“Few of us have lost our minds, but most of us have long ago lost our bodies.”
This post marks the fifth and last in the series Freedom from the Prison of Your Habits. The previous posts are:
- Part 1: How Habits Develop
- Part 2: Identifying Habits
- Part 3: Examining Thoughts
- Part 4: Letting Emotions Surface
You may also be interested in a related audio: Freedom from Habits
Here we bring our attention into the body, a place few of us know very well. Yet the body contains the residue of all our learning, all experiences, traumas, fears, conditioning. Whereas our minds may defend and avoid, our bodies are simple, reactive, and all-knowing. They have been present our entire lives absorbing the effects of our experiences.
Habits invariably show up as contractions in the body. In our natural state, prior to any conditioning, our bodies are open vessels through which our individual life stream is expressed. You can see it in infants who move with such openness and flexibility.
As we experience physical, mental, and emotional demands in life, stress takes its toll and the body begins to close down. These bodily contractions act like a defensive shield, armoring us to meet the challenges we face in the world. Presence is the peacemaker.
How to Be Aware of the Body
The final step to fully exploring a habit is to bring attention to the specific experiences in the body that accompany the habit. The method is simple: become aware of the body. Begin at the top of the head, at the toes, or at the strongest physical sensation. Be like a laser to discover all the tiny tensions, contractions, vibrations, and flutterings everywhere.
Make space for whatever you notice, allow it to be as it is, then micro-observe into the sensation even deeper to uncover layers of ancient holding. I guarantee you will be surprised at what you find. To paraphrase songwriter John Mayer, your body is an absolute wonderland.
Whether sensations change, release, strengthen, or disappear is out of your control. There is no goal other than welcoming experiences as they are. This is “being with” and “allowing,” not doing. These sensations are, they exist. You are simply making space to receive them in your awareness.
As you do, you are lighting up the hidden areas of your being. If each of these sensations had a voice, what would they be saying? Maybe they would be expressing terror, despair, frustration, or rage. By opening your heart to them and inviting them into conscious awareness, you are allowing them to speak in their own unique way. And in the seeing of them without resistance, there is peace. Fragments are embraced, and we are revealed as whole once again.
If you carry on observing physical sensations directly, you will eventually experience a release. Some people laugh, some sob, some go quiet, some jerk or vibrate. Breathing may change. You might feel a physical weight lifting off you. You may need less sleep for a while. Energy is being released, and you are reclaiming the natural state of openness, unimpeded joy, and deep relaxation.
Practices for Body Awareness
Since most of us are relatively unfamiliar with our physical selves, practices that support body awareness can be very useful – and enjoyable.
“When you inhale, you are taking the strength from God.
When you exhale, it represents the service you are giving to the world.”
Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar
One of the wonders of life in this body is the regularity of our breathing. Simply bring your attention to the specifics of breathing – the inhale and the exhale. The breath affects so much more than the chest and lungs. Discover the ripple effects of the breath in all parts of the body…just being curious about how the breath moves.
You might notice you feel more relaxed as you pay attention to your breathing, and the breath itself might shift in some way. Simply continue to be aware of every sensation.
Conscious breathing is a gateway to intentionally relaxing the body. This practice can help you to discover and release habits held in the body. After a few minutes of noticing the breath, begin to deepen the breathing. Relax the belly as you exhale completely, then see how the inhale expands the chest and ribs and opens the upper back. Taking a few deep breaths, filling and emptying the lungs, brings presence into previously hidden areas of the body. The flow of oxygen calms the nervous system and releases muscular tension.
Gratitude practice for the body
Considering what you are grateful for is a beautiful heart-opening practice. You might consider including gratitude for the functions of the body. When we investigate the body, we become aware of an amazing, relentless propensity for life.
So much of what it takes to be alive in the body happens automatically – breathing, digestion, filtering toxins, renewing cells, fighting disease. You might take some time to bring your attention to the organs – heart, brain, kidneys, spleen, liver, colon, stomach – and inner workings of the body that work so hard to support life. As you become aware of each one, open your heart with gratitude and appreciation.
Most of you don’t know me personally, but those who do know that yoga is my thing. I’ve been practicing for 11 years, and to me, the experience of yoga is endlessly fascinating. Movement practices such as yoga, tai chi, chigong and others bring awareness to the body and promote presence by synchronizing movement with breathing. They invite the attention into the here-and-now by ignoring mind chatter and focusing directly on the arisings in the moment.
My lovely friend Ellen offers a practice you can stream on video called The Body of Presence. (Click on “yoga,” then “Body of Presence.”) She has a beautiful way of allowing movement to illuminate how habits are held in the body and giving space for them to dissolve naturally.
Movement practices also teach us how to be present in daily life. Moving into a yoga posture is no different from washing the dishes, taking a walk, dancing, etc.
Support through guided processes
Becoming aware of each part of your body, then allowing the muscles to relax aids in body awareness. When you join the newsletter for A Flourishing Life (on sidebar), you will receive a free guided process I recorded. Feel free to use it for body awareness, relaxation, or support in easing into sleep. Two other guided audios may be helpful as well: Accepting Everything and In This Moment.
Conclusion: Freedom From the Prison of Your Habits
This marks the end of the series on Freedom from the Prison of Your Habits. The key to the prison door is awareness. If what you want is to know happiness intimately, to reclaim the peace that is your true nature, unlock the door by deeply exploring your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. As each layer of experience is seen, the tendency to replay the habit softens.
The urge to enact the habit may occur, but your awareness is so revealing, your understanding so clear, that you choose a different way of responding. This may not happen the first time you turn your attention inward and away from the habit, but I promise you that as you continue to be aware of your experience in the moment, the momentum of the habit will diminish.
Every moment of awareness is cause for celebration. We all have direct knowledge of moments of the unconditioned – unexplained bliss, a suddenly quiet mind, tears of gratitude and tenderness, bubbling joy, a deep sense of peace and well being, a heart bursting open.
As we bring awareness to the experiences of conditioning, they are seen not as obstacles, but as invitations into presence. As reality is seen directly, in truth, as it is, the radiance of our true nature shines brilliantly.