Thoughts on Mindfulness and Movement
And a short personal story
The way you move and feel is affected by your thoughts and emotions, and everything else going on in your head. So it might be a good idea to occasionally observe your mental state, especially during movements or postures that are important to you.
For example, if you are interested in the quality of your running stride, or your comfort while sitting at work, or the tension in your shoulders during a formal social function, you should ask yourself: what is going on in my mind right now in relation to these events?
If you make careful observations, you might discover many different things happening all at once. Your brain is in some ways like a large room of people talking at the same time. If you listen, you might collect some interesting data.
For example, imagine you just injured your back and then attempt to apply some of the mindfulness skills you just learned in a meditation class. You hear many different “voices”: feelings of bodily pain (“ouch!”); thoughts about what caused the injury (“it’s a muscle strain that will heal in two weeks”); emotions of fear and anxiety (“this injury will never heal”); memories of similar events (“the last time this happened I was miserable”); and weird associations (“I need to remember to watch Get Back on Hulu.”)
Some of the voices are like well-educated adults and others more like scared children. Some are in direct conversation and others are off on their own tangents. Some are in the foreground screaming, others barely audible in the background. And the whole thing is changing every second, and very much affected by … how you observe it.
Mindfulness might be beneficial if the negative voices become quieter, or maybe the conversations become more clear and unified. Or maybe things just get confusing. Maybe as you witness all of this going on, you step back further and witness yourself witnessing, to see whether you are doing this mindfulness thing correctly. Maybe you decide that you aren’t, and this makes you a bad person.
Introspection is a complex and somewhat weird experience, with potential benefits and costs. You can better at it over time, especially if its used as part of a structured practice with a good teacher in meditation, yoga, martial arts, tai chi, or the Feldenkrais Method.
Following is a short story about one of my own experiences trying to be mindful during Feldenkrais lessons. These lessons typically involve body scanning, where you simply lie on the floor, and try to form a clear mental image of different body parts.
For example, you might try to feel the contact of the right shoulder with the floor, the position of the shoulder joint, or the flatness of the scapula against the floor. And you make similar observations about the left shoulder and see whether there are any differences. The point is not to make any judgments about these conditions, but simply to observe them.
When I do this, it’s easy for me to discern differences from side to side. For example, my right shoulder is lower than the left, and also tilted further from the floor. A subtler observation (one that I discovered only after some practice) was that I had an interesting reaction to the perception of asymmetry: I would often correct the asymmetry by fidgeting on the floor. For example, I might move the right shoulder to be more like the left.
Now why would I do that?
I paid close attention to the “conversations” going on in my head, and discerned a very faint “voice” saying that asymmetry is bad and should be corrected. This voice doesn't reflect “my” opinion about my body, and in fact “I” know that the voice is wrong. How could it possibly matter if one shoulder is minimally higher than the other when I'm lying on the floor? Even though this idea makes no sense, there is obviously some part of my mind that thinks it does make sense. And even though this part of me speaks in a voice that is barely audible, it has the power to get control of my musculature, and cause me to adjust myself on the floor. That’s interesting.
How did that “voice” get there, and where did it get its ideas? I think it came into being many years ago when I was first began hearing that bad posture can cause pain, and that asymmetry is a sign of bad posture. At one time I consciously believed this, but after looking at the relevant research I completely changed my mind. Or at least I changed my conscious mind. Some other part of my mind remained persuaded, and it continued to take control of my posture, without my permission.
Since I became aware of this voice, it's easier to detect its effects, and to limit its control. This helps me feel relaxed, comfortable and authentic in my body. I don't mean to suggest that this is a profound or important change, it's just a little thing. But there are many other little things like this going on in my head, and over time the benefits of discovering them add up.
If you have any similar stories you would like to share, let me know in the comments.