Sensing Flexibility

(An earlier version of this article was originally published in 2013 - enjoy this update for spring!)

A well-timed stretch feels delicious. It’s the body’s natural remedy and reset button when we’ve been static or tense for too long. Watch any cat or dog upon waking, and the first thing you’ll see is, forepaws out, belly to the earth, and a gentle shift extending all four limbs. It may be one of the first sensations you experience in the morning – stretching arms and legs inside warm covers. It may be something you do without thinking throughout the day.

Structure, connection & movement

Simply put, flexibility is about range of motion - specifically, the range of motion around any joint. Range of motion is determined by many factors: The construction of the joint itself (this depends on the type of joint and also varies between individuals) elasticity of the muscles, condition of the fascia or connective tissue, as well as age, injury, and illness. Flexibility is the dynamic relationship between muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments - the relationship between structure, connection and movement.

A beautiful system of give and take

The mechanics of flexibility reveal a beautifully balanced system of give and take-a delicate opposition designed to maximize range while maintaining form and function.

Flexibility requires extension and contraction, relaxation and engagement. Stretching activates specialized structures inside the muscle fibers that inhibit, to some extent, the reflex to pull back, allowing us to relax into the extension more deeply. At the same time, other structures in the muscle initiate sensory signals when we approach the limits of safe movement.

Flexibility is developed by moving the joints-- by opening, extending and closing; by engaging the muscles to spiral gently outward along the bones. Flexibility depends on a balance of stability and mobility, moving in ways that are fully supported. Flexibility increases by extending toward our limits and exploring the edge without pushing past it. This requires care and attention – in a word - mindfulness.

Muscles stretch, ligaments do not. Stretching too far endangers the stability of the joint, but without enough movement we become rigid and stiff, with a limited range of response. We need both impulses - the desire to extend as well as the wisdom to stay. With time and practice, honoring both, the body can develop an astonishingly degree of flexibility.

The language of sensation – Sensing flexibility

If sensation is the language of the body, then the voice of flexibility feels like expansion and elasticity; moving away from the core and returning again energized. Nia TechniqueTM author Debbie Rosas describes flexibility as "the sensation of energy moving outward” of “muscles extending along the bones” in a way that feels pleasurable. Flexibility is felt in the body as a balanced state of “Dynamic Ease.”

Sensing flexibility, however, is not necessarily about touching your toes – it’s about tuning-in. This is an important distinction. Sensory awareness relies on attention and perception. The point is not what the movement looks like on the outside as much as what it feels like on the inside. Fluency in the language of the body is learning to stay connected to that awareness moment to moment.

If this sounds a lot like mindfulness practice, you're right. Bringing attention to a specific quality of sensation is one way to step fully into the present moment. We cultivate the quality by placing attention on it, refining it, exploring it as fully as we can, in movement and in life.

Developing flexibility requires consistency. It won't be there when we need it, in mind or body, if we don't engage with it more days than not. Practicing in ways that feel good, increases a sense of joy, playfulness, and purpose. Consistency also helps inoculate us against the stress of those times when we will need to test our limits in the face of challenge or loss.

This month, as we explore the sensation of flexibility in all its forms, let's begin by bringing attention to this quality wherever we encounter it. In nature and in the city, in the beautiful collaboration of forces that allows trees to bend, bridges to sway, grass to spring back from under foot-- that let's our fingers reach a little higher, our hearts open a little wider. Let's stay awake to the many ways we cultivate and receive the quality of expanding and returning, extending ourselves into our own version of full-bodied flexibility in our lives, whatever that may look like...sensing flexibility from the inside out...it can bring more space, fluidity and ease than we may have imagined.

Join me on Monday evenings in April as we explore flexibility and other adventures in mindfulness, weaving gentle yoga, guided meditation and restorative practice. I hope to see you in class!

Moving into Stillness

Movement -Meditation - Relaxation

Mondays 7:00 -8:30 PM (NEW Time!)

at DAYA Foundation

All levels welcome! 

© 2013 -2018 Centerpoint Network LLC

Patience, Perseverence & Calming the Striving Mind

The habits of mind we bring to mindfulness practice can have a profound effect on both the experience of the practice and the benefits we receive. One of the most common challenges is the question of how to work skillfully with the desire for change. Dissatisfaction can creep onto the mat or cushion in subtle ways, making the precious time we set aside for practice just another exercise in striving.

In any activity requiring skillful effort over time, there is a dynamic tension between goal-focused intention and the ability to be fully present in the activity of the moment. While the desire for change can motivate, it can also deflate, fostering a sense of “coming-up short” despite best efforts and intentions. A paradox of practice is that the only moment we can engage is this one, right here and now…Holding both the motivation for change and radical acceptance of the present moment in the open palm of awareness is a dance and a practice in itself. 

Patience and Perseverance are foundations on the path of mindfulness that can help balance the desire for growth with acceptance of how things are. As ideas, these words can carry a lot of baggage, but in practice, they provide a path forward that honors both the capacity to dream and the direct opportunity that lies in each moment.

Cultivate your own presence in practice as we continue to explore the spaciousness of true patience, the stability to persevere and other attitudes that nourish mindful inquiry – a beautiful partnership of goals, grit and grace to sustain us through the plateaus and peaks of practice, on and off the mat.

Looking for ways to begin or expand your mindfulness practice?  Join me on Monday evenings at DAYA Foundation, as we put presence into practice through mindful movement, guided meditation and restorative yoga. 

Moving into Stillness 

Mondays 7:00 -8:30 PM

at DAYA Foundation  - Learn More

© 2018 Centerpoint Network LLC

Time-travel, Mindfulness and Practice

The thinking mind is a funny thing – agile, adaptive and inquisitive by nature – genius at solving problems, planning and moving us toward goals and aspirations. This same mind, on a moment’s notice, can take us back in time to cherish a memory, ruminate on past difficulties and then to leap ahead again in worry and anxious anticipation.

We humans truly are time travelers – and if you pause to consider your own experience, it may not surprise you to learn that recent research confirms the mind’s tendency to roam. It turns out that the human mind is a wandering mind.   If what’s happening right now isn’t compelling, the mind will predictably meander into the past, fly to the future or sink into commentary about what has been, what is and whatever might come.  The results of one very large study (see below) showed that across gender, age, income and culture, human minds tend to wander away from the present moment nearly 50% of the time.  

The same research suggests what we may already suspect: That a “wandering mind is an unhappy mind” and greater wellbeing is associated with spending more time right here, in the present moment.  Exercising the mental capacity for presence turns out to correlate closely to increased happiness overall.

Living more in the present is a skill we can develop – and mindful movement, yoga and meditation are some of the most effective ways to cultivate that skill – moment by moment. Practicing presence through the doorways of sensation, breath, movement and stillness, we develop neural pathways in the brain that allow us to choose living more fully into the “here and now” instead of in the “there and then”.

Here’s a link to a TED talk and an article in Scientific American describing this ingenious study on the wandering mind…

Stay tuned for more on the relationship between mindfulness and movement and how nurturing that connection supports greater resilience and wellbeing.

Looking for ways to begin or expand your mindfulness practice?  Join me on Monday evenings at DAYA Foundation, as we put presence into practice through mindful movement, guided meditation and restorative yoga. 

Moving into Stillness 

Mondays 6:30 – 8:00 PM

at DAYA Foundation  - Learn More

 

 

© 2017 -2018 Centerpoint Network LLC

Begin with "Beginner's Mind"

“I’m just going to practice and see what happens…”

Most of what I learn on the mat or the cushion ends up applying directly in the rest of my life. In fact, as I write that I can’t think of anything that doesn’t.

In practice as in life, it’s very easy to start believing we know something – anything really - about how things are going to be – in the next moment, in two hours or next year… 

That’s understandable, as we’ve evolved to benefit greatly from being able to predict with some kind of accuracy, how things might be, could be, would be... The ability to consider possible futures has kept our species alive and thriving. The capacity to envision action and consequence comes in very handy when dealing with gravity and other physical world phenomena.  But even with that predictive ability, there are still plenty of times that our predictions are proven not so accurate - and when talking about the inner landscape of experience – well – it can get a whole lot less clear.

All that to say, while predictions have their place, and planning is often to the good, we don’t actually KNOW how anything will be in advance of the moment arriving.

I have had occasion to notice again lately just how persistent a habit is my mind’s desire to know and to predict – especially when I’m feeling challenged or wronged, angry or outraged... or just too tired. I feel the small squeeze in my heart when I lean-in to thinking I know how it’s going to be – the double-edged comfort in the illusion of knowing – but also a smallness of possibility, a narrowing of view, tuning some things out and some things in, filtering the moment through an expectation and invariably missing so much.

Too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we ‘know’ prevent us from seeing things as they really are
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

Which brings me back to the cushion, to the mat, and to the attitude we take in practice. Cultivating an attitude of "Beginner’s Mind" is one way we can work with the reflexive habits of our very busy, and sometimes very bossy, 21st century minds. This observing, curious, open-to-discovery stance is highly useful, not as a way of opting out – but as a path of opting in – way in – to what is actually happening right now.  

The attitudes we cultivate feed the nourishing tap roots of our practice. Just taking a seat or stepping onto the mat each day to offer attention and as much willingness as we can muster, to “just see what happens” and then to breathe with it and let it move - or breathe with it staying stuck…this is the heart of the matter.

Holding a space of possibility, of Beginner’s Mind, can be an act of real courage in unsettled times. And it takes practice. I’ve been practicing a lot these days.

Of course our minds will erupt in protest from time to time, or dull in drowsiness, or insist that we must, must, must do something else - and here - we begin again. Just that. Always beginning – life unfolding – in a breath, in a thought, in a remembrance,  in a smile, a pang, a longing…right now…what is here right now?

Become a beginner again. We lose something wonderful when it becomes more important to us to be the one who knows than to be the one who’s open to the everyday wonders around us

I would like to become a beginner again. Truly. Not just as a concept, or a good idea - but in this very breath - softening to the space of some possibility I might never have foreseen... practicing and "just seeing what happens".

Join me on Monday evenings at DAYA Foundation, as we explore Beginner’s Mind and other adventures in mindfulness, weaving gentle yoga, guided meditation and restorative practice . Beginning again...

Moving into Stillness 

Mondays 6:30 – 8:00 PM

at DAYA Foundation

Drop-ins welcome ($17)

© 2018 Centerpoint Network LLC

Balancing

 Balanc-i-n-g…

What an amazing thing we accomplish every day just by rolling out of bed, pushing off and swinging up to vertical on the soles of our feet.  From that moment, to the time we sink back between the covers, we are dancing with gravity and mostly don’t even know it. In fact, unlike the other senses, balance is something we don’t really want to be aware of for the most part. If it’s off the radar, it’s probably working just fine.

We encounter balance every time we take a step or climb a stair.  Practice brings balance into focus through walking meditation or mindful yoga as we cultivate a relationship with our own center of gravity moving through space. Playing with balance can be a great teacher, a mirror, and a metaphor.

The more I practice, the more curious I become about just what balance is - on and off the mat. Each time you visit tree pose or find yourself on tippy toe reaching for the top shelf you'll notice that balance is not static, in fact it's a dance of constant motion

Balance, it turns out, has a lot of moving parts

The information the brain needs to orient you in space comes from at least five separate systems.

The vestibular apparatus in the inner ear contains little floating particles of calcite that allow the brain to sense where the head is in relation to gravity when nearby receptors are stimulated.

The semi-circular canals, also part of the inner ear, signal acceleration and deceleration as the body moves.

The visual system provides orientation by sensing eye movements and tracking objects in space.

The muscular system assists in maintaining balance by controlling posture and also through receptors in muscles and tendons that communicate with the spinal cord and brain about the way they are stretching and contracting. This feedback is vital, because maintaining balance on two feet requires constant, minute adjustments.

Ever wondered how you can tell exactly the position of an arm or leg even with your eyes closed?

The skeletal system has receptors in the joints that provide feedback about the position of the limbs. In addition, the skin also has receptors that register the amount of stretch over a joint, giving additional information about location in space.

Finally, the soles of the feet have pressure receptors that register pitch and sway; whether you are tipping back, forward or to the sides.

It is a seamless orchestration, interrelated and humming along outside of awareness; but not to be taken for granted.

Balance naturally deteriorates to some degree with aging but the good news is there is a lot we can do to prevent those effects, and it doesn’t take heroic efforts or hours at the gym. 

Begin by being aware - Notice and appreciate the way you navigate through the literal ups and downs of your day; sitting, walking, standing still - the many ways you experience being on and off balance, moment to moment.  Introduce moments of simple balance building throughout your day.

Finally, keep in mind that balance is not a fixed state of equilibrium, frozen and unchanging. Balance is fluid, always in flux, a process of adjustment and accommodation to changing circumstance.

Playing with balance can free up some space to explore - to breathe into an edge gradually, expand your current comfort zone, welcome the sensation of coming back to center, again and again...and again

 

© 2012 and 2017 Centerpoint Network LLC

Attitudes of Mindfulness

Attitude, attitude, attitude...

My mom, who will be 91 this month, has been my mentor and an exemplar of the power of attitude for as long as I can remember.  Like all the best teachers, she embodies the qualities she values and I have witnessed first hand in countless ways, her determination to both meet life on it’s own terms and engage active intention to the attitude she brings. She is a remarkable person.  As she traverses the challenges of aging and all the change and transition that brings, she will be the first to observe that attitude can affect everything.

That quote above is hers – I think of it as her mantra – her shorthand to refer to a lifetime of practice in her own right. I take it to mean that the attitude we bring can be an ally or a hindrance in any situation.  In the context of mindfulness and practice, if we are aware of our attitudes as another element in the mix – we can learn to observe them, just as we would any other thought or sensation - can experience directly their effects moment-by-moment and by extension, make choices about those attitudes we want to encourage to thrive.  

The attitudes we bring to practice can help buoy us over the rough times and deepen those aspects of practice that are most meaningful in our lives.

While we can’t insist on feeling any particular way (which would actually run counter to the intention of mindfulness) we can cultivate attitudes that will support us along the path of practice.

So, what are we talking about really? What is the anatomy of an attitude?

Not surprisingly there are various theories and models describing what attitude is and how it functions. While there isn’t a single agreed-upon definition, one common thread is that attitudes act like tendencies or predispositions made up of beliefs, and emotions, patterns of thinking and associations…attitudes influence our feeling states, interpretations about events, sense of meaning, and behavior – we may be aware of some attitudes and not aware of others – from a mindfulness perspective, through practice, we can become more aware of attitudes that feel automatic and habitual, and also cultivate those attitudes we find more beneficial.  

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) at UMASS medical school has written about nine attitudes that support the development and practice of mindfulness.  Each serves as a doorway to encourage flexibility, presence, willingness, and a stance of meeting each moment with openness and attention. These attitudes can inform the quality of practice on the cushion or the mat, and can be a practice in themselves that we take out into the world each day.

Coupled with curiosity, willingness and consistent practice, these core attitudes help sustain our efforts in times of ease and challenge.

I think of attitude as an offering of intention – something I can give to myself. Though it may not be perceptible right away, it is an acknowledgment of my own deepest desire, a heartfelt wish that may accompany me with whatever life may bring.

Over the coming months, we’ll be exploring each of these Nine Attitudes of Mindfulness as part of the Monday, Moving into Stillness class at the DAYA Foundation. Beginning with “Beginner’s Mind” we step into 2018. 

Join me on Monday evenings at DAYA Foundation, as we explore nine attitudes to support practice and other adventures in mindfulness, weaving gentle yoga, guided meditation and restorative practice. I hope to see you in class!

Moving into Stillness 

Mondays 6:30 – 8:00 PM 

at DAYA Foundation

Drop-ins welcome ($17)

© 2017 Centerpoint Network LLC