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Archive for the ‘Body work’ Category

Do not be absent minded in your activities, nor so absorbed in one aspect of a matter that you fail to see its other aspects.

From Dogon’s “Instructions for the Zen Cook”

Many of us know from the kitchen experience that if we focus on one side of the meal we are preparing (for example, its aroma or color) and even temporarily forget the others, our checking out from the world into our heads can ruin the whole meal. It’s easy to get carried away and forget to add salt and spices or miss the critical point when we should remove it from the stove.

Burnt oats (not happy): Read my lips, “Eat this!”

I find the same to be true of  life: if I choose to focus only on one aspect of it, for example work, I can get signals from inside that something is missing, something is out of balance, that I left home. Still, this is what most of us have to deal with at different points in our lives when one side of it temporarily takes over. In the best case we are aware of what’s happening and can even tell others who might be affected that we will catch up with them once the project is done, the book is finished or we have solved the issue of poverty in the world. In the best case we can come back to the center in time before some damage is done (in yoga, on the physical level, the price of not being aligned is that we either collapse with our bodyweight on one particular part of the body and can get injured or have to resort to great muscular effort to sustain balance.) But even as we let our life on the everyday level come slightly off-balance, we don’t have to be out of balance with the experience of life, do we?  We don’t have to go to exotic places or eat exclusive meals in posh restaurants to experience the gift of life, to feel alive.

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Dance until you shatter yourself

–  Rumi

I started “doing the rhythms” a while ago, at home, in the privacy of my almost furniture-free living room, inspired by Gabrielle Roth’s book and CDs, driven by the longing to “retrieve the soul through my body”. Recently I joined the local tribe of women and men of all ages and shapes and the Energizer bunny leader with long black hair and a wide smile for a class in grounding (the term used in Swedish), a dance form inspired by African dance but more accessible in terms of choreography, which is perfect for a drop-in like myself. I go to our gathering place – the gym in the local church – on Wednesday nights to give the fire of this longing manifestation that makes the whole of me feel vibrant and connected.  No conceptual thinking could bring me to the core of what mattered to me most the way the body does when I tune into it and allow it to flow.

We all have the potential to be a full-bodied Bordeaux, but sadly most of us are satisfied being Welche’s grape juice.

– Gabrielle Roth, Sweat Your Prayers


African rhythms do it for me, take me straight home, into this place of innocence, playfulness and vitality where I can be anything and anybody. As the rhythms on the CD change, I listen in and follow where my body leads me. My legs carry me into the circle, closer towards others – I seek connection. My spine twists for freedom, releasing all the blocks from the day in the office and letting the energy flow through it and into the rest of the body. It’s fluid and unpredictable, it’s alive and breathing. My chest strives forward – I feel courageous and ready to face what come may. The hips wake up and start telling their stories. So much shame and pain they have been carrying while all I’ve noticed and reacted to was the extra pounds that landed on them.

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This year I have been reconnecting with the intuitive, wild and free spirit in me, allowing my body-mind-spirit to be taken to new territories through playful exploration in dance, yoga, art, sex, cooking, and what not. Bringing the element of play with its spontaneity into different aspects of life  shifts the focus from the outcome to the process itself in the way that most of us are familiar with and allows us to transcend the self-imposed limitations and ideas of what we could and could not do, judgements and fear of making mistakes. We know and accept that play involves taking risks, playing on the edge and with the edge itself, embracing the unknown and therefore treat surprise not as something threatening but as part of the game. Mistakes are viewed as experience. As the performance pressure dissipates, we become one with the activity. We are in the flow.

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In his book ‘Touching Enlightenment’, the Buddhist teacher Reggie Ray makes the point that many western meditation students spend a lot of time in their heads and very little in their body. Meditation practice is all too often seen as a mind practice with very little to do with somatic sensations. He goes on to say that unless we fully embody our practice, and allow it to include our physical nature as well as our mind, we will end up as a set of disembodied heads, further away from enlightenment than when we started. I tend to agree.

To me it seems strange that we have come such a long way from an embodied practice since it seems to have been part of the intention of the Buddha to learn mindfulness of the body as a base before adding anything else. However, I guess now there are far more sensory distractions and intellectual pursuits to be had than there were in India two and half thousand years ago and perhaps we need to emphasise the physicality of practice more now than ever before. (more…)

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The life of an individual is the life of his body… A person who doesn’t breath deeply reduces the life of his body… If he doesn’t feel fully he narrows the life of his body… In effect,  most people go through life on a limited budget of energy and feeling.

Alexander Lowen, Bioenergetics

One of the things I have noticed or rather felt in my formal practice was that it was missing the bodily aspect even though often times during a sitting I’d stay with pain, physcial discomfort or other sensations in the body.  If being human involves living in this human body would it not be more helpful to use it in meditation in a more direct way?  I took up the asana practice as a way of engaging both body and mind  into the practice in a more direct and dynamic way but was open to furhter explore movement as part of spiritual practice.

nippetippa

Photo: Ralph Weidne

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Since I started doing sitting meditation one of my legs (or both) would inevitably fall asleep and for the most part the sitting would evolve around staying with those sensations in the body. I know it is not harmful for my health and would probably pass with time so I just accepted it as something I could sit with and even learnt to appreciate as those sensations in the body helped me stay connected to it and the breath.  With time those sensations built a background for my sitting, something I sort of knew would be there and I guess I started identify the sittings  with.

Doing some yoga practice right before the sitting has proved to be very successful in helping me get grounded in the body and those sensations in the legs suddenly disappeared altogether. Now the body feels alert yet relaxed and pleasantly warmed up. However, I soon discovered that when the body is more comfortable the mind is more likely to wonder away and engage in daydreaming and I have to apply more effort to sustain concentration.

I find myself wishing one condition away in preference of the other only to find out that the latter is not at all as I imagined it to be.

Friend, please tell me what I can do about this world
I hold to, and keep spinning out!


I gave up sewn clothes, and wore a robe,
but I noticed one day the cloth was well woven.


So I bought some burlup, but I still
throw it elegantly over my left shoulder.


I pulled back my sexual longings,
and now I discovere that I’m angry a lot.


I gave up rage, and now I notice
that I am greedy all day.


I worked har at dissolving the greed,
and now I am proud of myself.


When the mind wants to break its link with the world
it still holds on to one thing.


Kabir says: Listen my friend,
there are very few that find the path!


From Ecstatic poems by Kabir, versions by Robert Bly

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laughing_kidAs in the above mentioned story my own experience, too, unfolded on a road and in a somewhat chaotic and exotic for an outsider environment. The unusual situation made it easier for me to no longer be clinging to the old image of me and what I possibly could or could not do.

Master Dogen’s words start making more sense: “…to study yourself is to forget yourself; to forget yourself is to be awakened and realize your intimacy with all things.”

Can we become intimate with all things through conceptualising and analysing? My Dharma sister Sara (the cat that lives with me) never analyses anything and seems to be having a good life. I suspect that animals and kids do not go around rationalising the world and settle for simply living in it.

It is not easy to see myself with the new eyes when the surroundings are the same. Or are they? Through yoga and zazen I have learned that one way to not get trapped in the endless stories is to stay connected with the body and to follow it.  It is more than just about the “gut” feeling.  Our bodies are wired to collect and process the information so we can quickly respond to the situation but we believe the best decisions come from the head. Yet – applying the rational approach to this all-pervasive belief – can we really know that this is true? My own experience of overanalysing and overplanning has proved me wrong on more occasions that I would like to admit to myself and to Sara (the cat).

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