Maintaining Your Body and Mind: Checking-in with Yourself
Hey Readers! I'm so thankful you are here! In today's post, I want to talk about the importance of maintaining your body and mind by doing regular check-ins with yourself. Most of us are pretty diligent about maintaining our vehicles, electronics, and homes, but we sometimes neglect performing regular maintenance on ourselves. And listen, I totally get it. For many of us, we lead incredibly busy lives, making it seem as if there is no extra time during the day to take care of ourselves. But, just like if we don't maintain our laptops by performing updates every so often to prevent viruses and shutdowns, if we do not take the time to maintain our bodies and minds, we are also vulnerable to shutting down and getting sick or injured.
There are so many ways to maintain your body and mind, including exercising, getting a massage, or taking a vacation. And these are all FAB ways to keep YOU running efficiently for your daily activities. However, in this blog post, I want to talk about a different kind of maintenance. The kind of maintenance that doesn't necessarily require heavy physical movement, traveling, or paying for a service. But rather, this kind of maintenance involves slowing down, tuning out the external stimuli as best as possible, and listening to the signals and communication occurring in, and between, your body and mind.
It is super important to take time regularly to truly hear the dialog coming from your physical, emotional, and mental bodies. This check-in time gives you the opportunity to better understand what your body and mind might need more, or less, of in order to keep moving optimally through your life.
The type of check-in that I will go over in this blog post can be done from any position and in any location. You could do this from your yoga mat, waiting in line for your drink at Starbucks, sitting in traffic, or some other place entirely. You could check in with yourself while sitting, standing, lying on your back, or some other position. Another great opportunity to do this check-in is during your yoga or self-myofascial rolling (SMR) practice (if you want to learn more about SMR click here). All you really need for this type of self-maintenance is your body, your mind, and an open, curious heart. Let's dig deeper into the HOW, and the WHY, of regularly checking in with the following layers of YOU:
Your physical body
Your emotional body
Your mental body
Checking in with Your Physical Body
Making time to tune in to each part of your physical body is super important. It gives you the time and space in which to figure out what your various body parts are experiencing and what they each might need. Dropping into your physical body is an excellent way to reduce anxiety, depression, and bipolar symptoms, as it gets you out of your head and into a more physical experience in the world. Our physical bodies (muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, organs, etc.) communicate to us via sensations. It is our job, as the driver of the mind, to listen and react accordingly.
Wherever you are doing this check-in, start by scanning your feet, moving up to the ankles, then the lower legs, and so on, until you have scanned each body part. You might only hover your attention on each body part for a few seconds, or maybe you decide to linger on specific bodily locations for a longer duration - it's totally up to you! Tune into the sensations of each body part, being honest about what you notice and feel. Take time to notice both the unpleasant AND pleasant sensations. Map language to the sensations you are experiencing, but avoid labeling the sensations as "right" or "wrong." For example, does your shoulder feel tight, sore, or unstable? Does your belly feel full or bloated? Does your low back ache? Does your chest feel powerful and strong? Do your hips feel open and relaxed? Do you ankles for steady and strong?
If possible, try to notice the sensations in your physical body during static (i.e. stillness) and dynamic (i.e. movement) postures. Sometimes, our physical bodies feel differently when we are still versus during motion. Notice what changes as you gently move your physical body. Does the ache in your low back go away when you rotate or bend your spine to the side? Do your hips begin to feel tight when you pull your knees into your chest? Again, notice it, linguistically map the sensation, but avoid putting some subjective spin on the experience as "bad" or "good." Because, it isn't bad or good. It just is what it is, right here and now. And sometimes, you might notice that you are feeling some type of sensation in a body part but you cannot quite find the word to describe it. For instance, you might notice that your attention keeps moving toward your neck, but you are not sure why. That's totally fine. Simply acknowledge that fact and either keep your attention on that spot for a little longer or move on to the next body part.
Once you have tuned into the entire physical body, breathe in a breath of gratitude for your body. Be thankful for the unpleasant sensations that were communicated clearly to you. Be thankful for the pleasant sensations that exist in your body. And even be thankful for the sensations that you maybe could not quite figure out. And now, ask yourself how you can help those areas that feel some type of unpleasantness or confusion. Maybe the tight areas need stretching and releasing. Maybe the loose and weak areas need strengthening. Maybe the murky or unclear areas need more directed attention. If you do not take the time to check in with your physical body, you might not give your physical body what it needs to function optimally. And this can lead to injury, illness, and disease.
Checking in with Your Emotional Body
After you tune in to your physical body, check in with your emotional body. Notice what emotion(s) you might be feeling right in this moment. Are you feeling tense, anxious, settled, frustrated, scattered, or something else entirely. Here again, we simply label what the emotion IS, honestly and truly, without attaching some qualifier of it being right or wrong. And just like the physical check-in, sometimes it can be difficult to discern what emotion(s) we are feeling. If you are in that camp when you tune in to your emotional body, just acknowledge that your emotion-radar isn't able to detect exactly what you are feeling in this moment and move on.
For me personally, tuning into the emotional body is much harder than tuning into my physical body. I think this is because physical sensations can be "louder" at times AND as a society, I believe we are more used to labeling our physical experience but we are typically trained to stifle our emotional experience, especially if we think the emotion is considered unpleasant. But, the reality is, humans feel ALL the emotions at one time or another. Everyone gets angry, sad, frustrated, confused, and so on. It is a natural part of being a member of the Homo sapiens species. It is OKAY to feel whatever you might be feeling. Just like physical sensations are communications from your physical body, your emotions and feelings are signals from your emotional body. Your emotional body is trying to tell you something, so don't discount the message. Hear the message with a compassionate, nonjudgmental heart. If you do not let yourself feel your feelings, the energy of that emotion can manifest in your physical body. Often physical ailments are the result of ignoring signals from the emotional body.
Once you do an honest check-in with your emotional body, breathe in a breath of gratitude for the simple fact that you have the ability to FEEL emotions, even if they are unpleasant. And then, make adjustments to your day so that you best honor whatever emotions you might need to feel or sort through. For example, if you recognize that you are feeling sad, you might take some time to have a good cry to a sad song. If you notice that you are feeling angry, you might transform that anger into something more productive, like going for a run or deep cleaning your house. If you notice that you are feeling nervous, maybe you take time to do some deep breathing to calm your nervous system.
Checking in with Your Mental Body
After you check in with your emotional body, direct your awareness to your mental body (your mind). Notice the thoughts that are running through your mind. Simply observe the thoughts with a birds-eye view. Pay attention to the quantity of thoughts moving through your mind. Is there just one or two thoughts vying for your attention, or is your head like an unorganized symphony, with a bunch of random thoughts buzzing about? Are your thoughts complete, or does one thought cut off in the middle as the next thought moves into your consciousness?
Notice the quality of your thoughts. Are the thoughts productive in nature, bringing you joy and contentment? Or are the thoughts unproductive, causing you anxiety, worry, or doubt? Here again, you can label the experience linguistically, but avoid judgments about it being right, wrong, weird, or otherwise.
Pay attention to the nature of your thoughts. What exactly is the thought going through your mind? Are you thinking about something in your physical body? Are you thinking about events from earlier in your day or events coming later in the day? Also, notice if your thoughts are "sticky" (i.e. difficult to let go of). Sometimes our brains get "stuck" on a particular line of thinking, and our minds keep returning to the same thought over and over again. Maybe you keep replaying an argument, real or hypothetical, in your head. Or maybe the ache in your neck keeps returning to your attention. Sometimes these "sticky" thoughts are helpful. For instance, if your thoughts keep returning to an emotion or physical sensation, maybe it's because you need to spend more time taking care of, or processing, it. But oftentimes, the "sticky" thoughts are unhelpful. If your thoughts keep veering back to an unhelpful line of thinking, maybe you are falling prey to obsessive thinking, and you need to work on releasing that thought in some way.
Once you check in with mental body, again give thanks for the fact that you have a brain that is able to think. Even if your thoughts are driving you nuts, you can still be grateful that your brain is able to formulate thoughts. If you don't take time to notice what is happening in your mind, your thoughts can get the better of you.
Checking in with Your Breath
Finally, my favorite part, is checking in with the breath. After you have tuned into your physical, emotional, and mental bodies, direct your awareness to your breath. Directed attention to the breath is known as breath awareness (BAW). Multiple studies have shown that just a few minutes of BAW can reduce anxiety, panic attacks, and anger. There are so many facets of the breath that you can attend to.
Start by just noticing your inhalations and exhalations. Don't try to change anything about each component of the breath. Sit back and observe from the sidelines. Feel your rib cage, belly, and chest expand with the inhalation. And feel your entire body soften with the exhale. Stay with this awareness for a few rounds of breath. Follow the inhale in, and follow the exhale out. Like gentle waves in the ocean - the breath comes, and the breath goes. Again and again.
Next, start to notice the quality of your inhalations and exhalations. Here again, there is no need to judge or label anything as bad/good. Notice if your breath is flowing smoothly and effortlessly, or is it choppy, strained, or forced? Direct your awareness to the length of your inhalations and exhalations. Observe if your breaths are short and shallow, or deep and long. Try to notice if your inhales and exhales are the same length, or is one shorter or longer? Stay with this awareness for a few rounds of breath.
Last, begin to notice the small window of time between the inhalations and exhalations. Tune into what happens at the top of the inhale. Does your body naturally linger in that place, holding the breath for a moment, or does your body quickly begin the exhale right after finishing the inhale? When you begin the exhale, what is that transition like? Does your breath flow seamlessly from inhale to exhale, or does the breath feel tight or jumpy as the breath pattern shifts? Tune into what happens at the bottom of the exhale. Does your body linger in this space for a moment before the inhale begins, or does your body immediately begin the next inhalatory cycle? When your body begins the inhale again, what is that transition like? Is it slow and gentle, or does the inhale come rushing into your lungs super quickly? Stay with this awareness for a few rounds of breath.
Once you have checked in with your breath, take a moment to feel a sense of gratitude for the simple fact that you are breathing. Your breath is your signal that you are ALIVE. You are a living, breathing, life-form on this planet, and that is pretty darn cool if you ask me. No matter the chaos going on around, or inside of, you, your breath is always constant. It is like your anchor, reminding you that you are connected to this planet. You are not floating away into nothingness. You are here, and you have a right to be here.
We are so bombarded in our modern society with so much external stimuli (sounds, sights, etc.), and that can make it challenging to be able to hear what is going on inside of us. It is absolutely essential that we make time to tune into ourselves on a regular basis. This check-in allows us to truly hear what our body, mind, and heart are feeling and what they might need. Most of us live incredibly busy lives, working a ton of hours in some form or fashion, and so we need our bodies to work optimally for as long as possible. Try to find time throughout the day (ideally) or week where you notice what is happening physically, emotionally, and mentally. Listen with open, honest ears, and try not to judge the signals that you hear. Label the experience objectively and compassionately. Adjust your day as needed by giving, or removing, activities so your body, mind, and heart each get just what they need to function best. And always, have gratitude for the simple fact that you are a living, feeling, breathing being.
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of neuroscience, human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about your body, please consult with your physician, physical therapist, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga sessions with me, Jackie, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my services and pricing. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my weekly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT