At the beginning of May I attended a daylong meditation retreat facilitated by John Travis of Mountain Stream Meditation Center.
A powerful learning happened when John Travis shared what he felt was the most important teaching from his own meditation teacher "keep your mind in your body."
That might sound silly if you are unfamiliar with meditating because obviously your brain is always in your body. However, when you become adept at observing your thinking and behavior through an activity like meditating, you start to see that your mind is constantly wanting to escape from the sensate experience of the body and run off to tell stories.
The storytelling of your mind might take the form of analyzing a problem, worrying about the past, wondering about what's for dinner, criticizing yourself or others, dreaming about the future, etc. All these experiences of thinking take your mind outside the body and it's sensations that are happening in the moment.
Sometimes a Bikram yoga instructor might tell you to "check your mind at the door" before walking into the classroom. However, I think more accurately what they mean to say is to check your thinking-analyzing-worrying-second guessing-dreaming-mind at the door. What you do bring inside the classroom is a mind that is open to neutral observation. This watching doesn't happen from outside yourself but comes from within. You are to listen to the words of the teacher, respond with your body, and observe from a neutral place where nothing is good nor bad, but just is.
Applying this teaching to "keep your mind in your body" has been helpful to both my Bikram yoga and meditation practice. I bring more focus to watching or feeling my breath move in and out of my nostrils and lungs. When a difficult body sensation, emotion, or storyline enters my head I see them float past me like clouds without making judgments. When I feel sick, I watch that sensation slowly dissolve instead of getting wrapped up in thinking of ways to fix it. More importantly, I am more mindful of the sensate experiences that are entering my body such as temperature, smell, sound, and texture and less focused on my thoughts. This practice is helping me learn how to empty my mind, see the world around me in a new way, and feel more at peace with the current conditions of the moment.
This has been a extremely valuable exploration for me. However, how does someone "keep your mind in your body" during the rest of their waking life?
In the second chapter of my book Lemonade Mantras I cover a subject matter that I originally believed was a useless concept -- developing body awareness. From the beginning of my exploration into mindfulness I resisted the concept of becoming aware of my own body's sensations. I was primarily a thinker and from my thinking I gladly connected with feelings (emotions) and needs. However, your feelings are not the same as your body's physical reactions. Body sensations are when your throat constricts, heart beats faster, palms sweat, head throbs, stomach hurts, etc. These uncomfortable sensations are direct messages from your body signaling that something might be wrong. Over the course of our lives we may have learned to tune out these sensations -- to numb out -- and not listen to our body's natural communication system.
If you experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse during your life or a traumatic event such as rape, assault, war, accidents, or natural disasters, sometimes in an effort to preserve and care for yourself, the mind chooses to escape as a strategy for not feeling the past and future sensations of the body.
By bringing awareness to your body sensations through the Lemonade Mantras 10-step process of self-acceptance, you learn to reunite with your body during your daily life and bring your mind back home. After doing all the steps in the Lemonade Mantras process for over three years, this second step of body awareness has been an essential tool for developing a mindfulness that leads to inner peace.
The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.
To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures.