Guest Article: Conscious Fitness

by E. Yen Zak and Dr. Martha Eddy

True fit­ness increas­es by pay­ing atten­tion to bod­i­ly cues while engag­ing in all of life’s activ­i­ties.

Have you ever had a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one who would cut you off and respond to what they thought you were say­ing? Have you tried to have a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one who wasn’t lis­ten­ing?

In observ­ing the rela­tion­ship between the mind and body, it often becomes appar­ent that sim­i­lar pat­terns happen—the con­scious mind is not lis­ten­ing to the body.

Lis­ten­ing to and car­ing for the body are impor­tant. With the fit­ness rev­o­lu­tion, there is a blos­som­ing wealth of knowl­edge about the body and end­less voic­es sug­gest­ing how we should exer­cise and take care of our bod­ies.

Even if fit­ness is pri­or­i­tized and con­sis­tent­ly sched­uled into the day, car­ing for the body is often rel­e­gat­ed to just those lim­it­ed times—a hand­ful of hours per week when the body gets a work­out. Dur­ing those times, the body is often forced and strained into some kind of pre­con­ceived “shape“ or into attain­ing a goal such as best­ing a time or win­ning a game.

This is to say we can actu­al­ly sti­fle the ben­e­fi­cial effects of exer­cise by being obses­sive­ly goal-ori­ent­ed in activ­i­ties. Say­ings like “no pain, no gain” still per­me­ate atti­tudes toward phys­i­cal fit­ness, and there is an idea that the body needs to be forced and dis­ci­plined into con­form­ing to how it should look or per­form.

How many peo­ple do you know who have injured them­selves lift­ing weights, run­ning, play­ing sports, or even danc­ing or doing yoga? Although the health ben­e­fits of an active lifestyle are unde­ni­able, injuries dur­ing sports and work­ing out are dis­turbing­ly com­mon. They make up over 15 per­cent of all unin­ten­tion­al acci­dents lead­ing to emer­gency room vis­its and over 3 mil­lion sport­ing injuries annu­al­ly.

Abandoning the Body to Goal-Oriented Use

Injuries speak to a cul­tur­al habit of aban­don­ing the body for goal-ori­ent­ed use, often uncon­scious­ly. Our bod­ies can do a lot with­out con­scious con­trol. It is pos­si­ble to let the deep­er brain cen­ters take hold while work­ing, study­ing, shop­ping, or clean­ing as well as while work­ing out or pur­su­ing sports. This is a good thing.

If we set healthy inten­tions, the body can flow into pat­terns that are con­trolled by our “low brain” but meet pos­i­tive, right-brain goals. With a focus on the end goal, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, fit­ness, accom­plish­ment, win­ning, or fin­ish­ing, we are let­ting the left brain take an unbal­anced, dom­i­nant role.

The end goal becomes more impor­tant than the means in which we treat our bod­ies. The results are harsh move­ments, repet­i­tive use of the body, activ­i­ties that are often not in accord with the struc­ture of the body.

These rit­u­als and prac­tices lead the body to get­ting worn out or break­ing down. Repet­i­tive motion and stress-based injuries result­ing in bone, ten­don, lig­a­men­tous, and mus­cu­lar strains all result when the quan­ti­ty and inten­si­ty of activ­i­ty or a goal are seen as more impor­tant than qual­i­ty of tech­nique and the expe­ri­ence of doing.

We don’t want to dis­cour­age any­one from work­ing out or engag­ing in phys­i­cal activ­i­ty but rather to encour­age the pos­si­bil­i­ty of turn­ing inward (tun­ing-in) and lis­ten­ing to the body’s cues as we move at work and at home, in leisure, house­hold chores, and fit­ness or sports activ­i­ties.

Embodied Practice

Embod­ied prac­tice, in our case Dynam­ic Embod­i­ment TM and Body­Mind Fit­ness is an activ­i­ty that places the felt, first-per­son expe­ri­ence of the body as pri­ma­ry. This process is a somat­ic process.

Somat­ic edu­ca­tion tech­niques such as Alexan­der, Barte­ni­eff, Body­Mind Cen­ter­ing, Con­tin­u­um, Feldenkrais, and the like all teach peo­ple to enhance their pro­pri­o­cep­tion as well as their kines­thet­ic sense—two sens­es you may or may not know you have.

Pro­pri­o­cep­tion is our abil­i­ty to reg­is­ter the body’s posi­tion­ing. Kines­thet­ics is the abil­i­ty to feel how we are mov­ing. Somat­ic edu­ca­tion relies upon each and there­fore teach­es skills to height­en sen­si­tiv­i­ty to these sys­tems.

What does somat­ic edu­ca­tion have to do with fit­ness? Being “fit” can refer to meet­ing a pre­de­ter­mined set of cri­te­ria, or it can imply that there is a good match between an activ­i­ty and the per­son engag­ing in it. We con­tend that true fit­ness increas­es by pay­ing atten­tion to bod­i­ly cues while engag­ing in any or all of life’s activ­i­ties.

Somat­ics teach­es you to lis­ten into your body and respond with informed choice (free­dom) based on the infor­ma­tion com­ing from with­in. Dynam­ic Embod­i­ment includes prac­tices to trans­form any dai­ly activ­i­ty into an oppor­tu­ni­ty to feel and expe­ri­ence your­self with more con­scious­ness.

What­ev­er the activ­i­ty, we can sup­port our­selves, enhance our sys­tems’ func­tion, and feel bet­ter by deep­en­ing the aware­ness of our body, allow­ing moments of self-inquiry to per­me­ate our days and empow­er­ing us to take care of our­selves more ful­ly.

Notic­ing your body, ask­ing ques­tions, and lis­ten­ing to it brings aware­ness to bod­i­ly cues. How does this relate to active­ly work­ing out?

While work­ing out, you can ask your­self: Is that sen­sa­tion a dis­com­fort of push­ing the edge of my strength in a good way, or is that my joints, ten­dons, and lig­a­ments send­ing warn­ing sig­nals, or is the sen­sa­tion sim­ply infor­ma­tion and ener­gy pass­ing through the sys­tem?

It helps to have a base­line, to know what is “nor­mal” and com­fort­ably famil­iar. Somat­ic exer­cise is designed to be inte­grat­ed with your life. Set­ting aside time for the body is vital to health and well­ness, but it’s also impor­tant to check in again and again to cul­ti­vate this rela­tion­ship with your body.

The work is slow and sub­tle. Slow­er and more-sub­tle move­ments allow the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the ner­vous sys­tem to deep­en and become more recep­tive toward inter­nal cues. Fit­ness lev­els increase as we are respect­ful of our bod­ies and work more deeply with­in our healthy capac­i­ties.

Body Awareness Activities

Activ­i­ty 1. Take a moment to feel the forces (mus­cu­lar, ener­getic, skele­tal) hold­ing you up right now. How would you describe your breath­ing? Gen­tly turn your body to look over either shoul­der. How far you can see eas­i­ly? Are you hold­ing onto any part of your body that doesn’t seem nec­es­sary? Is there any par­tic­u­lar sen­sa­tion that stands out for you?

This can be done any time (right now, sit­ting at the com­put­er; at work, home, wait­ing in line) when­ev­er you notice your body feel­ing a lit­tle tense—or par­tic­u­lar­ly good!

Activ­i­ty 2. Here is an exer­cise to build coor­di­na­tion and neu­ro­genic strength while stay­ing somat­i­cal­ly aware. Use a small 0.5- to 10-pound weight. A book can even work. The light weight is specif­i­cal­ly cho­sen to pro­vide a small amount of resis­tance to assist in locat­ing your body’s space.

The empha­sis is on ease of breath­ing and the sub­jec­tive qual­i­ty of move­ment. The goal is to dis­en­gage from habit­u­al strain pat­terns and to access an aware­ness of the flu­id self to sup­port your activ­i­ties. Once this base­line starts get­ting estab­lished, vig­or­ous exer­cise will be more effec­tive and safer.

1. Hold­ing the weight in one hand, slow­ly and gen­tly draw it close to your navel cen­ter where it may be held with min­i­mal effort. Notice the sup­port of the earth pour­ing up into your feet, through your skele­ton, and into the weight.

Gen­tly allow that flow of sup­port to slow­ly push the weight fur­ther from the ground as high over­head as pos­si­ble with­out strain­ing. Bal­ance the weight on your palm. Feel that vec­tor of force from the cen­ter of the earth push­ing up into the weight.

2. Shift your coc­cyx (tail­bone) to point at dif­fer­ent areas of your feet shift­ing weight from side to side and draw­ing tiny fig­ure eights. Allow these small move­ments to trav­el up your spine. Notice where you feel the clean­est path of sup­port ris­ing out of the earth, through your skele­ton, and into the weight. Allow this to be easy and only do as much as you can with­out hold­ing your breath.

3. Slow­ly draw the weight in the direc­tion of your core, allow­ing your elbow to con­tin­ue to point down­ward. Check to see if you are keep­ing your elbows released. They may feel heavy. Repeat three times on one side. Place the weight down and take a small walk to feel the dif­fer­ence between the two halves of your body. Repeat on the oth­er side.

4. Now how would you describe your breath­ing? Gen­tly turn your body to look over either shoul­der. How far you can see eas­i­ly? Are you hold­ing onto any part of your body unnec­es­sar­i­ly? Is there any par­tic­u­lar sen­sa­tion that stands out for you? Exhale deeply with a soft sound. Pause.

5. Draw­ing up from the earth through your legs, with breath sup­port, feel your head float upward as your shoul­ders widen and release down­ward.

How can this qual­i­ty of deep lis­ten­ing car­ry into what­ev­er you are doing—work, leisure, or exer­cise?

Activ­i­ty 3. Many peo­ple find that music is a fan­tas­tic sup­port for exer­cis­ing. We do too. Music can be care­ful­ly select­ed to sup­port dif­fer­ent goals.

E. Yen Zak is an exer­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist, move­ment edu­ca­tor, mar­tial artist, and disc jock­ey prac­tic­ing in Berke­ley, Calif. He stud­ies with Dr. Eddy and can be found at Somaticeye.blogspot.com

Dr. Martha Eddy, CMA, RSMT, is an inter­na­tion­al­ly renowned author and lec­tur­er who found­ed Body­Mind Fit­ness and Dynam­ic Embod­i­ment Somat­ic Move­ment Train­ing and cur­rent­ly directs Mov­ing On Cen­ter-NY.

For infor­ma­tion about class­es and work­shops with Dr. Eddy, check out www.WellnessCKE.net

For train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties with Dr. Eddy, vis­it www.DynamicEmbodiment.org.

 

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About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.

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One Response to Guest Article: Conscious Fitness

  1. Kim says:

    Thank you SO much for this arti­cle. It helped me con­vey my thoughts to my class­es about impor­tance of body aware­ness in exer­cise, and the deep­en­ing con­nec­tion to our­selves.

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