When Tension Masks Sensation
If being embodied relies on the ability to be present with sensations, feelings and in the moment experience; what might prevent, what seems like a natural thing, from occurring?
One is a lack of familiarity with ones own body & breath unless either of those present a problem. This might be due to a lack of interest or a mistrust, and even a dislike of ones body. Another is over reliance on thoughts and visual perception as a means of experiencing the world.
I feel that a main issue that keeps us from a rich experience of our body mind, the present moment, and the environment we’re in, is tension. First, there is the extreme tension one experiences while in fight, flight or freeze, and many people are living fairly frequently in this nervous system mode that is an innate reaction to danger/threat. There may also be a ‘dissociation’ with the the body. Dissociating from the body may also be a response that has its roots in pain, illness or abuse. Part of us ‘leaves’ the body to avoid pain or unpleasant feelings. (I am simply using dissociation as an example with body tension, it is a much larger subject that can be researched if you’re interested).
When we are experiencing tension, the contracted state makes it difficult to experience the full range of available sensations in the body. For instance, if your back is tight, it will be hard to feel the nuances of breath and spinal oscillations, or warmth or pleasant sensations of the backs presence and depth. If your neck is tight, that’s mostly what you’ll experience there; tightness. When the whole body is in a state of tension, we have limited ability to allow ‘negative’ energy to discharge, and energy/chi around us to flow in. It is as though the body is on guard and creates an impermeable wall, physically & emotionally.
Holding patterns in the nervous system will create tensions in our fascial web, which pretty much connects everything in the body. There are many more nerve endings in fascia than in muscle, so although we might experience a tense muscle feeling, we are probably feeling much more than that.. the very connective tissue that links everything. We might experience holding in the gut, pelvis or shoulders, but we can also develop holding patterns in our eyes, our thinking and our breath. These holding patterns create a great deal of resistance in our daily experiences.
Another reason we might have difficulty is that our attention is fully on the conditions of the outer world and it becomes challenging to draw attention inward for practices like meditation (which return us to what is most real and reliable, not to mention intuition and wisdom). We become addicted to stress hormones – to feeling the rush of chemicals that are the result of our conscious or unconscious reactions. This addiction reinforces our belief that our outer world is more real than our inner world. As mentioned above with F,F,F – our physiology is conditioned to support this, because real threats, problems and concerns do exist that need our attention. It takes some effort to break our conditioned habitual responses and our addictions to the chemical rush we get from perceived threats.
So tension creates its own experience, which is limited and habitual. As we learn to let go of tensions, we begin to experience a wider range of sensations along with a broader choice in our actions. It is as though the intelligence of each cell is free to express & take in. There is a vitality and flow that naturally occurs throughout us when tensions aren’t overriding experience.
How can we begin releasing tension and enjoying the fullness of the body mind? I’ve laid out 5 steps to get you going.
1. YIELDING – Resting on the ground with an openness to receive support in a relaxed but fully attentive way. Imagine softening your skin and feeling the weight of your body resting into gravity. This simple practice helps to de-activate the aroused nervous system.
2. SENSING – Take time to notice whatever feelings or sensations are currently there, even discomfort, agitation, tiredness. This is a time to welcome in whatever you’re experiencing, without judgement. Simply holding a space within you for whatever is present without needing to think about it – otherwise we jump back into a story.
3. BREATHE – ‘Reset” your breath rhythm by taking 5 to 7 exhales with sound. Try softly, slowly humming your breath out and see if you can feel the vibration of the hum. Then try 3 or 4 ‘SSS’ breaths as though you’re letting air out of a tire slowly with a hiss. Allow the lungs to empty fully. After that just allow breath to find a natural rhythm , but stay attentive – otherwise if you go into thinking about past or future, there’s a very good chance your breath will swing into an old pattern.
4. EXPAND – Follow impulses for yawning, stretching, wiggling toes and fingers while you take in the sensation of it all as well as becoming aware of the space around you.. Enjoy some varied movement to to shift muscles and fascia into different positions from what they typically do in a day. You can stay on the floor or sit for this exploration. Let it be fun and not complicated, and let yourself do what feels good!
5. LISTEN – After moving, lie down again and take a few minutes to feel whatever sensations are there. Keep awareness anchored in your body and breath. Over time and with practice, you’ll relax more and eventually feel more of the wild landscape within that you are. Your experience of yourself will deepen in wonderful ways!
As a final note, meditation is the greatest gift I’ve experienced for self discovery. It takes some time and discipline, but if you begin and stay with it, you’ll find how beautifully it returns us to our True Nature, and the way we’re meant to live. You can discover many of the online practices on the internet, download my Presence c.d, or take a meditation course.