Thereís a disconnection between mind and body in contemporary society that's a major contributing factor to our present day obsession with physical appearance. The irony is that this imbalance often manifests as a loathing of or disinterest in how our bodies function and feel. This is particularly true when we donít measure up to the status quo of physical beauty administered to us in ample daily doses by a barrage of media images all competing for your attention. However, we, the viewers, are not innocent. Looking outward, rather than inward, and watching others be beautiful is an individual choice. What lies at the heart of the matter is our lack of commitment to fully manifest our physical potential. I hypothesize that we would be less distressed by how we look externally if mind and body were more connected internally.
Neglecting the mind/body connection is a precursor for premature aging as well as physical and emotional illness. In that sense, it is a form of self-destruction, and as such, the cause of much unnecessary suffering. Why? Because the lack of physical consciousness encourages a "fear of the unknown" syndrome in our thought processes. This syndrome then causes us to respond to physical exercise as an adrenaline releasing "fight or flight event." Perceived by the body as an anxiety-producing endeavor, any attempt at utilizing physicality to release stress, therefore, becomes stressful.
The natural desire to avoid stress is the main reason we allow our bodies to degenerate into something separate and foreign to us. After all, why would anyone experiencing stress want to add more stress? My premise is that we maintain this unproductive cycle because we donít know how to feel good while engaging in physical activity.
How many times have we made starting a workout program our New Yearís resolution? We promise our doctor weíll stick with it this time. Then within a few weeks, we've quit... again. The reasons why vary: "I got hurt. I got sick. Itís too cold out. Iíll start up when it warms. Itís too hot out. Iíll start up again when it cools." Then thereís the classic, "I just donít have enough time. Iím so busy." So many excuses when the truth is that we always find time for the things we really like to do.
The reality is that we do not enjoy working out. We feel uncomfortable in the workout environment. Weíre self-conscious putting our overweight or un-toned bodies on view. Then, because weíre so gung ho initially, we end up sore and stiff for days. Working out soon becomes another chore in a nonstop day of chores, duties, tasks and other stressful, demanding activities that keep us outside of ourselves, detached from our bodies in a tense and anxious state. The mere thought of the discomfort of running, the strain of lifting weights or the competition of tennis puts a knot in our stomachs. We hate walking up the stairs at work. So why on earth would we use our hard earned money and tiny allotment of free time to go to a gym to walk robotically on a stair machine for 45 minutes?
Let's be honest about what weíre not looking for so that we can be honest about what we are looking for. What weíre not looking for is more pressure which I'm defining as fear and frustration. Well then, what is the source of the fear and frustration that makes us feel pressured? Fear arises from and is created by our mindís response to our environment. But why would stretching and toning our bodies make us feel fearful or frustrated? Is the pressure / fear we feel coming from someone elseís idea of what we should look like? Or is the pressure to regard or disregard our bodies self-imposed?
If your desire for an improved body image is to please others, your New Yearís resolution should work as well as any other technique. However, if you desire a greater understanding of mind / body connectedness for your own well-being, then youíve come to the right place. What Iím proposing is a training system that not only enhances mind / body connectedness but also leads to an improved body image and a satisfying release from the stressors and pressures of everyday life.
Before we go any further, I offer you this challenge: How is it that great athletes can accomplish high-level feats requiring myriad techniques of Herculean exertion and still talk about how much they love the game, the sport, the activity? An athlete runs 26 miles in a little over 2 hours. At the end (s)heís smiling and reflecting on how great an experience it was. For this person, 26 miles equals liberation, elation and euphoria!
On the other hand, you set out to run one mileÖ one mile that begins with an external pressure for an improved body image and ends in irritation, aches and anxiety. You and the athlete have the same basic anatomy and have made the choice to run. Why such different experiences?
I propose that the answer lies in our mental construct about what exercise isÖ not a source of liberation and pleasure but one of discomfort and anxiety. You bring the end results with you before you even begin the activity thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the point of stress formation. You plan to run one mile. You donít believe if you can run one mile. Your doubt causes a hesitation in your stride. As an added distraction, you really want to get back home to watch your favorite TV show, so youíre in a hurry. Your mind is now separated into three dimensions each giving a separate order.
Command 1: Run. Your body responds by activating the muscles needed to support running.
Command 2: Hesitate. Your lower back, buttocks, hamstrings and a host of other muscles respond by contracting. Your hesitation acts against your order to jog forward. These muscles are now working to hold you back because that is what they've been told to do. This is how discomfort begins.
Command 3: Hurry. You rush thru your warm-up and begin before your body is ready, thereby adding more tightness and discomfort. In addition, your breathing is shallow and high up in your chest. Your knee hurts. Your back has a knot in it. Youíve got a stitch in your side. Not a fun way to cover one mile, is it? Running has become discomfort. Running has become work. Why shouldnít it when thereís so much focus on not running... when mind and body are not in sync.
By allowing your attention to be divided, you stress the body by working against yourself. Your mind is not in your lungs, in your arms, in your legs or in your feet where itís needed to keep you focused, relaxed and balanced. Itís outside your body floating in front of you, behind you, above your head causing you to be ungrounded, off center and tight. Wonder where that lower back, knee and stitch in your side came from? It's your body telling your mind to pay attention-- to stop ripping and tearing it by trying to move forward while holding back.
A sobering realization is that this self-defeating pattern may be affecting more than the way you approach exercise. What if itís also the way you approach other areas of your life? What if an inability to be fully committed to the present moment has been holding you back from realizing other dreams as well?
"So whatís the solution?" you ask. "How do I overcome this pattern when I donít know any other way to be? Iím always thinking ahead. I have to! How else will I survive!"
My answer is this. You will live more fully by aligning your focus, will power and intention in each precious, present moment. If you can let go of forethought and afterthought, you will not only survive, you will thrive. And, as you practice the various non-stressor techniques that lead to the deepest levels of mind / body relaxation, eventually you will fly.
Where do we begin? We begin by focusing on the feeling of having a body rather than the thought of having a body.
*Allow yourself to feel every part of your body. This is the secret. You must receive yourself. When you do, the completeness of feeling will be pleasurable beyond words. It is an experience. That is the real workout, or meditation. Get out of your head and into your flesh. It should not be hard just tell yourself that youíll be paid in instant pleasure! Feel the energy of the activity donít resist it. Allow it to move into and through you. Release your guilt, good person you have every right to feel as good as is humanly possible at all times. Be feed by the feeling of fullness, snack on subtle sensations and dine on the divine dance without doubt.
Just remember, the run will end, the match will conclude. All things end so why focus outside of the moment? Why do something and not give it all your attention? What is the point to doing things if you are not going to fully do them? The step that you are taking, the repetition that you are performing that must be your focus. You have chosen to do it, so be present and enjoy the moving, the breathing, the feeling.You may find the pleasure spilling over and youíll be present and enjoying things you never thought you would find fun, like cleaning the house or playing with children. If youíve lost interest in sex you may rediscover the act as you allow yourself to be more receptive to pleasure. The totality of the full feeling of the moment is the only goal for a Healing Arts Practitioner. It is in that complete moment of being, that fullness of the now, where we create ourselves. Itís the sweet spot. It is where we experience life. It is the experience of life! Donít be afraid to feel. Donít hate and fear your body.
Peace, Jujupoogie The Monk
You'll be on top of the world when you reconnect to your body!