You have 206 bones, over 650 skeletal muscles, 79 organs, around 100 billion neurons and so much more in your body. Somehow, everything communicates together so you can wake the kids, brush your teeth while texting with the car pool, make coffee while feeding the baby. You are a multi-tasking marvel, a nervous system moving at the speed of light as you grab your coat and dash out the door.
We generally take all this for granted: jogging, chopping onions, coaching the soccer team, until something goes wrong. It could be an injury or an accident. Or it could be the result of invisible habits that have accumulated over a lifetime: clenching your teeth when feeling stressed, tightening your lower back for stability, curling your toes or hunching your shoulders. Whether it’s compensation for a recent injury, or a posture from childhood, these habits are now part of what your brain calls “me” and can seem invisible, until they cause pain. This impacts not just your physical comfort, but your mood, thinking ability and quality of life.
Those bones and muscles only work well when everything lines up as intended. Imagine a bridge, constructed with steel girders and cables. Your bones are like the girders, your muscles like the cables. Imagine what would happen to the bridge if one cable was too tight or too loose. Eventually the entire structure is compromised.
You may have tried to relieve your discomfort through exercise. But if you are exercising with a hunched shoulder, or rotated pelvis, you may be creating even more problems by further straining or forcing. And because these habits are so invisible, you don’t feel it till it’s too late.
It may seem like there’s no extra time for self-care. But paradoxically, if you slow down and pay attention to your body for five minutes a day, you can literally teach yourself new habits that can make you more effective, calmer and stronger as you go through your day.
Here are some ways to develop your ability to notice:
1. Body Scan. You can’t change what you don’t know. By taking a few minutes to sense yourself, you begin to educate your brain to make new choices. Lie on your back, preferably on a mat or carpet, something firm and comfortable. Close your eyes. Notice the parts of you that touch the floor. Are you heavier on one side? Are your feet pointing in the same direction? Where is your spine? Take a slow tour of all the places that touch the floor. Notice where things feel more or less comfortable. Allow the floor to support you, you don’t have to hold it together all the time.
2. On Your Feet. Stand with your feet comfortably underneath you, preferably without shoes. Sense how your feet touch the floor. Are both feet touching the same way? How are they different? Slowly shift your weight to one side and return a couple of times. Then shift to the other side. How is it different? Feeling stressed? Bounce up and down on your heels a few times. Walk around the room on the outsides of your feet. Then try it walking on the insides. Bounce again. Then check your feet and how you shift. Is it different? When you are more balanced on your feet, you’re more balanced in your thoughts.
3. Lengthen Your Back. Lie on your back with your legs long. Notice the space under your lower back. Is one side of your pelvis heavier than the other? Stand your right foot on the floor. Press your right foot into the floor so your right hip lifts, and slowly release several times. Pay attention to not clench your buttocks. Rest, then repeat on the other leg. Stretch out your legs and sense the space under your lower back.
Bend both of your legs over your chest and hold your knees. For at least five breaths, simply circle your legs and feel your pelvis and back move. Do it slowly, then reverse your circle. Stretch out again and notice how you feel.
4. Let Your Breath Help. Sitting or lying down, sense how your breath enters through your nose, into the back of your mouth, down your throat. Feel the air pass across your upper lip as you inhale and exhale. Notice the length of your inhale, exhale, and any pauses in between. Without straining, exhale completely and hold your breath out. Wait a few seconds, and without inhaling, exhale again. Pause again and wait for your body’s need to pull air in. Try this about five times, then go back to your own breath. Slowing your breath this way is a great way to re-set and calm down.
By interrupting your habits with slow, small changes, you will teach your nervous systems optimal ways of moving that can help reduce pain, increase your confidence and improve your wellbeing. You can apply the same kind of attention to any part of your body. Just remember to go slow and listen to your comfort level. As your ability to attend to yourself improves, you will paradoxically discover you have more time for the things you want to do!
Lavinia Plonka has been teaching the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education for over 30 years. She is a lead instructor of the Emotional Body®, author of several books on movement and an internationally recognized teacher of movement studies. For more information on Lavinia’s retreats visit www.laviniaplonka.com/kinesaretreat. For additional articles and tips visit www.laviniaplonka.com