Improve your body awareness to stay in touch with yourself and your surrounding world
keywords: body awareness, body language, balancing strain (effort)-relaxation, balancing body-mind, connecting from inside out, body-brain synergy
I Body awareness
Let’s start with an exercise to arrive at the spot, where you are right now.
exercise: Stand – As simple as it sounds, it’s an exercise many people find very difficult –
Stand on two feet. Breathe in and out, relaxed and easy. Just let it happen as it comes. Rub your hands until they feel warm… rub your back (kidney area)… and your hipbone. Put one hand on your chest, right in the middle, and the other on your belly, under your navel. Feel the movement under your hands if you breathe. Can you feel your chest and your belly coming up? When you breathe out, and your hands move inwards again, very softly push your hands a bit deeper, just a little, as if your hands give trust and support to the outbreath. And let them come up again, relaxed, no pushing at all, with the breath in. Feel the space existing inside. Try only to feel, not to think. Maybe you can’t feel much at this moment, no problem. But focus on your hands and what is happening on the inside, underneath your hands.
Now put your hands on your sides, a little on your ribs. Can you feel your ribs moving in and out when you are breathing?
An inbreathe starts at the chest and opens the sides and then also the belly. And an outbreath first contracts your abdomen (belly) and then the sides (flank) and your chest, like a balloon. It’s the eternal movement of in and out, contracting and expanding, tension and relaxation. Your body takes part in this rhythm of nature, you yourself are part of that movement.
Now tilt your pelvis (as if you make a start with the movement of going to sit down), your tailbone is moving a bit toward the front and your back becomes straight. Visualise as if there is a line that is raising your head, very softly, towards the ceiling. Just a little. Your chin moves a bit inward, automatically. All the movements can be made smoothly, easily. No rush, take your time.
Stand, with your spinal cord (your back bone) straight up, your neck aligned with your spinal cord, your knees not straight but slightly bended. With every outbreath you bring your weight down a bit more, without making yourself weak. You stand strong, actively, but relaxed at the same time. And lower your weight towards your feet with every outbreath. No need to stay focussed on the outside, on what’s happening around you, how others are doing. There’s not right or wrong. This is about dropping your weight towards the floor.
With the next outbreath go down with your breath towards your breast, belly, further down towards your feet and go with your attention to the sole of your feet. Can you feel how your body is resting on your feet? How is the body weight distributed? Is your weight more on one side of your feet? Or is the weight evenly spread? Do you stand strong, centred, your weight on your whole feet resting to the floor? Your body is moving a little all the time, seeking for its balance. It’s a continuous, natural, dynamic movement, like all in nature, seeking for equilibrium.
Now put your hands on your middle, your thumb and pointing finger on the hipbone. Turn around and let the movement start in your pelvis, your hara, your centre, the rest of your body follows. Feel the flow of the circle. Can you feel the room you have, the room of movement? And also the other way round. Feel the weight under your feet changing. Your body, balancing, seeking his equilibrium, a good balance, relaxation in action.
Some practical theory
Your body is like a soundboard, it tells you what is happening inside and outside (as long as input is being received and processed). What is needed to make sure that input is being noticed and processed? 1. focus and 2. bodily sensation. Body awareness helps you to notice bodily sensations and if you train your focus you’ll notice more. Training your body awareness will also train your focus.
We will do exercises during which you are invited to observe and use your own body awareness. We’ll explore the way every single one of us perceives input. What happens, do you have a strong focus or do you find it difficult, are you seeking for input or are you waiting what happens? So many questions to ask oneself exploring our body awareness and the way we use our senses.
I’ll try to give you exercises, practical tips and tricks you can use in every day life. Everyone is different, so pick what you think could work for you. Play with it, feel free to experiment, it’s like exploring a field that changes every minute of every day. I still learn every single day about what I’m sharing with you right now. It’s the field of the inner awareness and how to use it in the outside world. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A question is like a door to something new.
We’ll start with the inside, the body awareness. In the second part, we’ll go deeper into how self-awareness is connected to body awareness. And in the third part we’ll connect these two, body & self-awareness with social awareness. How can you use it in everyday life which you are sharing with others.
Your nose is touching the middle of a lemniscate. As if your nose is a pencil start drawing a lemniscate in front of you. An eight, lying on its side. First make a really small lemniscate and try to cross the middle point at the same point where you started again and again. Your body is relaxed, sitting straight up but with as little tension as possible. Your arms are hanging down, you can visualise they are heavy, that’ll make them drop down even more. Slowly you’re making the lemniscate bigger. The movement comes from your head and neck, your nose shows the way, draws the line in the air. When your lemniscate becomes bigger, you’ll notice your head and neck has to move to it’s boundaries. Don’t force it. Observe it, notice the limits, respect them.
It’s important to observe the room your body has in moving, only observe, don’t judge. A Chinese verb says: ‘Tension is who you think you should be, relaxation is who you are.’ You don’t need to make a certain stretch as far or as small as others do. What others do is not interesting at all. It’s about your inner space, the tension that is restricting you and when you give your body room to move freely, you will notice it’ll release tension. That’s how it works. As long as we want to do better, more, different, but in fact: we are keeping the body and ourselves, because we are our body, restricted.
When you reached the outer boundaries of your lemniscate start to draw the other way round, make the lemniscate smaller and smaller again, until you arrive at the starting point, with your nose, in the middle.
We know there is a lot we don’t see and hear, but what does this mean for us, for our body awareness? There are many answers to this, it’s something I explore over the years for myself. In short you might say: deafblindness diminishes your ability to orientate. We orientate ourselves all day long from the moment we wake up until we go to bed. Every action need orientation, fine-tuning between you and the outer world. Your senses are tools in this orientation, working closely with your brains. When you lack two important senses, it becomes more difficult to orientate. Not only our mobility is affected by this, but also information gathering and communication. With less input we have to find our way. This requires a strong focus on the input we are looking for, but also alertness on what might surprise us: Someone we bump into all of a sudden; a cup of tea we missed; a door closed instead of open …This strong focus and constant alertness take a lot of energy. This stress might build up, stiff neck, shoulders, etc. Do you recognise this?
The moment your energy is lacking, you are too tired or stressed (because of the constant alertness which is causing stress inside your body), your ability to focus will decrease and so your ability to orientate despite the deafblindness. That is why it is crucial for deafblind people to keep a healthy balance between action-effort and relaxation. It’s important that you offload the daily stress that’s part of reality when you life with deafblindness. Let’s do another balancing exercise.
exercise: knocking your body
It’s really important that you perform this exercise with loose fists. Your wrist is flexible, not firm. You can feel the difference. Make a strong wrist and knock on your forearm. Now relax your wrist, wrap your fingers loosely together and knock again. Can you feel the difference?
Start knocking with this loose fist on the inside of your arm right under your shoulder, go down, knocking softly (but not weak, you must be able to feel the knocking in your arm) towards your thumb. Then go up in the line of your index finger on the outside towards your shoulder again. Turn to the inside when you are at your shoulder and go down again to your middle finger and go up on the outside of your arm along the middle line. Don’t skip your elbow, but be careful there, don’t knock to hard. Finally, on the inside of your arm again go down towards your little finger and up in the line of your little finger.
When you are up again, knock your chest, underneath your collar bone, your armpit, towards the other arm. Repeat what we did on the first arm. –If the knocking is to heavy for you, you might also make strokes with your hands, but make sure you are pressing a little, that not only the top layer is moved-
Finally, go to your belly, knock softly clockwise. Then hold your hands under your navel and go with both hands on top of each other upwards, towards your neck, face, over the top of your head, to the back and down and massage your lower back and kidney area (3 x)
– Feel free, take a break-
II Self awareness
Some more practical theory: input – output
Your body is like a compass, it helps you to orientate. Your senses are helping to point the angle. Not to the north(pole), but towards you: What do you need, what do you want. The senses give neutral information and if it is interesting enough, which means your focus is on it, you’ll notice the bodily sensation (input), and it can be processed. During this processing you’ll give meaning to the neutral input. You decide what it means according to all you know, all you’ve experienced earlier in life, etc. Emotions come in as well. Depending on the meaning giving you’ll brain decide on a proper (re)action. But a compass only works when the angle towards the north is clear, a good body awareness helps you to determine if your angle works well or if you are maybe to tired, overwhelmed, etc.
Do you listen to your body? Do you ‘hear’ your body speaking, recognising bodily signals? How do you respond to your bodily signals? Do you use them? How? (in communication, in acting, asking for help, in relaxing?)
How we feel influences body and mind. If we are tired, we might feel more insecure as to when we are happy and energetic. If you are feeling sad, depressed or frustrated your body moves differently. Often your shoulders coming forward, your back more rounded, you make yourself a bit smaller, your head a bit down. This posture is protecting us from too much input, it’s the bodily reaction to something we need at that moment, which can be a time out, or confirmation or some more information. If you recognise this need, if you recognise what your body is expressing it will help you to keep your balance. But also, it will help you to make your own choices. Maybe your body says you are tired and need a break, but you decide that this party or activity is something you really want to do. You choose to be dead tired tomorrow and carry on today, despite your body’s warning. Body awareness will help you to make these choices and this also strengthen your self awareness, your self esteem. Because you are in charge of your life!
exercise: sitting in three positions
First pay attention on your sitting position at this very moment. You don’t have to change anything. Can you feel the chair you are sitting on? Is it soft, hard, is it comfortable or not? How do you sit, is your weight down on the chair, or are you sitting a bit ‘up’, as if you keep yourself strong, a bit ‘from the floor’. Often this is what happens when we pay a lot of attention to something. Our focus is not ‘down to earth’ but we try to pull our focus together, and often this means we’re focussing with our mind, forgetting about our body. Our muscles more tensed, alert and focussed.
Now change the way you sit, move forwards, as if you try to catch something that’s just slightly out of your reach….Something is happening, something is said or to be seen…but what is it? …. you might notice your body weight is changing. Your body balance is more difficult to keep. Your body has to adapt. That is what your body is doing (as well as your mind) all day long. You are out of balance, it takes more effort and energy to stay balanced. You are also more vulnerable. –In shiatsu: the front is the weak part, the back the strong part- Things get more directly to you. All together, it requires more alertness, focus and energy, because you need to be able to react right away.
Now move back, to the middle position. Sit with your back straight against the back of the chair. Put your feet on the ground. Breath in and out, in a relaxed way. Take your time. Sit straight, but not tensed. As if you make yourself softer from the inside out. Put your hands, on top of each other, right under your navel. Feel your breath, in and out. Imagine a flow of breath, soft strength, flowing from your belly (your hara) upwards, towards your breast and from there, flowing through your shoulders, inside, through your armpit, and then through your arms, towards your hands. Feel the strength in your body, when you sit like this, in the middle position. It is a relaxed strength, not anxiety or alertness. You are focussed, but not stressed. You are not hiding inside, nor completely out there. You stay strong exactly where you are.
Finally, change your position once more. Sit backwards. As if you don’t give a shit. As if you observe everything from a distance. What is chancing? Try to observe…. Your feet move forward, touching the ground not as much as they did in the middle position. Your balance is different, it’s more difficult to keep a relaxed balance in this position, your muscles have to work harder. What’s happening with your ‘relation’ to what’s happening around? Do you feel differently?
This exercise can help you become more aware of how you stand/sit/act in a certain situation. Basically there are three positions you can choose: towards someone/something, centred in the middle between yourself and the other and leaning back. If you become aware of these positions, you will recognise them in your daily life. It expresses your presence in a situation, they way you connect. Your body is a soundboard not only from input coming from the outside, but also from the inside.
Keeping distance, ‘sitting backwards’, can have different reasons. Lack of orientation, you just don’t know what’s happening around you, you can’t keep up with a conversation…and you decide to let go…withdraw from it. Or you feel tired and are not willing to put more energy into the situation at that moment…you withdraw from it. Or, another possibility, you feel insecure, unable to cope, sad and you don’t know how to share this at that moment…withdrawal is a reaction to handle this unease. Or you just are not interested…there are many reasons to sit backwards and it’s not wrong, but it’s important that you recognise it, because it will give you the power of choice.
exercise: connecting ‘heaven and earth’
We, as human beings, are in between ‘heaven and earth’. The sign for human being in Chinese expresses this. With our feet on the ground and our head up to the sky we shape our life. To balance those opposites we need to keep our feet connected to our head, and the other way round.
Stand with both feet hip width, your knees not overstretched, but slightly bended. Now push one foot in the floor, as if you want to make a hole in the floor under your foot. Push downwards, but stay straight up, back straight, head straight, chin slightly towards your neck (then your neck is in line with your back bone). Your body weight is now automatically more on one side. Now lift your arm, on the same side as you push the ground, until your fingers are pointing upwards. Bend your wrist, try to flex your hand en then push the sky, try to lift the ceiling, just a little. Stretch out towards the sky, while you are still pushing your leg into the ground. Hold on.
You stretch from top to toe your body on one side. Can you feel the stretch? Can you feel the tension? Can you feel the little changes while you’re breathing in and out. Keep pushing the ground and the sky. But use your outbreath to do it in a relaxed way. Don’t force it, merely stretch like you do in the morning while waking up.
Then let go, let your arm falling down, relax the pressure of your leg. Feel for a minute what happened. Can you feel a difference between left and right?
A little theory
Often, if we talk about ‘feeling’ something we actually think about feeling. Feeling is not thinking, but merely noticing. Like Sherlock Holmes always says: notice what you see. It’s not about assumptions, about opinion about what’s good or not, it’s about noticing, observing. Only after that comes perception, you colour the input. Only noticing is important, ‘cause it gives you room to notice things as they are. Space to be. Inside out. I use this when I work as a shiatsu therapist, giving room to the client. I also use it with Do-In, because the focus is not on the stretch in itself but on the person performing the stretch, a person exploring his or her own range (space) of movement. When you develop your body awareness it’s important you learn to observe, let go of your idea of ‘what you should do’. It’s a process, not only of body awareness but of self-awareness as well. Be kind to your self, don’t be harsh on yourself. Feeling, not thinking, is like blowing in the wind, it’s about letting go, it is about letting be…Only after that we might decide on where we are happy with, proud of and what we might want to change if possible.
We often influence our living space with emotions, thoughts or assumptions. We tend to look for what we think is secure, but this can be a serious pitfall when you are deafblind. It’s true a lot of things are not evident as they are to good sighted well hearing people. It is not that easy to go out, you have to plan much more. Social activities take a lot of energy and you need to make choices to make it possible. You have to check your devices, are they charged? Etc. All this can be exhausting, frustrating or demanding and without you noticing you might try to make life as easy as possible and stay in your comfort zone. The thing is that your comfort zone will become smaller and smaller, because there is always something that will be difficult. Even in your own house. To keep your living space comfortable you need to get out of your comfort zone every now and then. This is not specific for deafblind people. This counts for everyone. The moment you get out of your comfort zone, your brain is challenged… it’s a new situation, it has to reckon with the unexpected. The cooperation between body and brain is energised. Your body is alert, your brain is trying to figure out what to do. This gives a boost to your whole system and what’s more, you discover you can do much more then you maybe thought was possible.
Cognitive fitness is actively working with this, it challenges your body-mind. When I did a ten week course cognitive fitness it was so much fun and I discovered it gave me a sense of vitality. I discovered throughout the weeks what plasticity of the brain meant. Your brains are figuring out new ways of dealing with input. Let’s do an exercise:
cognitive fitness exercise:
One hand in front of you, palm towards what is in front of you. With the other hand you point your index finger towards this hand. Now change the position of your hands, the one pointing with the index finger will be opened towards the front, now the other will point with the index finger to this open hand. The next step will be another change of positions, however, now the hand that is pointed at will only show four fingers, change again, etc. When all fingers are gone, you go the other way back.
– break –
III Social awareness
Body awareness, self-awareness and social awareness cannot be separated, however, you can distinct between them. Body awareness is about being conscious of your bodily signals, the language of your body. Self-awareness is about the interaction between body and mind (and soul), the interaction between your body and your thoughts and emotions. Social awareness, where I would like to put the focus on this last 45 minutes, is about the interaction between you and the outer world. Obviously they interact. It’s a complex dynamic interaction.
Being deafblind obviously means that you miss input from the outside world. This has an impact on the interaction between you and the outer world. However, being a human being, we need to connect. If we are not connected to others, to the world around us, we become depressed and sick. During this workshop I try to share with you how a strong body awareness can help you to keep your connective abilities and develop them. A good self esteem, based on a healthy self-awareness, which is supported by good body awareness, is also important to be able to connect with the outside world. But both are not enough. Connecting is also about adapting and adjusting (fine tuning).
exercise: hand on shoulder
Please seek a partner to share this exercise with. One is standing behind the other person who stays seated. Don’t touch the one in front of you. The person seated, please close your eyes. Feel how you are sitting down. Are you relaxed? Are you tensed? Exited? Tired. Whatever you feel at this very moment, observe it.
preparing exercise: relax shoulder, neck, arms and open chest
Now both of you circle your wrists. When your fingers point in the direction of your body, bring them together, when they circle outwards, spread them out wide….. And circle the other way round.
Breathe in and out, in and out en bring with every outbreath your weight a bit more down, but keep straight, relaxed but not weak. With the next outbreath bring your shoulders up towards your ears and hold them there, while you keep your breath and then with your outbreath drop them down at once. We do this once more. The third time do not drop your shoulders but just bring them down, with your outbreath, slowly, consciously.
Finally pinch your fingers, right at the bottom of your nail on both sides. One by one. Start with your thumb. Bring your fingers together and place them right under your shoulder blade at the end of the collar bone (this is the acupuncture point lung meridian 1 and 2) and circle, pushing softly inside. Then rub the middle of your chest (acupuncture point Conception Vessel 17), here a lot of (emotional) tension is kept and it is completely normal if this is hurting, but you are in control, play with it, open it softly, invite your body to let go of the tension, don’t force it. Your body will cramp the moment it is forced and this has an adverse affect, it closes up instead of opening.
Feel for a moment what this exercise did for you.
Partner exercise: hand on shoulder
The one standing behind the person sitting, put your hands a little above the shoulders of the one in front of you. Do not touch their shoulder yet. Both of you know there will be physical contact soon, but pay attention to this moment too. What do you feel?
Now put your hands on the shoulders of the one sitting. Don’t push, don’t massage, just lay them there in a relaxed manner. What do you feel? The both of you, what do you feel inside. Inside your hands, inside your shoulders. And what do you feel outside, what is happening underneath your hands, can you feel the form of the shoulders? Can you feel if they are tensed or relaxed? Maybe you can even feel subtle differences. Or movements, small, subtle movements. Don’t think about what you feel, just observe. Let it be. It does not have to be logic or expected. Observe with the eyes from within.
Now put your forearms on the shoulders, first almost on both sides of the shoulders and lean forward, your body weight on your forearms. Attune, adjust, feel the reaction in the shoulders, in the person you are connecting with. Maybe the one sitting is tensed and does not dare to let go. Don’t push, but invite the body, the shoulders by slowly and softly putting your body weight on the shoulders, like a parent holding the hand of the child, giving it trust and support. Embrace the shoulder and by doing so, embrace the whole person.
Finally clap the arm between your two hands from the shoulder towards the hands, until the very fingertips. And the other arm.
Stand behind the person again, give room to the person sitting to observe what this exercise did to him or her. Observe what it did to you yourself.
There are many partner exercises in Do-In (Japanese yoga) and during my study every single time a felt a certain resistance when we had to do one of them. Why? Because it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I could not hide in my own comfortable silence, but I had to share my awareness with someone else. It’s intimate. You have to show something of yourself and that can feel vulnerable. What will he or she think of my touch? Will it be to soft, to hard, to pushy, to weak…? Or, now he/she will notice how stressed I am, how stiff my neck and shoulders, I hope I will not start to cry. I don’t want to be so tired, I don’t want to feel this.
Connecting is not easy, in many ways it’s vulnerable. But every single time the partner exercises brought me so much. I learned so much of them. They gave me confidence that I could trust myself, my hands, my feeling. They gave me relaxation and a great sense of gratitude, because someone paid true attention to me, trying to adjust to what I needed at that very moment. But most of all, every single time they opened up the wonder of true connection inside me. I could feel how two people can connect, without words, just simple touch. I could feel the enormous space in which we could meet, how we both are shining human beings, completely free in essence.
It’s in this experience I found wholeness again, despite the tremendous losses because of the deafblindness. I hope what we shared this morning will inspire and encourage you on your own travel through life.