When you’re under pressure, what tools do you use to ensure you respond effectively? How do you manage yourself when you are up against it? Life is full of challenging conversations, situations and relationships. As well as regularly facing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
I listen to people tell me how they bully themselves into working longer hours, getting up earlier, going to bed later, driving themselves at the desk and the gym regardless of how they might be feeling. As if to listen to your body when it is tired or in need of a break is a weakness. And then it is no wonder you get knocked sideways by a cold or backache that has you in bed for a week. Or a more serious medical condition.
Gratitude and Appreciation
Over to You
Pass it on
How good a boss are you to yourself? As a self-employed solopreneur, how well are you taking care of your well-being? And as an employee, is your well-being at the forefront of your mind as you work? How well do you look after yourself? Does self-care feature high on your priority list?
Some clients like their coaching experience to touch all areas of their lives. Other clients prefer to restrict the coaching to specific areas. This may be for many reasons and is part of the design of the relationship right at the start. Of course, I honour this request when clients ask for it. After all, the client is in complete control of the coaching process. The client is responsible for the results and outcomes he/ she gets from the coaching journey. This view gives focus and clarity. It may make it easier to keep the coaching process restricted to a limited number of sessions. For those who are looking for on- going or open- ended coaching, the freedom to explore all areas of the client’s life brings other benefits.
Open Ended Coaching
For those clients that open their whole lives to the coaching experience, there is a huge amount of growth that can come from seeing how behaviour in one area of a client’s life is replicated in other areas of their life. This observation allows them to see how that habit may or may not be serving them in a broader context. This can offer powerful insights.
One client for example noticed early in the coaching journey that he allowed himself to be derailed by other people’s agendas. He got himself into financial difficulty because friends insisted on spending more money than he could afford on social activities. He allowed himself to be persuaded and derailed from his financial plan to get out of debt and kept falling into the trap.
Much later in the coaching journey, he noticed that this derailing pattern appeared throughout his life. Once he noticed it and knew he could resolve it in one area of his life, he was confident he could do it in others. He took the understanding, learning and empowerment from his financial situation and started applying it to other areas. He overcame this pattern in almost every section of his Wheel of Life- health, work, friends and family, relationships, fun and education.
Learning is Transferable
He did it by gaining clarity on what he felt was the priority for him in those social situations. Yes, going out with friends was important, but to restrict that interaction for the sake of financial control and independence was more important. He felt he wanted to explain this to his friends. He had underlying fears of being seen as boring or irresponsible as well as rejection from the people he loved. By holding to his principles and values he felt better about himself. He was better able to stick to his plan and enjoy himself when he did socialise. The fear and anxiety were gone. He applied this principle of priority clarification in other areas of his life and found that his confidence, determination, relaxation and self- respect all improved.
I have heard many teachers make this observation. “The way you do it is the way you do it,” says Richard Rohr, while T. Harv Eker says, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” I think this is so true, and it is powerful to notice these repeating patterns in your own life both as a sign of where you can improve and to see where your strengths lie.
For myself I am a procrastinator. I will put things off because I think I am too busy to deal with them or I think I have the time to look at them later. Sometimes I just don’t want to deal with them. The thing is they pile up and then I feel overwhelmed. Then it’s harder to get those things done quickly and efficiently. I continually train myself in all areas of my life to do things as they come up or realistically schedule them in my diary. Otherwise it leads to anxiety and overwhelm. It makes me far more efficient and effective.
Conversely, I show great tenacity, committing to any project that I sign up to, person I support or relationship I value. It connects with my values of honour and integrity that I try to live throughout my life. When I drop the ball, it is incredibly disappointing and painful to notice that deviation from my values and truth.
When you take conscious control of these traits, you can steer yourself towards positive thoughts, words and behaviours that impact in all areas of your life. While they are unconscious, they can run your life in an unsupportive way in the shadows. Once you shed light on them, your awareness allows you to see where changes are beneficial or necessary and where current habits are already supportive towards achieving your goals.
This idea of becoming more consciously aware is a foundational part of the transformational co-active life coaching process. It is also part of the martial arts journey. Having studied the Japanese martial arts for almost three decades, it came as no surprise that this idea is an intrinsic part of Japanese culture.
The Japanese Way
In Japan, martial arts are not just about being able to fight and defend oneself. They are a way of life, filled with life- enhancing principles to be applied to every moment. They offer a foundation for living with honour, integrity and respect for self, others and the world. Many traditional art forms in Japan, from tea ceremony and calligraphy to sword making and pottery, are infused with this sense of taking the focus, care, commitment, patience, time and love necessary to make their art, into all areas of the practitioner’s life. This is the transformational nature of martial arts, along with any other “Do” or “Way” in Japanese culture.
More well- known Ways include Judo, Kendo and Aikido in martial arts, and include Chado (Tea Ceremony), Shodo (Calligraphy) and Kado (Flower arranging). When this has been mastered, the practitioner is known as Shokunin. It is as if the art is used to bring the individual to greater maturity, awareness and integrity. It touches their whole life and the lives of the people they touch. A great example of how our mindset infuses all our actions and behaviours.
The notion that the way people approach any life situation often mirrors their approach to all of life’s situations may encourage us to sit up and take notice when these patterns emerge. They are hard to recognise in yourself- as if you have a blind spot. A life coach, holding a vision of bringing your best self to all situations in your life, can be invaluable in supporting you in that process.
Understanding that lessons in one area of your life can be instructive to make you more effective in other areas of your life is transformational. It shows you that: if you can do it once you can do it again; communicates your commitment to yourself to grow, be courageous and be your best self; allows for compassion for yourself and for others; demonstrates that the job is never done and that there is always more learning and directions of growth.
None of it can be done without action. In action, we show ourselves what can be done. Action is the classroom of learning, failure, success and developing transferable skills. It can make us more rounded, mature and powerful agents of change in our lives.
Over to You
What patterns of behaviour show up in your life? Do you notice those patterns yourself, or do other people reveal them to you? What are your blind spots? What habits do you have that are not supportive of your success? Where else do they show up in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comments box or tweet me at @PotentialityC. I look forward to hearing from you.
Pass it on
If you know someone who might find this article useful, please forward it to them. It might be the inspiration and motivation they need to make deep change. It could make all the difference in the world to them for their health, wellbeing, career, business ideas, relationships, finances and much more.
Do you find emotions challenging? Have you ever wanted to change your emotional response to something? Do you know your emotional reaction does not serve you but are at a loss as to how to change it? Do you find yourself reacting to things unconsciously and wishing you could behave differently?
Logic and Reason
Most of us have experienced this at some time in our lives. Often you try to deal with your emotional state using logic and reason. Historically, philosophers, scientists and laymen have explained emotions through the lens of logic. Yet in the cold light of day, to explain something so irrational with logic and reason sounds ridiculous. To explore the profound contradiction of the human experience from a rational standpoint is like trying to show a bird how to fly by using diagrams and advanced calculus. It’s never going to add up. The experience of emotion is not logical, just like a bird does not learn to fly using a manual. It is feeling that marks the experience, which is an intuitive, instinctive response to a situation in the moment.
Emotions and Pain
Emotions are powerful and can leave us feeling totally overwhelmed. They can also be contradictory. All of this can be confusing and intense which makes emotions hard to process. Increasingly, we are getting less and less education about how to manage our emotions effectively. The rise of incidents of mental health and depression is staggering evidence of our emotional pain. It seems that we have been dealing with emotions in the wrong way for centuries. And this has been compounded by a lack of understanding of how our brains work. I think there is also a lack of knowledge about what emotions are for. We will look at each of these in turn.
How your brain works
I read a fascinating article about emotions recently. It has helped me put into perspective how emotions are created. It also shows what we can do to manage them. “How Emotions Trick Your Brain” was written by Dr. Lisa Feldman- Barrett, in the BBC’s Science Focus magazine (No. 321, May 2018 edition). She is a psychologist, neuroscientist and author of “How emotions are Made: The Secret of the Brain”.
Neuroscientists understand now that the brain is predominantly designed to predict. “Studies show that your brain spends 60 to 80 per cent of its energy on prediction. In every moment, your brain issues thousands of predictions at a time, based on past experience.” And it is this past experience that can be such a limiting factor in your growth, development and fulfilling your desire to move forward in your life.
“Emotions are your brain’s best guesses for what your body’s sensations mean, based on your situation” says Feldman- Barrett. In other words, your body has an experience and your brain interprets that experience based upon the past. The process happens quite unconsciously, beyond your awareness. The cascade of sensation to experience and on to behaviour is rapid. However, it is not always accurate, supportive or appropriate.
For example, I have a fear of intense emotion, particularly anger when it manifests as shouting. I notice that I retreat into myself. I become small, invisible and shut down to the extent that I do not say anything. My body becomes contracted. I hunch over, stomach tight, shoulders up. I feel fear and the desire to run away. Yet that response is one of a child afraid of abandonment by angry or disappointed parents. I would like to say here that my parents never abandoned me and rarely shouted. It is a natural response to the risk of removal of protection and nurturing. As an adult, I no longer need to fear these things. And yet I do feel these emotions and behave accordingly.
How can you change your emotions?
Feldman- Barrett comes up with three options:
• The first is “body budget”, giving your body the resources it needs like good nutrition, sleep and regular exercise so that the brain does not have to predict challenging emotions. You are more stable, balanced and positive in your emotional state. I might add things such as posture and energy vibration that make the body stronger and more robust as well. Those of you that have done the Mindful Movement workshops will know the power of Paul Linden’s centring exercises as well as the health benefits of positive energy to the body and mind.
• The second is your environment and being mindful of the impact your surroundings have on your emotional state. People and places that upset you or empower you profoundly affect your state of mind.
• The third is your predictions from past experience. As my mother is fond of saying “You cannot change the past.” What I have learned is that you can change the way you view the past. When you notice your body having a reaction to a situation that does not support your best self, you can use Paul Linden’s centring exercises. Use your awareness, posture, heart energy and radiance to change your body’s reaction to the situation towards something far more supportive. Your body literally cannot support this old emotion and behaviour and so you produce a different emotion and behaviour. One you hope is supportive of your best self. If you practice this you will get much better at it.
Back to the example of the anger and shouting. I no longer need to feel the contracted state of fear and the stress response. Awareness that I am having this experience means I can change my body’s reaction and so have a completely different experience around anger and shouting. From this new state of being, I no longer feel personally attacked or threatened. I am better able to remain present to the situation. I can interact with the person more effectively than before and co- create a mutually beneficial outcome.
Towards a fuller version of myself
I have always struggled to openly share my thoughts and feelings with others. In the past, my opinion did not stand for much in the grand scheme of things and so I learned that my opinion did not matter. I have become an adult carrying the same belief. I have made my way in the world speaking other people’s truths. On a retreat workshop I spoke my truth for the first time and found people to be open and receptive to that message.
Since then I have built my confidence in sharing my stories, thoughts and ideas. I experience the emotion of “my opinion does not matter” and the contraction that comes with that. Then I centre and think about the kind of leader I wish to become. I take a deep relaxing breath and I say my piece. Fear of rejection, humiliation and dismissal surface sometimes. Consequently, I acknowledge them and let them pass as I hold my vision of what the future holds. I have many teachers and mentors to thank for traveling that journey towards a fuller version of myself.
What is the purpose of emotions?
Put very simply, emotions are information. They are your body’s way of saying that there are things here you need to pay attention to. “I feel weak, threatened, attacked, rejected, humiliated, fearful or diminished.” “I feel happy, powerful, confident, strong, listened to, seen, supported or elated.” These are either “move towards” or “move away” from states that your body is flagging up to notice. Our general lack of comfort with emotion means we miss valuable information about our current state and so we are removed and disengaged with our present environment and how we can interact with it.
Presence is remaining aware of your body state and your interaction with the environment. Emotions allow you to know how you are interacting in this moment. Once you are aware, you have choice. Now you are empowered to choose an emotional state that supports your best self.
You do not have to be a victim of your past. Awareness is a powerful tool that allows you to choose how you respond to any given situation. Yes, you might react to a situation in a certain way initially. However, that does not mean that you have to continue reacting that way. What serves you? What reaction brings you closer to your desired goals? Who do you want to be? How do you wish to be perceived by others? These questions frame the context of your reaction. Through practice, you can train yourself to “be” and “do” differently.
Over to you
How do you feel about emotions? Do you find them challenging? Are you able to manage your emotional state? Now that you have tried these methods, have they made a difference? How have things changed? Does it help to think of emotions as information? How does that make it easier or harder to manage your emotions? Please share your thoughts and experiences. As well as deepening your own learning, sharing also gives other people permission to learn and understand better their own journey.
Pass it on
If you know anyone who might benefit from help to manage their emotional state, please send them the link to this blog. Emotions seem to be something we want to run away from. In fact, they are an intimate part of the human experience that keeps us healthy, sane and connected, to ourselves and others. Developing emotional intelligence is a part of the coaching journey, deepening self- knowledge and making life a richer experience.
Do you find it hard to let your mind go quiet? Have you noticed that your mind jumps around a lot from subject to subject? Do you struggle to stay focussed on any given topic?
Can your mind start worrying about things and send you on a spiralling treadmill of stress or anxiety?
Are you sometimes looking for inspiration but it doesn’t come? Do you hope to have a great idea or answer to a problem and no matter how hard you try it eludes you? Would you like to be more intuitive, creative and imaginative?
Where do you place your attention?
It may seem strange but these issues and challenges are connected, in the sense that they are products of where you place your attention. By placing your attention predominantly on the conscious mind you therefore give energy to the conscious mind and the ways it works. These might include:
Focus on detail
However, the skills of intuition, creativity and inspiration are products of the subconscious mind. By bringing your attention to the subconscious you direct energy towards these talents. As well as the above these might be:
Big picture thinking
Seeing how things interconnect
Listening to your heart
Our society tends to favour training our conscious mind, choosing educational methods that promote conscious thinking.
This of course has great value. We need to be organised, keep to our diary, prioritise and think with our head sometimes rather than with the heart.
When the conscious mind is trained and used at the expense of using creative and intuitive subconscious skills, you are denied developing these skills. You are only able to use some of your mind’s full potential. Surely it would be useful to tap into more of your innate skills as well, many of which reside in the subconscious?
The mind is like an iceberg. About 10% resides above the surface of the ocean. This is the conscious mind. By contrast, 90% resides beneath the surface of the ocean. This is the subconscious. Notice how much larger the subconscious mind is? Perhaps tapping into the subconscious would make you even more resourceful, effective, creative and productive?
Our lives are predominantly oriented towards conscious mind activity, looking outward into the world through TV, books, magazines, internet, social media and more. These are not bad things in themselves yet our use of them is so engrained we find it hard to unplug from them. We move from conscious mind activity to conscious mind activity throughout our day. The subconscious mind barely gets a look in.
What would it look like to give our subconscious mind some attention? Activities like taking a walk or more vigorous exercise are good ways to connect. Have you noticed how you find solutions to problems during your workouts? Taking almost any break from your conscious mind thinking such as time in nature, gardening, listening to music, gaming, a relaxing bath or a good night’s sleep will do the trick.
Always make sure you’ve got pen and paper or some means if recording your insights with you though. You don’t want to miss any ideas that come bubbling up from the subconscious. Make that a habit. You’re unlikely to remember those ideas when they come, so record them in some way.
You can be more proactive about it. Free- writing is another method and you make notes as you go. The idea is not to edit what you write. It doesn’t have to be any good or even make sense or be legible. It is the process of subconscious connection that is key.
Games the Conscious mind plays
I had a client that wanted to be a photographer. He had saved up and bought the camera and believed he now needed a computer. Perhaps he did to process the photos as effectively as he might. But his conscious mind had decided he couldn’t take the photos without the computer. Therefore he was holding himself back from achieving his dream. More importantly he was delaying himself from readily connecting to his subconscious through photography. The conscious mind can play clever games.
Another message the conscious mind tells you about connecting to the subconscious is that you don’t have time, it’s not important, you won’t be able to, you’re too busy, you’re not good enough and my favourite, do it tomorrow!!!!
Benefits of Subconscious thinking
As I said earlier with our Iceberg metaphor, the subconscious is approximately 90% of the mind. As well as tapping into all these innate skills you are also connecting more deeply into yourself. Rather than being aware of more surface level qualities you possess, when you connect to your subconscious you become much more aware of what makes you content and fulfilled. With that knowledge comes a consistent peace of mind and calm the conscious mind cannot sustain. Making a habit of connecting to the subconscious has got to be worth that alone.
One final perk……. if each person is an iceberg then when people connect to their subconscious, they are in fact connecting to each other through their subconscious via the ocean. In this way, you become aware of people’s moods and emotions, can feel the atmosphere in rooms, be more empathic and have intuitive knowings and insights into people. This will improve the quality of your relationships both personally and professionally as well as your quality of life.
Over to you
How do you connect to your subconscious? What regular things do you do to unplug from the monkey mind of conscious thinking and delve into the depths of your subconscious? Do you find it easy to connect? Do you find it a challenge? Perhaps you would like to connect and aren’t really sure how? If so, please get in touch and we can discuss how you might be able to do that. As ever, I’d love to hear your comments, either in the comments box below or on social media.
The development of these subconscious skills is a large part of the Mindful Movement workshops content. As well as balancing these qualities with the skills of the conscious mind so that you can access more of your potential and life with deeper purpose and greater fulfilment. You can find out more here.
Pass it on
Why not share this post? If you have found the ideas useful why not tell a friend? Perhaps you came by this blog post via social media? Then please share, like or retweet the post and spread the love. Thank you.
We spend so much of our day keeping our bodies still, that it is fast becoming a health crisis. Sitting may be becoming the new smoking. Yet your body is designed for movement.
How does your body feel when you move? Perhaps it feels a little sluggish when you start? May be the muscles feel tight and the body heavy to begin with? As you continue to move, do the muscles loosen up and the body feels lighter? Have you noticed that when you get up in the morning, your body feels a little tight or stiff? After a long period sat down, do you notice that your body feels stiff, tight and sluggish?
The Body in Movement
These things are definitely true for me as well as the hundreds of martial arts students I have taught over the years. What I have observed is that people’s bodies move more freely and powerfully the more they move. When muscles loosen in movement they increase the range of movement of the body. Consequently the body feels looser and lighter. This is partly through:
- blood flow
- the body warming up as it generates heat
- the muscle fibres running over each other as the muscles relax and contract
- fascia moving (for more details on fascia see here https://www.drnorthrup.com/muscle-fascia/)
Be it walking, cycling, running, swimming, martial arts, yoga, tai chi or going to the gym, the body benefits from regular movement, keeping it supple, loose and flexible. In short, with regular exercise, the body feels more expanded, open and energised.
There is also the additional quality of being mindfully in your body. Not all movement is mindful movement. Moving with awareness increases your sensitivity to more of your body’s sensations, including:
- your position of body in space
- economy of movement
- spatial awareness
- how your body feels
- when the body needs stillness, rest, movement and exercise
- non- verbal communication
- emotional state and expression
As you exercise mindfully, your attention and awareness are in your body, which means you have a relationship with your body. This awareness can go far beyond movement. You can become attuned to the sensations, tensions and feelings in the body physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Because these four aspects of your being are connected, mindfulness of the body in movement can increase awareness of your whole being.
When the Body is Still
The converse is also true. When the body is still for long periods of time, the muscles begin to shorten. That is why you feel stiff after a good night’s sleep or a long stint in the car, at your desk or on the sofa. Consequently, the body feels contracted, closed and sluggish. If your life style is one of moving from bed, to car, to desk, to car, to sofa and back to bed (or some variant of that), then a whole day might go by when your muscles and fascia have not warmed up or moved to the full range of movement they are capable. Perhaps this has been the case all week or all month or all year?
Over time your body progressively gets more contracted, closed and de- energised. How do you think this impacts on your body, how it feels and what it feels capable of doing? How do you think it presents itself to the world? What affect might this have on your mood, feelings, emotions, mindset and connection to you and the world?
Being in the Head
When you do not exercise, your awareness has little need to go to the body. Instead it remains in the head. You become disconnected from your body and the language it speaks. Therefore you may be less likely to notice the subtle signs your body gives you that things are not well emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually. It also does not tell you when things are joyful, powerful, exuberant and flowing.
This “being in the head” is a very common state of being in our modern age. People may even speak about thinking what their body feels like, as if the body is an abstract thing. Through mindful movement, exercise and living, I suggest that we live more fully and openly with a deeper sense of awareness in the body.
This makes us more present and aware of what is happening in our being moment to moment to moment. What is happening in your body IS the present. It is happening right now and so it connects you to a much larger present. I am not suggesting you live like this all the time. This would be impractical. Yet to practice the skill of mindful presence gives you the ability to move your awareness from your head to your body whenever you wish, opening you up to the wisdom and awareness in the body.
So to start this process off I have five short videos for you. Watch all five in one go. Watch one ad come back to the rest later. Whatever works best for you. They offer some gentle stretches that can be done throughout the day. Please do not do these exercises if you are already injured. If you are in any doubt, please consult your doctor before embarking on any type of exercise, including stretching. The key is to be gentle and aware. Placing your awareness on the muscles and fascia you are stretching means you will not over- do the movement and injure yourself. It should never be painful. It should feel releasing, relaxing and rejuvenating. Give it a chance. The muscles and fascia need time to respond to your gentle attention. See how you feel after a week, a month.
The Muscles to the side of the neck (see the video here)
These muscles get very tight over time when your head remains still for prolonged periods such as when working on a computer, texting or driving. By tilting your head gently to one side and then the other, you can loosen these muscles and remove the tension that builds up over time.
The muscles of the chest and the front of the shoulder (see the video here)
Working at the computer and holding the steering wheel as you drive pulls the shoulders forward, contracting the muscles at the front of the body. Over time, this curves the upper back forward creating a hunched feeling. This communicates an inward feeling making it harder to embody a state of confidence, presence and power. This stretch can help with bringing the shoulders back in relation with the spine, opening up the chest and shoulders.
Stretching the muscles around the upper spine and sternum (see the video here)
The top half of the torso can get very tight effecting the breathing as well as larger movements with the arms. Impaired breathing can severely affect your state of calm and confidence. Therefore, loosening the muscles involved in breathing is essential to help combat stress and anxiety. These are two of many stretches that impact the muscles involved in breathing as well as posture.
Loosening the muscles in the forearms (see the video here)
Typing and driving can tighten these muscles a lot, especially if you have poor technique and do not use your body as it is designed. Regular stretching of these muscles can reduce tightness and discomfort and increase your productivity.
Spinal twist (see the video here)
Your spine is made up of loads of joints between your vertebrae. Yet when we move, the tight muscles around the spine really restrict the range of movement of which we are truly capable. This stretch works the really deep muscles as well as massages the organs in the body increasing mobility as the fascia around the organs becomes more loose and flexible.
Over to You
I hope you find these exercises useful. I have done them for many years and always feel better when I do them on a regular basis. Sometimes I let it slip. I am human! How do you feel after doing the stretches? Which ones do you find easier? What ones are more challenging? Do they make your life style more comfortable? Are you generally aware of your body? If not, does the stretching help? How are things changing after doing the stretches for a week or more? Are you inspired to do more? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below. And if I can be of any assistance, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help.
Pass it on
A sedentary life style is incredibly common these days. The physical issues we develop as a result of these are widespread. Just because they are common does not mean they are right for your health and wellbeing. If you know people who are adversely affected by a sedentary life style and stretching might help, please forward this blog to them and help them get out of pain and discomfort. Thank you.
In your relationships of all kinds, do you notice how you or others disengage from conversations or interactions? There is a disconnection that can take place by which you or they are no longer present to the conversation. Sometimes this will be because you are thinking of the next thing to say once the other person has finished. Other times you might be bored and so you drift off into some fantasy.
Further examples might include feeling uncomfortable with the topic or tone of the conversation, so people might leave the room completely or sit back and stop listening altogether. Obstinate refusal to understand what the other person is staying or see another view can lead to raised voices and frustration in which no one is listening. Over zealous chatter because someone is nervous at a party can create a powerful disconnection in other people. Conversely, having a silent respondent can also feel like you are talking to your self. Whatever the reason for the disconnection, the other person may feel hurt, offended or simply not listened to and this can affect the quality of the relationship.
Why do you disconnect from pain?
In my experience, these points of disconnection are done very unconsciously. They are not done to hurt or harm even though they can have this affect. The reason for our disconnection is because we feel pain in some way or other and we want to move away from the pain. We are biologically programmed to steer away from pain such as hot flames and ferocious animals. To our mind and body, pain is pain. We do not make a distinction about its source. We set about avoiding pain of all sources in a most unconscious way.
Not all pain needs to signal that there is something to avoid though. Some pain is telling you that something is happening that you could deal with by steering into it, not away from it. Why do you feel uncomfortable about that topic? What is it about raised voices that make you shrink away? Why do you disengage when you are bored rather than maneuver the conversation towards topics that interest you? What is it about that person that makes you feel uncomfortable?
Steering into the pain
In Mindful Movement classes we do an exercise that looks at this topic. Based on Aikido principles of light touch and flow within flow, participants are invited to lead and follow each other around the room. Inevitably, tension in the body results, as people begin to feel uncomfortable in the exercise and lose that light touch connection. Tension is a way in which the body and mind manifest pain.
I invite people to explore the nature and location in their bodies where that tension lies and ask them to relax into it. The responsibility of leading or the frustration of being led can result in a lot of tension in the body. It brings up something uncomfortable which is a mild form of pain. The body and mind respond by creating tension. This means that the body does not work as well as it might (muscle tension, shallow breathing, poor posture, lack of awareness of the surroundings). The mind is neither focused on the task nor has clarity of purpose, emotions are in a place of fear and lack and the connection between partners is poor at best.
Relaxation dissolves resistance
Once participants are reminded to relax, suddenly the whole process changes. The tension that once blocked the pain and kept it frozen in place is removed and suddenly that energy can flow through the mind and body. Suddenly the pain gives way to dynamic flow and a relaxed creative process can begin to take place.
Though there is a leader and follower, both are co- creating the dance of movement much like people create a magical conversation together. The mind is clear and focused and better able to hear the intuitive voice. Emotionally, participants are more responsive to themselves and each other and a confidence in the process develops in which both people feel safe to explore and test ideas.
Body tension tells you there is pain to address
This exercise is a metaphor for daily interactions in which tension can often lead us to disconnect. Simple awareness of the process can be enough to mindfully interact with people and be more conscious about how we are when we interact. When we feel the tension in the body and notice how the mind and emotions are responding as well, we can take action to relax. This will not change the situation immediately. It will, however, change how you respond to it and so the outcome of your interaction.
From personal experience I can share a couple of public speaking engagements I attended. The first was a networking event and I froze in front of all the people as I stood up to say my piece. I never allowed the tension to leave my body and so I remained short of breath, my mind remained foggy and I was unable to speak. The second was a better experience. I arrived at the venue expecting 10- 15 people to turn up. As people arrived the number grew to 25. With each new person I felt the tension rise. Once I noticed it, I could let the tension go and I was able to speak in front of all those people quite easily. Most importantly, I was relaxed and myself. That meant the audience enjoyed the experience far more than if I had been as tense as I had been before.
Relaxation releases tension and pain
By noticing tension, you are able to take steps to release that tension. We can do that through centring, breathing or actively relaxing the body. When you are relaxed, you can choose to steer into the pain or discomfort. This brings your awareness to it and dissolves it away. It invites you to face what is perhaps most urgent and important in this moment. Tension and pain are the ways in which the mind and body communicate the need to deal with urgent and important situations.
Rather than interpret that information as something to avoid, I invite you interpret it as something to steer into. Through the awesome power of your awareness, you can dissolve that tension. The result is deeper, more intimate and powerful relationships with others and yourself as well as better health and well- being. The body and mind are not supposed to remain tense for too long. These are short term signals to get your attention. Not long term inconveniences to get used to that ultimately tighten up and restrict mind and body. A relaxed body and mind thinks clearer, reacts more appropriately, heals better, loves deeper, works longer, focuses more sharply and gives more fully.
Relaxation frees body and mind
Mind and body are meant to be loose and free in movement. Physical and mental versatility, agility, adaptability and flexibility are the hallmarks of relaxation. Tension and rigidity give us no choice but to disconnect. Relaxation allows us to remain connected through the most troubling and difficult situations. It also allows us to remain connected when we receive praise, love and generosity. It is this acceptance of all life’s situations, the ups and the downs, that relaxation allows. If we can learn to steer into them, we can improve the quality of our relationships, with ourselves, others and the world around us. We can explore the potential that exists on the other side of tension and disconnection.
Over to you
How do you disconnect? What things move you to disconnect? Are you able to remain connected when you are faced with difficult situations? How well do you receive praise and do you fully accept it graciously? As always I’d love to hear from you. Please post your comments in the box at the foot of the page and share your thoughts, experience and understanding.
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You cannot consciously and purposefully change anything without being aware of it first. Awareness gives you power to choose your actions. It is perhaps the single most important aspect essential for personal growth.
The Learning Cycle
You may know this cycle of learning:
- Unconscious incompetence
- Conscious incompetence
- Conscious competence and
- Unconscious competence.
We start the process unaware of what we don’t know (unconscious incompetence). Then through guidance or insight we realise that we don’t know something. We discover we need to improve (conscious incompetence). This spurs us to learn and consciously apply our learning. Firstly in quite a crude and clumsy manner. Then with progressively more skill as our knowledge and experience develops (conscious competence). In time we act with great skill without paying conscious attention to our behaviour (unconscious competence). Then the process repeats, endlessly growing our skill base and competence. True growth never stops.
This is as true for our feelings and emotions as it is for our practical and intellectual skill. Emotional intelligence is an important part of our behavioural and relational repertoire. Awareness of how the body feels is a route into our state of being in this moment. We recognise tension, discomfort, relaxation or pleasure in the body. That tells us valuable information about how our body responds to this current situation. It takes practice to notice these feelings in the body rather than think about them and judge the reaction. There is great power in noticing how we feel without judgement. Then we are free to act from where we are emotionally.
We can then make a choice about whether this response serves us and the people around us. Mindfully we begin to take responsibility and make changes to alter the way we affect the outcome.
Awareness Applied to Public Speaking
Recently I had a public speaking engagement. I noticed myself getting nervous, tense and shallow breathing developing into panic behaviour. As soon as I realised it I began relaxing and deepening my breath which calms me down. I was able to deliver the talk without any difficulty. Previous experience tells me that left unchecked this panic reaction leads to ineffective communication, forgetting my lines and not interacting with the audience. As a consequence the attendees do not get what they came for. It was better for all that I noticed.
How awareness influences conversations
When we are having a conversation with someone, very often we pay attention to what is happening between us and them. Is the atmosphere calm and relaxed, charged and edgy, aggressive and threatening? That is one level of awareness. Another is noticing what is going on for the other person and how they are contributing to the environment. A third is how you are feeling and how you affect what is going on. Only by being aware of how you are feeling can you affect the space around you consciously. The onus is on you to notice and then take responsibility for your role in co- creating the outcome.
Body as Tool Kit for Awareness
Over to You
How do you use your body to be aware of your state? What do you find easy or struggle with about awareness? Do you use your awareness of your body to adapt how you are in situations like the public speaking one I described? Are you aware of how you use your body when you communicate with other people and yourself? I’d love to hear from you.
Pass it On
Think this article or the Moving Meditation Course might be useful for someone you know? Why not send them a link to the blog or forward them the details of the course? I’d really appreciate you spreading the word.
Your posture in stillness and motion communicates to you and others all the time. The way you hold yourself is conveying to you how you feel and what is going on inside your body mentally, emotionally and physically. Your state of mind influences how you hold and use your body. Therefore, the body is a mirror to the mind.
A Mirror to the Mind
How does your body feel when your mind is focused? Perhaps it feels energised, calm, efficient, powerful, fluid, at ease or fast. Think of a word, group of words or phrases that describe the sensation. How does your body feels when your mind is distracted or confused by comparison? May be it feels agitated, uncomfortable, irritable, tense, unsettled or sluggish? Again, please think of appropriate words or phrases. Hopefully, this makes it clear that the mood of the mind affects the way the body feels and by extension the way it holds itself and moves.
Be careful to ensure you notice how your body feels, not how your mind is thinking when doing this exercise. Thought and feeling are very different. One comes from the mind the other from the body. It is a question of where you place your attention. Most people place their attention on the mind. This has its place. It is also of benefit to pay attention to what the body expresses- it is much more receptive to what is happening in the moment.
The Hips Don’t Lie
When I teach martial arts, I can tell whether someone is focused or distracted simply by the way they move. As you get to know someone you are able to discern how that person is feeling simply by looking at their body. When someone moves slower than normal or seems to look less vital than usual, it might illicit a question from you asking if they are OK? If their lips are pinched or their brow furrowed you might ask if they are worried or agitated about something. This type of awareness is familiar to most of us. When someone does not recognise the signs that another person is upset and interacts with them without regard for their feelings, you might be surprised or incredulous at their apparent insensitivity. Perhaps instead it is simply a lack of awareness of these cues that might require some training and practice.
A Two- Way Mirror
This mirror between mind and body is actually two- way. The actions of the body can be used to affect the mind. We know how much better we feel in our mind after some light exercise. Just the way you hold yourself can affect your mood. Research with MBA students showed that interviewees performed better when they sat straight (perhaps having a conversation with another person or doing some mindfulness activity) or moved around (standing, walking or using “power poses”) before the interview compared to sitting slouched (such as looking at their mobile phone or “weak poses”).
Martial arts students always say they feel more focused, confident and positive after the session, even one that is not very physical, just for some light movement and holding themselves in a more upright and confident way. This is not unique to martial arts. This is something we feel after a walk in the country or taking the dog out, a trip to the gym or a swim in a lake. It is the feedback the body is sending the brain that makes the mind feel more calm, focused, revitalised and confident.
Ways in which the body affects the mind
It is with this knowledge that we can use the body to purposefully affect the mind so that we have a mindset of focus, confidence and relaxation. Here are some ideas:
Physical activity relaxes and focuses the system of the body so that we can be more productive and creative personally and professionally.
Reduce artificial stimulation
When we feel tired and lethargic we often reach for the high caffeine drinks and the high sugar and fat foods to get us through the day. This momentarily stimulates the body and mind but quickly leads to a crash. Being more organised about food through the day means you can take snacks that better fuel the body in a healthy way. For more information go here.
Mind and body do not want to be stimulated all day, every day. They need rest to recharge. When your body is telling you it is tired, please listen and schedule some R & R into your week. Rather than struggle on regardless, take some time as appropriate and rest up. Have you noticed how you get ill after a long bout of late nights and early mornings? Your body battles through for you but the lack of rest and continued stress lowers your immune system and you become unwell. Ignore this long term and it may become more severe.
Avoid continual stress
Short- term stress is an essential part of our lives and our bodies respond well to it. However, continued stress without much let up has all kinds of negative effects on mind and body, including inattention, health issues, lack of productivity and effectiveness etc.
Being aware of how you stand and hold your posture can have a huge affect on how you feel
Long hours spent still and slouched over a computer, TV, books and meals leave the muscles tight, the breathing shallow and the body generally operating below par. This often leads to feeling lethargic, being unmotivated and reducing productivity and engagement or unnatural stimulation. Regular movement and better posture throughout the day lead to more energy, greater motivation, productivity and engagement because the body and mind are more active as a consequence of this two- way mirror.
How the body controls the mind
It is to this final point that I would like to focus lastly. Use this two- way mirror to control your mood. A confident posture creates a confident mindset and so you are able to portray a confident demeanor. Exciting the body through fast movement excites the mind as well, conveying a vitality that is attractive and engaging. Sitting still with strong posture makes the mind calm, making you more receptive to what is going on around you.
What do you need to convey to make this meeting go well or get the results you want from an interaction? Do the people around you need you to be confident, a leader, a listener, a joker or a guide? What does a situation require of you? Once you know that, then you can use your body to help you achieve the correct mindset. Communicate this to yourself through your body and your mind will follow suit. Not only that, the people around you will also feel what you are trying to convey and that can be invaluable in the many roles you play in your life.
This is one of many tools I use with clients to help with confidence, awareness and relaxation. I also cover this and many more during my Moving Meditation Courses. Please e- mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about future courses. We can also discuss how we can work together to build your confidence from the inside out. Click here to find out about and book tickets for future Moving Meditation Courses.
Over to You
What do you notice about your breathing when you are relaxed and stressed? Do you find you experience shortness of breath? How do you control your mind and body when you’re in a stressful situation? I’d love to hear from you and learn about how you use your breath.
Pass it On
Think this article or the Moving Meditation Course might be useful for someone you know? Why not send them a link to the blog or forward them the details of the course. I’d really appreciate you spreading the word.
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