undetectable in our conscious state. Just by being aware of this, it allows real change to appear in the tissues. In a bodywork treatment one can also deepen their meditation and enhance their body-scanning abilities.
In mindful massage and exercise, you learn to train the sympathetic/ parasympathetic nervous system response. After practice and perseverance, one experiences restful sleep, better digestion, increased range of motion, increased breath capacity, balanced blood pressure, increased concentration, and more..
Become Mindful and you will be able to cultivate right discrimination between the sympathetic and parasympathetic habits, leading to balance and awareness. Being aware is half the battle – now breathe !
Emerge. Balance. Thrive
Imagine a snake winding, climbing its way up and around your skeleton like a tree. Now Imagine that this snake, once settled into its new home, occasionally squeezes your skeleton – Ouch!
Just like we all have a skeleton, we all have a snake that twists its way around our anatomy.
I feel this analogy closest resembles the true nature of our Psycho-Physical make-up: latent within us is a being that when irritated constricts our vital energy and causes stiffness, pain, decrease in all system functionality and increase in stress and heart rate.
We all have heard of Kundalini: two snakes, left and right ( male/female), that wrap around a central channel that can awaken our spiritual centers. I believe that this concept is true and fundamental to our being. But what if one snake is dominant over the other and tries to take over the skeleton ( tree ). What if one side is fed at the expense of the other? For sure an imbalance occurs. In the modern world the male side seems to dominate at the expense of the female, however not for all.
The bigger the dominant snake gets the more the skeleton/tree contorts to the pressure. That pressure causes structural changes that end up in our posture, and when the dominant snake is irritated discomfort turns to extreme pain and/or loss of function and vulnerability ti disease.
We can say that an imbalance is fed by our unchecked desires and negative unconscious patterns.
What are we to do about this ? I think the ancient Yogis realized to achieve health, remove ego and thus experience higher states of consciousness, that they must control the grip that these snakes have on us. That these snakes can assist us when balanced, or, limit us when not. In many pictures that depict Kundalini, the snakes grow wings to achieve greater heights once they reach the upper reaches of the tree.
Yoga, Massage, Medicinal Herbs, Meditation, and Diet all mediate the grip and lead toward balance. Ultimately when both side are equal they can be led to the inner brain and trigger our connection to the divine.