What is it we relish about summer? Long days; the sun warming our skin; the chance to be outdoors and connect with nature; enjoying activities like sailing, hiking, bicycling, swimming; vacation; fresh fruits and vegetables . . . it’s a time when our senses are delighted, when we find ourselves easily in the moment. Hopefully we have all had the chance to watch the sunset at least once this season! It’s natural that we slow down and pay attention to the world around us.
Is it any wonder that summer is a great time for romance? Our senses are lit. We are having a relationship with the world around us. We want to be out in the world, touching grass with our toes, immersing ourselves in water. The lingering rays of the sun at the end of the day are like soft kisses on our skin. The sound of the breeze in the trees is soothing to our ears. We are awake, and the world is awake with us.
We know we love the chance to slow down. In fact, it is essential that we do take time to slow down for our physical, mental and spiritual well being. In the summer, most of us naturally do it (or at least crave it). By autumn though, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of what to do. It is harvest time, school is starting, and/or projects at work pick up. Many of us are already planning for winter holidays. Before we know it, we get caught up in our plans and tasks, taking care of our to-do lists (that somehow get longer and longer day after day), and we scurry around doing “stuff” as if we’re trying not to notice the days getting shorter.
We get busy and stop paying attention. The natural world gets colder and darker and it’s as if the need for more clothing – is a signal to “close down” the connection to the world around us. We stop connecting outwardly; we stop connecting inwardly. That disconnect is uncomfortable – so we begin the cycle of busy-ness. That cycle creates more disconnect and we stop noticing ourselves until something forces us to slow down again – we “catch” a cold, we have a fender bender, we slip and fall, the summer romance breaks up.
Change is always happening, but being jolted into paying attention isn’t always so fun! Being mindful is helpful in easing the stress of change, and it is also a way to stay connected and enjoy the subtle shifts in the world around us and within us. We might even realize that there are things that need changing. For instance, maybe winter is really hard on you, you might decide to relocate to Tucson; or maybe it’s time to take steps toward your dream of being an artist; or perhaps you realize you need to set some boundaries with your boss, partner, etc.
There are many simple ways to have pleasant awareness. For example, when you bathe or take a shower, focus the mind on your breath for a few inhalations and exhalations. Then, pay attention to how the water feels on your skin. Do you perceive your bath differently now?
My yoga philosophy centers around noticing the subtle shifts that happen in the body as we slow down to pay attention. What happens when we focus on the breath? How does the body feel after a particular asana? What happens when we deliberately pay attention?
At the beginning of my yoga classes, I have my students lie down on their backs in savasana (corpse pose) – arms a foot or two away from the body, hands open and palms facing upward, and feet mat-width or so apart. Mouth, teeth and tongue relaxed, eyes closed.
Then, I ask them to breathe.
Breathe normally, but notice the breath. Is it fast or slow, jagged or smooth, shallow or deep? Are there any thoughts passing through the mind?
There is nothing to change. There is nothing to do but notice . . .
Tell yourself, that for this practice, you are willing to let go of the past and let go of the future. There is nothing to do but to notice the breath . . .
Pay attention to your skin. How does the skin feel where it is against the mat . . . the fabric of your clothing . . . where it is exposed to the air? How does the scalp feel? Does your hair tug at the skin?
Beginning at the top of the head, slowly scan the body.
Notice any places that are tight or tense, just simply notice . . .
There is nothing to change, just notice . . . And breathe . . .
Noticing the crown of the head, the forehead, the eyebrows . . . Noticing the eyes, the nose, the cheeks, the lips, the mouth, the teeth, the chin . . . Noticing the jaw, the back of the skull, the back of the neck, the throat.
Noticing the collarbones, the chest, the space between the shoulders . . . Noticing the shoulders, the arms, elbows and forearms . . . Noticing the wrists, the hands, the fingers.
Noticing the middle back, the ribs, the belly, the lower back, the spine . . . Noticing the hips, the pelvis, the genitals, the thighs.
Noticing the knees, the shins, the calves . . . Noticing the ankles, the heels, the feet, the soles of the feet, and the toes.
Noticing the breath.
For a few moments, allow the body to experience being noticed.
When you are ready, with eyes closed, begin to wiggle fingers and toes. Then, stretch the arms overhead and feet away from the body. Draw the knees into the chest. With hands clasped behind or in front of the knees, gently rock from side to side, massaging the lower back. Then drawing little circles with the knees – massaging the lower back and sacrum – first in one direction and then the other.
Keeping the eyes closed, place the feet on the floor so that your knees are still bent, and gently roll onto your right side into a fetal position. Take a few breaths, and then, pressing off with a hand, bring yourself into a comfortable seated position.
Once you are seated, lengthen in the spine and tuck the chin in slightly. Keeping the eyes closed, again, notice the breath. Notice the body. Notice if any feelings or thoughts of tightness or tension have shifted. Just notice.
This noticing prepares the body and mind to be grounded in the world. Our movement in space becomes more certain, relaxed. The feet now notice the mat, the floor. The skin now notices the air, your clothing. The spine now notices the lungs, the ribs. Perhaps your gut, your heart, now notices the subtle (and perhaps, not so subtle) energies in the room.
Consciously paying attention creates a deep shift in how we relate to the world around us and within us. As in any relationship, the more nurturing we give, the more we receive. Body scanning only takes three to five minutes, it can be done in the morning or at night, and can be a very pleasant way to begin or end the day. Try it before your meditation or yoga practice, before a stressful meeting or presentation, or even on the subway on your way to work.
How many of us have closed our eyes on the train anyway? You can just sit or stand and scan your body.
Think of paying attention, noticing yourself and the world, as a vacation from busy-ness. I challenge you to intentionally notice your subtle connection to the world throughout this next moon cycle (and beyond) – I am certain you will be happier for it.
Holly Troy, former lead singer for The Halfbreeds, is a psychadelic punk rock yogini, artist, writer and musician currently based in Flagstaff, Arizona.