There’s that spot between the shoulder blades -a knot that feels sharp and painful. The tension rests there and it seems as if very little will release it. A kink in the neck…I just woke up and now I can’t turn my head. This could last for the next few days. Sound familiar? We all get these little reminders from our body to pay attention.
We are often all too aware of the stress and tension we hold in our body but not always what to do about it apart from perhaps a vacation in Hawaii. Since most of us won’t be doing that any time soon there are some ways of releasing tension in the body and it begins with awareness.
The cause of tension in our body is unconscious. We don’t sit at our desk and consciously will our muscles to be tight. It happens as a fairly ineffective response to how we deal with stress. Going along with that, we also can’t just say to body “ok muscles, time to relax” Wouldn’t that be great if we could? We also expend a lot of energy holding that tension in our body. If only we could take that energy and use it for living fully.
So how do we approach dealing with something that we have little control over? Well, we begin with doing things a little differently. We actually open our awareness to what’s going on in our body. This is going to take a little practice and we’re also going to have to learn a bit about our senses.
What do you know about your sense-ability? We often are taught that we have 5 senses. I’m not even sure where that came from but we are doing ourselves a disservice when we limit ourselves in this way. There are many more than this and we can categorize them in terms of what they do for us. The basic 5 are referred to as exteroception. They bring in information from the outside. We also have Proprioception. This is our ability to know where our limbs are in space and our relationship with our body. We just know where it is. Sometimes included in this is kinesthesia which is our ability to know where we are as we move. Another category is Interoception. This is our sense of our internal body. I’m hungry, I’m full, I can feel my lungs fill with air or I can feel my heart beat. Our ability to feel tension in our muscles and body is part of this. We feel these sensations all the time but are often not that aware of them.
The good thing about this is we are able to develop these senses and become more aware of them. That way instead of one afternoon feeling a head ache coming on, we can actually open to our awareness of the muscle tension building up and do something about it.
Another interesting aspect of interoception is that there is some recent research that shows developing the senses of interoception helps us with our social connections. In other words knowing ourselves helps us connect and relate to others in a more meaningful way.
One of the best known ways of developing these senses is by practicing listening to our heart beat. This may take some time but is well worth the effort. You can also begin just by becoming aware of your ribs moving as you breathe. One of the benefits of doing this is allows us to relax.
Here is a short practice you can use for releasing tension that involves expanding our interoception and using a 3 phase release method inspired by the work of Thomas Hanna. This is much more effective than stretching.
Opening to awareness practice:
Begin by opening your awareness to your heart beat or the movement of your ribs. Feel yourself from the inside. Once you have done this, begin to notice your state of mind -you will most likely feel calmer. Now scan an area of your body where you feel you are holding tension and open your awareness to the muscles in that area? Do they feel tight? Is there discomfort or pain? Can you feel any pulse there? Now contract those muscles. It doesn’t have to be a strong contraction and in fact works better if the practice is subtle. Hold for a moment and then slowly and mindfully release that muscle. Once it’s as released as much as your are able, then completely relax it. Repeat this 3 or 4 times then open your awareness to the muscles. Do they relax.
This works because the muscle tension is unconscious. When we contract the muscles, this brings it into our conscious control. The slow release helps focus our attention. The part we want to focus on is the complete relaxation of the muscle area.
Enjoy this practice and send along your observations. I’d like to hear how this worked for you.