Monday, February 02, 2009

MPOW #2 - Connect With Your Body's Wisdom

"Body awareness not only anchors you in the present moment, it is a doorway out of the prison that is the ego. It also strengthens the immune system and the body's ability to heal itself." - Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

"You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit who is in you.” Corinthians 6:19-20

I hope that you enjoyed the foundational concentration meditation from MPOW #1. This week, I'm moving on to one of my favorite relaxation techniques--scanning the body to learn more about who you are. This one is ideal for first thing in the morning, last thing at night, when restless in bed, or instead of (or as a precursor to) a mid-day nap, because it is best performed lying flat on your back.

Our bodies are filled with so much wisdom. Being in touch with our bodies is a way to tap into that wisdom. My tai chi and qi gong instructors at Embrace the Moon often talk about the wisdom of the body. The hecticness of modern (yang) lifestyles has led to most of us being disconnected from our bodies. We try to push through illness, fight fatigue with stimulants like caffeine, and otherwise resist what our bodies are telling us. "Suppressing natural body urges cuts off the natural flow of prana [or qi or energy], which causes imbalance and disease" (Exploring Chakras by Susan G. Sumsky). Crying, vomiting, sleeping, panting after exertion are examples of these body urges; I bet that you can recall a whole bunch of times when you have repressed these urges. For at least this week, take the time to listen to your body and allow any of the urges to manifest. Meditating on the body can help us tap into this wisdom.

In The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain, John E. Sarno, M.D., tells us about how feelings in the body are often manifestations of tension from unresolved emotions--such as guilt, need, or rage--in the unconscious mind. "... the physical manifestation of tension is to deceive. Our brains have decided that feeling tense, which is the appropriate response to being tense, is too unpleasant to bear and is not as socially acceptable as having something "physically" wrong. And so the brain makes a few adjustments in circuitry and instead of looking and acting like a nervous wreck, presto--a bellyache or a backache." Taking the time to explore the parts of the body that are feeling issues may help you to identify the causes in your unconscious and solve your pain.


I have personally had some amazing experiences with the meditation that I mention here. It has helped me to relieve both physical and emotional pains. I have long had very tight calf muscles, causing me much pain and sleep difficulty. One afternoon, I spent time meditating on this pain and realized that I had been storing emotional resentment toward a past romantic partner of mine.

By spending time meditating on the pain in my legs, I was able to both forgive her (and myself) and release the muscles. Now I have become close to her as a friend, harbor less anger, and can easily relax my calves. Win, win, win.

Another anecdote is about a friend of mine. During regular yin yoga classes, we often hold hip stretches (such as pigeon pose) for 7 minutes (yeah, that's a long time... you need to transcend the pain to survive). In at least some circles, it is commonly thought that people hold lots of emotions as tension in their hips. It certainly seems like this is the case for my friend who often opens up into tears over repressed emotions after these long hip stretches. It may seem scary to dig into this, but it certainly helps to get this out in the open and deal with it head on.

Buddhists such as Pema Chodron advise us to "lean into the sharp spots" to bravely overcome our discomfort. This is the way of the warrior of the heart (the bodhisattva). It will not always be so profound, but it will often be relaxing. Let's get to it!

The Meditation: Body Scan

Lie flat on your back in a comfortable position (other comfortable positions such as seated are possible). When you are comfortable, begin by putting your attention at the top of your head. Imagine that your body is filling with light--a warm, loving, and beautiful light. Let the light slowly pouring in through the top of your head, filling you. As it comes through, pay close attention to the feelings in your head, then in your forehead, temples, eyes, ears, nose...

Whenever you find a feeling or a pain, linger there at that spot. Breath in and out of it. Explore
the feeling with your curious mind. Where did it come from? What does it feel like? What color is it? What does it sound like? Where will it go? What purpose does it serve? What is it looking for? Etc. Be curious about it, and see where it moves to or if it melts away.

When you are ready, move slowly down through your shoulders, arms, heart, chest, abdomen,
solar plexus, and on and on down to your feet. Take plenty of time with the entire scan. If you complete it while still enjoying your meditation, start again, this time seeing if you can be even more sensitive to the feelings in your body, going deeper and slower. If your muscles are tight, tell them that you love them, that you appreciate their hard work, and grant them permission to relax, to tell you everything that they have to offer.


There some several alternatives to play around with. See what works for you in which situation.

  • It doesn't have to be light that fills you. It can be water, or air, or a vacuum, or a scan line, or simply your intention.
  • Start at the feet, wait for each part of the body to feel heavy before sliding to the next part of the body.
  • Breath
    in and out slowly. Imagine a band of light scanning your body from
    head to toe with each inhale and toe to head with each exhale (or vice
    versa). See what you notice as your breath elongates, as your breath
    shortens. Try to time it so that the body scan aligns with the breath.
These are just a few of the many possible ways of understanding the body. As you develop your practice in bodily awareness, feel free to play with these alternatives and let me know what works and doesn't work for you.

Comments Requested - share with me and others!
If you're new to meditation, please let me know how it goes.
If you're experienced at meditation, what works and what doesn't work?
For everyone, please share your experiences with this meditation. If a group of people are doing it and sharing, that will help others ride the wave.

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