A 5-Minute Practice for Presence

53/365 - Spare Body Parts
What’s it mean to be present in the body? How do you integrate body and mind? Simple mindful practice.

I’ve written before about the importance of being present for other people, but what about being present for yourself? What does that even mean, and how do you do it? This weekend, I took a workshop at Shakti Studio with Michael Lee, founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy where we focused on just that.

Michael has a really cool approach, that I think everyone can use, and while I can’t give you the entire workshop via blog post, here are some of the highlights of what I learned in the workshop.

The body is a more reliable instrument than the mind for navigating the world. The mind can dwell on the past, fantasize about the future, or obsess about things that have no basis in reality whatsoever. Meanwhile, the body is always in the present moment. If you find yourself distracted often or lost in thought, creating a stronger connection to your body is a good way to get grounded and focused. In addition, the mind can be a bit wily. Sometimes what you want to be true is simply not in sync with reality, and your mind will talk you into doing things that may not be in your best interest. (Ever had just one more drink, even though your stomach told you it was a bad idea? Be honest.) Meanwhile, the body won’t lie. It typically gives pretty clear signals: I like this or I don’t like this. Learning to tune in to those signals through mindful practice (like yoga) is an extraordinarily valuable tool.

While there’s no replacement for Michael’s teaching, here are some simple steps you can experiment with:

  1. Stand in tadasana or mountain pose. Simply — feet hip-distance apart, arms down by your sides.
  2. Close your eyes and scan the body. Are there any places where your body feels tense, places that feel warm or cold, areas that immediately draw your attention? Tune in and take note of what you feel. 
  3. Resist the urge to judge. Don’t have a conversation with your mind about why your shoulder feels tight. Don’t pick apart your posture. Simply acknowledge what is, take a deep breath, and let it go.
  4. Make micro-movements. What little adjustments can you make that would create more ease in the body? Don’t worry about them being “correct,” but rather, just do what makes your body feel nurtured. Something small like shoulder rolls or a gentle back bend is a good place to start if you’re not sure what to do.
  5. Ease in to larger movements. Begin slowly and intentionally stretching or moving in any way that feels good to you. Whatever the body wants in this moment is great.
  6. Come back to stillness. After a few minutes of movement, return to tadasana and see if you feel any differently.
  7. Listen. If your body were telling you something right now, what would it be? Maybe it’s “thank you for the attention,” or “slow down,” or “I need more movement.”
  8. Set an intention with the body as your guide. What can you do right now, today or tomorrow in response to what your body told you during this practice? It’s most effective to choose something simple and measurable like, “Go outside every day,” or “stretch for five minutes each morning.” Taking these specific actions will help nurture the connection to the body.

This entire process can take just a few minutes, or you can stretch it out into a fuller practice of asana or whatever form of exercise makes you feel good. Even though this is a “yogic” process, whatever form of movement works for you is awesome, and you should do it. The key is to focus on nurturing your own wellbeing, not conforming to the “right way” to do it.

Finally, if you have an opportunity to take a workshop with Michael or any other Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy teacher, I highly recommend it. While yoga workshops may seem intimidating, Michael’s teaching style is very warm and friendly, and he attracts a really pleasant bunch of students. Some workshops seem to be intended for super-flexible, long-time students of yoga, but our group included a great variety of people. I think the youngest student in the group was around 21 while the oldest was at least 70. One person in the group had never done yoga even once in her life, and she seemed perfectly comfortable, so there’s no need to be afraid if you’re a beginner!

I’d love to hear how this goes for you if you try it. The first time I did it, the message from my body was simply, “Appreciate me, please!” And throughout the weekend as we practiced mindful movement, the connection became deeper and more rewarding.

How about you? How does your body respond to this level of attention? What can you do to deepen that connection?

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