This page aims to be a very general intro to the physical side of mindfulness and is not intended to cover all aspects in depth.
Just to recap : there are different kinds of mindfulness. Meditation and mindfulness are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably. In summary, there is :
- mindfulness/meditation that we do for a specific time period, at regular intervals and it can be both :
(a) private and individual, and/or, (b) public and in groups.
2. mindfulness that is attempted continually, 24/7
With (1) there will usually be physical components already, such as, ways to sit, ways to breathe, movement forms or exercises. With (2) it is sometimes less clear. Classes you attend and techniques you practice with (1) will all help with (2).
The rest of this article is in 2 parts, that reflect (1) and (2) respectively.
Physical techniques that can be meditative or that support mindfulness
There are many different schools and many teachers of Tai chi – and many are not similar. You just have to do some homework and see which school/teacher attracts you. One thing you can do before searching is deciding what you primarily want – for example – do you want to learn it primarily as a relaxation technique or do you want to learn it as a marital art, or both? The teaching style and practices may well be different depending on which you choose:
This is very compatible with mindfulness : https://alexandertechnique.co.uk/
There are many different schools and many teachers of Yoga – and many are not similar. You just have to do some homework and see which school/teacher attracts you. One thing you can do before searching is deciding what you primarily want – for example, do you want to learn a traditional style that has it original roots in Hindu culture (often taught in a gentle style) or, do you want to learn a more modern off-shoot, (some of which involve more energetic exercises)? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga
There are many different schools and many teachers of Pilates. You just have to do some homework and see which school/teacher attracts you. One thing you can do before searching is deciding what you primarily want – for example, do you want to learn ‘Traditional’ Pilates, having its roots from the founder, Joseph Pilates (1883-1967) or, do you want to learn a more ‘Modern’ Pilates, developed by contemporary teachers? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilates
Physical actions that can be combined with 24/7 mindful attentiveness
Beginnings : Basically, as you sit, stand or move, do things, talk or in silence, you become aware of your shoulders and then “allow” then to sink a little. This is a subtle thing, this “allowing”. If you force your shoulders down, you are just adding to the tension, or replacing one tense action (holding) with another (forcing shoulders down). This ‘allowing’ starts with sensing how your body is holding your shoulders and then just letting go of some of the holding. When you can do this fairly often, the next step is to subtly adjust the position of your head. This is a very small movement, again of the “allowing” kind. You gently tuck your chin in, allowing the back of your head to be a little higher. When combined, the shoulders relax and the head adjusted, it can have a powerful effect and become stronger the more you do it. There are many more such adjustments that can be made for other body parts but start with these two for three or four months, (longer if it feels good but try and include some of the following after 6 months).
Allowing the body to unfold : After 6 months of the ‘Beginnings’ above, add on more ‘unfoldings’ following this list : (vary the order if you feel the need but I found this order useful. It is best to add one at a time and do this adding on as slowly as you need. It can take years if that is how it unfolds for you):
- Allow the hips to float up at the front
- Let your belly expand as you breathe in, let go of this movement as you breathe out
- Keep the knees slightly bent, (not so much as to create tension in the lower back but enough so the knees are not locked)
- Create some more gap between the knees
- Hands to roll outwards, (palms face thighs)
- Allow the thighs to roll outward,
Please see the diagram below, where the arrows indicate the movements. Please also remember, this is not about exercising or pushing yourself. These movements are very small and subtle – it is the quality of your attention that makes them effective.
It is important to note something here, this is not about completing successfully some regime. It does not really matter if you cannot do all these or even if they take a long time. The aim is to deepen your attention. Mindfulness is about opening and watching, not achieving or completing. All ask, sooner or later, if this is how it is done, how will I know if it is working? A fair question : (especially as in the early practice, we sometimes feel worse). We can use the old strawberry analogy. If you have never eaten a strawberry, it is impossible to actually describe what it is like : all descriptions fall well clear of what it is like in reality – that strawberry taste. So it is with mindfulness, if the practice is right for you, you will eventually notice the difference. If you feel no difference at all after six months, try something else : (noting that, with the 24/7 mindfulness, it is usual to feel worse at first)
There is more on “allowing” here . . . . . . .
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