Cultivating Body Awareness

Apr 14, 04:45 PM

By Katharine Koeppen, RA

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow therapist last week in San Antonio about body awareness. We both noticed that we are having more and more clients who are completely out of touch with their bodies, making appropriate assessments and treatments very challenging. In my opinion, this has been a recurrent issue working in Dallas, but is certainly not unique to this part of the country. My friends in Silicon Valley also say that their clients are consistently unable to give helpful feedback on their assessments and sessions. Anyone can fall deeply out of touch with themselves, but it's more likely to happen to those who lead a fast-paced lifestyle in a consumerist environment.

I realize that most people are under increased levels of stress due to an uncertain economy, bizarre election year antics and information age overload. It's OK to space out sometimes, but when you are so out of touch that you often can't answer a simple question like, "How are you feeling today?" or, "Did the therapy given make your shoulders feel better or worse?"... well, you're not working in tandem with your therapist to get the best results from your appointment. "I don't know," is not a helpful answer for you or the therapist.

There are a number of things you can do to help cultivate body awareness: 

- Meditate. It doesn't cost you anything but a few minutes of time (as little as 15 minutes per day has been shown to be beneficial in initiating the relaxation response). Focus on your breath, a short phrase or word, or a pleasant image. Whenever your thoughts wander, let them go and return your attention to the original element of focus. 

- Practice sitting mindfully in a supportive chair. Feel your feet connecting fully with the floor. Feel your "sit down" bones sinking into the seat and supporting you. Notice how your spine feels against the back of the chair. Relax your shoulders and jaw, letting your body fall naturally into the chair. Take a few deep breaths and notice how your body feels. Are there any areas of discomfort or pain? Are there any parts of your body that are easy or difficult to relax?

- Practice checking in with yourself by scanning your body slowly from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. This is most comfortably done when lying down, but may be performed standing or seated. Does your body feel like it is supporting your head with ease? Are your shoulders slumped or rolled forward? What does that say about your emotional state? Are there any areas which feel tense, tight, painful, uncomfortable or strange? Is your pelvis arched back, tucked in, or supporting the weight of your upper body with ease? Do your soles feel like they are fully planted on the floor, or are you standing on the insides or outsides of your feet? While you are scanning your body, do any strong feelings or emotions come up?

- Spend time in nature just doing nothing. Go for a walk in the woods, sit and watch butterflies chasing each other through the garden, or take time to admire a single flower. Listen to the birds chatter and sing. Gaze at the night sky. Remember that you are part of this natural world.

- Breathe. I know you've heard this before, but it's true... mostly highly stressed people are holding their breath, have shallow breathing or are not filling their lungs fully with air. Practice diaphragmatic breathing in the manner of an infant or pet. Check in with yourself periodically during the day and note if you are breathing properly.

- Inhale essential oils that are both grounding and calming. I have found sweet, earthy vetivert to be effective in allowing most people to establish a connection with their body. You might prefer frankincense, patchouli or cedar. Take 4 or 5 deep breaths with each nostril, and repeat inhalations as necessary. You can inhale directly from the bottle or place 2 or 3 drops of oil on a tissue or cottonball for convenience.

Heightened body awareness will benefit all aspects of your life. Being aware of your body's messages helps you know when to rest, when to take care of a nagging physical problem that may develop into a serious condition, when you need to take time out to just "be," when you're letting your emotions get the better of you. Take care of your body and make friends with it. This body is the only one you'll get in a lifetime.


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