Body Sensing Part 2
As you are learning how to sense your body, there are four basic categories into which all your observations fall. Those categories are: thoughts, feelings, sensations and impulses. Everything - without exception - that you experience in your waking moments falls into one of these categories. They are as much a part of your life as breathing. Think about it and let me know if you can find something that doesn't fit into one of these groups. While you're thinking about that, I'll pick up where the last article left off, which was with "self-observation," merely the act of listening to yourself and observing what is going on in your body.
Self-observation is the first step in learning Body Sensing. The next level of body sensing is the actual sensing part. Sensations in your body are the most accurate way of finding out what your body is trying to tell you. Locating the origin of that sensation is crucial so that you can, in a timely way, respond with an adjustment that will help you to prevent injury or illness later on. Or, in terms of walking, allow you to make the adjustments that will make your walking a more comfortable, enjoyable experience.
In order to accurately observe yourself, you will need to establish a place from which to observe. In other words, you need to be separate from your sensations so that you can truly observe them and make a rational, neutral response as to what to do about it, if anything.
Up and out, in and down
Have you ever read about someone having an "out-of-body" experience where they describe floating outside and above their own body, watching everything go on? Self-observation is very similar in that you are trying to watch all your inner goings-on from a very neutral place.
There are two terms being used here and I don't want you to confuse them. The first term is self-observation and the second term is body sensing. Here is the difference.
As I stated before, self-observation is just the act of watching and listening to yourself from a neutral place in your mind. It's like you're "above and outside" of your physical sensations. An example of self-observation might be, "Right now I'm sitting in a Lazy Boy chair eating pizza and drinking a beer."
Body sensing is when you re-enter your body, so to speak, and contact the origin of whatever you are sensing. The general direction of attention is inward and down. An example of body sensing the experience in the previous paragraph might be, "I'm really tired and hungry. Sinking into this chair feels really relaxing. This pizza is really beginning to make me feel stuffed and I'm feeling a little buzzed from this beer."
Does that help? Here's an example of the usefulness of tracing your sensations and then being able to make the adjustment.
The weather is hot for a number of days and you forget to drink enough water. You begin to feel a little sluggish, maybe notice that your digestion is a little off, but you're so busy that you don't make the immediate attempt to get to the water cooler for some water. The next morning you wake up with a slight sore throat so you pop in a throat lozenge to make it feel better, which it does, and you forget about your sore throat until the next morning when you wake up with a headache and you can't figure out where it came from. You also find that your digestion is really out of whack. So then you take an aspirin and maybe some milk of magnesia and try to "wait it out." By this time you've missed a couple of days of walking, along with that great art exhibit that you've been waiting for months to see.
Now trace back the scenario to the hot weather. If you had been body sensing, you might have noticed that the weather was rather warm and that you were sweating a little more than normal. From sensing that, you might have had the intention of making sure that you were going to drink a little more water than usual to keep up with the dehydrating effects of the hot weather. Had you followed that first sensation of being warm and thirsty and responded with the "observation" that you should probably be drinking more water, you might not have ever had to go through the entire scenario of getting dehydrated and ending up with a bunch of unpleasant symptoms, and treating them with preparations that actually suppressed the symptoms that were trying to warn you of your dehydrated state. Sound familiar?
Ending up with an illness or having chronic diseases, aches or pains in your body is no accident. These maladies should come as no surprise when you're not listening to what your body is trying to tell you day by day. On the other hand there is a lot of pain and discomfort to be avoided as you get better at sensing your body and making the necessary adjustments. Two of the main things that I'm doing when I'm walking are listening to my body and making adjustments. And where it all starts is with Body Sensing and Self-observation. Neutral vigilance is the key phrase here.
Another reason why it's important to stay as neutral as possible is that we sometimes have the tendency to EXAGGERATE what we perceive our sensations to be. When that happens, a small knee pain can rule your world or even the thought of walking a mile could make you feel tired.
Here's an exercise to help you learn self-observation and body sensing. I have been doing it for the past 20 years and I would say that it has had such a profound effect on my life that I am not the same person that I was 20 years ago. Thank God!
Back at the beginning of this article I mentioned that our experiences all fall within four categories: thoughts, feelings, impulses and sensations. Here's a way to get started on learning how to watch yourself, a prerequisite to the next step which is learning how to respond to what you experience.
This exercise involves standing, sitting, and lying, the three body positions in which we find ourselves most often. You'll need three things: a countdown timer, a pencil and a piece of paper with the 4 categories written down with space between them to take notes. If you have a timer on your watch or an alarm, set it to go off in 3 minutes.
1.) Start by standing in a comfortable stance with your posture as straight as you can make it and start your timer. As you stand there, watch for anything and everything that comes into your consciousness and make mental notes. You will write all this down at the end of the three minutes. Be as vigilant and as thorough as you can. When your three minutes are up, write down everything that you can remember and place each remembrance into its respective category.
2.) Now sit down in a chair, comfortably but with good posture, and repeat the same 3 minute exercise of watching everything that comes up. Make mental notes and write them down when the timer goes off.
3.) Now do the same exercise while lying on the floor or in your bed (don't fall asleep!) Again, when your timer goes off, write everything down on your paper in its own category.
4.) When you're done with the exercise, re-read everything you wrote down.
This is a process-oriented exercise instead of a result-oriented one. You don't need to DO anything with the list. It's just there to show you how much goes on that you're not aware of.
Do this exercise once a week, or more often if you have the time and inclination. If you don't have the time, but do have the inclination, you can do it when you go out for a walk and write your notes when you come back. You'll be amazed at how much goes on in your body that you aren't conscious of. As you continue to do this exercise over the years, you'll discover that it begins to creep into all of your waking hours, increasing your awareness and depth of experience in every waking moment. You'll be building a depth and breadth of observations from which to make decisions based on your present awareness, and that awareness will be based on the understanding and response taken from your whole body, from having truly open lines of communication with your body.
As I said in the first Body Sensing article, this topic goes right to the core of what Chi Walking is all about. That is, using your body as a vehicle for your inner development and personal growth. Staying in good physical shape is the first reason most people come to Chi Walking. When you use Chi Walking to its full potential, you may find that your physical well-being is just the icing on your cake.