Recruiting the Body for Mindfulness Practices

When I was growing up, my family had a 14-foot Sunfish sailboat. It was a perfect size for a pair of teenagers to lift off the roof of the car and carry to the water’s edge for an afternoon on a local reservoir. The single triangular sail made it easy to tack across the lake and back. What kept us upright was the daggerboard, a four foot by 18-inch board placed into a center slot on the deck of the small boat which extended into the water as a ventral fin to provide balance and stability when the sail caught the wind. 

When the winds whip us to and fro, we often find ourselves looking for a longer daggerboard to find stability. Lately, it feels like all the rules have changed. This confusion can make our minds calculate and recalculate to calibrate our orientation and stay upright. Our traditional touchstones have moved, our compass is spinning, and our minds are racing with worry or shutting down in overwhelm. Just as a sailor whose boat is “locked in irons,” facing directly upwind so the sail can’t catch the breeze,  we can’t move forward.

Over decades of teaching dance, I have learned that a good way to calm the mind is to reconnect with your physical body to receive additional information. Let your body be the touchstone. Let it tell you, “I am right here, right now.” Then, with a deep breath, reflect on the meaning of what you are feeling.  

Mindfulness is a practice of being fully attentive to the present moment without judgement. When we pay attention to what our body is telling us, additional neurological systems are recruited to inform us about what is going on and help us make choices. The wisdom of the body is accessed by interpreting not only what your senses tell you, but also what you feel when your body is moving through space. These signals are translated into meaning as you listen to the visceral responses in your gut and reflect on and identify how you feel. 

Our body senses the world in three ways: balance, proprioception, and kinesthesia. Balance is the ability to recover from disorientation or restore equilibrium. Proprioception is the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation from within the body itself. Kinesthesia detects and coordinates the position, weight, and movements of muscles and joints when moving through space. The body activates our instincts and our intuitive ways of knowing and being in the world. These senses, along with the traditional five, give us the ability to move gracefully in an upside-down world.

As a daily practice to activate the senses and help you connect with your body, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and smell the air to help you relax. Taste the air and notice if you like the taste in your mouth. Listen to the ambient sounds. Touch or rub your skin on your arms, legs and torso to increase awareness to the sensations around you. Notice various textures in the fabrics around you. Observe how the lighting changes the intensity of the colors around you. Then, notice how your body feels as it moves through space and responds to the stimuli. Observe your breathing, your muscle tension, and your agility. This sensory information will help you access your internal sense of knowing, and like a daggerboard, help you feel grounded and connected to yourself as you navigate wisely through uncharted waters.

While we cannot control the storms on the outside that threaten to capsize us, we can create greater balance and connection from the inside to move with agility and flexibility. Bring mindfulness  into your day as you do the dishes or tend to a garden. Take time to draw, play music, and dance, and connect with your body. Then, connect with friends and family by telling stories and listening to find a new understanding of our world that is scary and unpredictable, but still beautiful. As you increase your personal awareness and your connection to others, you may not experience smooth sailing, but these practices will extend your daggerboard more deeply to counter the accumulating winds.             

Cally Flox is the founding director of the BYU ARTS Partnership and lead author of A Teacher’s Guide to Resilience Through the Arts. To support teachers with the challenges of starting school this fall, Cally Flox will host Resilience for Teachers: Learning to Thrive Instead of Survive. Sessions will be held online on selected Thursdays from 4:30-5:30 during the fall semester at no cost. Click here for more details.

Sailboat image credit: IonaSophie Art

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