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When I started practicing yoga over a decade ago, I recall on numerous occasions the teacher directing us to focus our attention on a given area of the body while we were holding a given position for what seemed like an eternity.
“Feel your feet grounded into the earth,” or “Soften your shoulders down your back.” What?
I was distracted, shaking, and sometimes pissed off. How could I drop into the sensation of my feet or shoulders when my mind was screaming that my legs were about to fall off?!
This grumbling would be all-consuming until the teacher would then say, “Take the other side.” You’ve got to be kidding me.
Yoga was probably my first experience in learning how to get back in touch with myself. I have learned that food can be a sensational experience and that a simple walk is a conversation with nature.
Really, the opportunities to find moments of mindfulness are endless.
But there are three simple awareness practices that can be done easily every day.
1. Feeling the body’s sensations
I like to start with exercise, anything that increases your heart rate: speed walking, running, jump rope, and jumping jacks are all great ways to get your heart rate up for 5 to 10 minutes. After, take a seat, close your eyes, and feel. Feel your heart beating, feel the rhythm of your breath, feel any tingling sensations in the body. Sense how your body begins to self-regulate on its own after a few moments—without trying to change anything or judging what you feel; your only work here is to feel. You’ll notice it’s easier to feel big sensations in the body at first. With practice, you’ll begin to feel more subtle feelings.
2. Eating with awareness
How long has it been since you truly savored your food? There was a time when I would gobble down meals in my car because that was the only place where I could eat between work meetings. I didn’t savor a thing.
But during a mindfulness exercise on a retreat, I closed my eyes. I felt someone place something small in my hands. I felt its smooth, soft, crescent-shaped texture with my fingers and smelled its bright, citrusy essence. I put it in my mouth and felt how the small, delicate piece of fruit felt against my tongue and the roof of my mouth. The burst of sweet juice when I pierced it with my teeth, saliva joining with the tangerine juice as I softly and gently chewed the segment. It was a delightful experience.
I love doing this when I pull fresh fruits and vegetables from our garden. Try it with seasonal fruits, vegetables, chocolate, whatever.
3. Flip through a photo album or a magazine
With your food or travel magazine or photo album in hand, have a seat somewhere quiet. Take a quick self-assessment: how do you feel? Are there any emotions present? Are there any sensations of tightness or freedom that you can identify in your body? It’s important to acknowledge this as a basepoint and not try to change anything.
Look at the pictures and notice any sensations in your body and where they are located. When you find that the mind wanders and starts to create stories around what you see or feel, come back to the images and the sensations in the body. Notice the senses with a curiosity to where the feelings are located and the sensations’ quality without trying to change a thing. The exercise is a simple practice of noticing without needing to create a story around what we feel.
By practicing simple awareness exercises, we can become more embodied and more comfortable in our own skin. We learn to become less reactive to the world and more responsive in how we move in it. We become more aware of our sensations and in control of our emotions and actions. We learn to trust ourselves and appreciate the way our bodies feel emotionally and physically, and we start to listen more deeply to what our bodies are telling us.
Enjoy the practices!