Yoga Tools – Awareness

imagesThe bumper sticker on our last Yoga Tool was to recognize that just as we take a drink when we are thirsty, eat when we are hungry, we need rest when we are weary. All of which requires first, awareness of a particular sensation in our body.

There are signs and signals speaking to us all the time, but are we really listening?

Are you like me in that you eat regularly on a schedule or do you listen to the signal telling you when you’re hungry? Do you sleep only at certain times of the day or are you paying attention to the signs that you need to rest? These are two indicators built into the survival mechanism of our body. Similarly, if you enter a room with a smell so strong it seems toxic you know to immediately step out again. If you are suddenly ill bringing up something you ate, again a signal. Your brain’s number one job is to keep you safe and protected.

Pain is no different. It is a signal from your brain, a call to action.

Below is a quick and easy Tool to begin learning to sense information your body or your brain, is providing. I often use it in the beginning of a yoga class, to bring some awareness to what we’re about to do.

one-to-fiveLie with your back on the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet hips-width apart. Let your knees gently fall towards each other, resting easy and comfortable.

Now, begin:

To sense what you feel in terms of your body’s contact with the floor. What parts of your body are in contact with the floor? Is the surface of the floor hard, soft? Are you comfortable? Do you feel the support of the ground below? Lean in. Feel grounded. Feel supported.

To feel your breath moving through your body. Where do you first notice your breath? In your chest, your lungs? Your nostrils? In your belly perhaps? Does the air feel smooth flowing in, and out? Does it feel forced, soft, cool, warm? Can you sense movement, in tune with your breath, elsewhere in your body?

To notice the tone of your muscles. Are your muscles at rest, tense, or sore? Where in particular do you notice any tension? Where might you find softness? Can you soften the areas around your eyes? Let your jaw, feel relaxed. Your tongue loose and soft in your mouth. Can you contract a muscle somewhere and then for contrast, let it go?

To pay attention to your heartbeat. Can you sense it? Can you feel it? Where do you feel it?

Going even deeper, can you feel or sense the blood flowing through your body? 

If you can’t feel a particular sensation, just notice that. Without judgement. Just let it be.

Body / Breath / Musculature / Heartbeat / Bloodflow

5 steps inside…

Take some time each day to first, pay attention. Build awareness.

Practice this once per day over the next week.

*Note: If you’re typically a doer, go-getter, Type-A, cannot sit still type of person, consider doing this AFTER a workout, brisk walk, end of your day, when you’re more likely to be at ease with the sense of quiet and stillness this exercise asks of you.

Change the brain, the nervous system, the body

neuroplasticity-and-technology-4-728The changing of our brain …

One of the most important changes in the last 14 years or so is the field of neuroplasticity.

Years ago, when our kids were little, I recall speaking with my cousin who has a degree in psychology. We spoke about the development of children and she told me how important it was to interact with them, stimulate them, provide them with challenges. The reason being, that scientists once thought that the brain stopped developing after the first few years of life.  


Since then, we’ve come to understand this isn’t true of the brain. Research shows our brain is capable of learning, adapting and changing throughout our life.

The changing of our body …

Our white blood cells die after 3-4 days, red blood cells after about 120 days, the dermis of our skin renews every 2-4 weeks. Research shows that changes in the relative level of physical stress cause a predictable adaptive response in all biological tissue.  In other words, changes take place and what’s exciting to me is how we can take measures to influence what happens in our body.

stretchingI’ve also learned it seems we may have been ‘wrong about stretching‘, insofar as to say we’re not really stretching or lengthening muscles. At least not as much as we once believed. Rather, we’re changing our response to a stimulus via the nervous system.

“your ability to stretch at any range is determined by your nervous system’s tolerance to that range.” – Jules Mitchell

The changing of our nervous system …

Our brain is naturally going to respond in a protective manner to anything it perceives as dangerous. We’ll talk about this more with regards to both our psychological health and immune system in upcoming posts. But for now as one example, let’s say that if we are trying to re-train flexibility in the body and do so with strong, forceful pressure or stimulus … the brain/body will react by saying … stop! No! Don’t go there. It will send a (pain) signal to safeguard our movement.

stretchHowever, if we move in small incremental ways within a safe and pain-free range of motion, the nervous system will react by saying … this feels okay. Safe. I’m happy to explore this.

This is a somewhat simplified way to explain all that’s going on, but it’s a starting point we can work from.

The more I learn about the body the more I am awestruck by its miraculousness (is that a word?).

By learning to pay attention, moving in a way that allows your nervous system to adapt and create new patterns while it feels safe, you will make progress. 

Change. Big Change. Lasting Change.