Improve Your Health By Kim Orr Do you know what it’s like to feel “off” day-in-day-out? You don’t feel terrible, but you don’t feel well either. It’s frustrating. Like the real you — the vibrant you who deeply savors everything good in life — is buried inside, just out of reach. But you’re not out of reach. You never have been. It’s just that the always-on, unrelenting pace of modern life covers over the real, vibrant you. How? Through tension. Tension that builds in your body in layers. Tension that starts deep inside you, in your core muscles. But you can learn how, incrementally, though tiny practices, to unravel that tension and uncover yourself, layer by layer. The Sneaky Truth About Tension The sneaky truth about tension is that you create and hold onto it without even being aware of it. Much of what you do during the day – for work, for fitness, to manage your busy life – contributes to tension in the core of your body. This core tension clamps down on you, literally. The reason tension sneaks up on you is because it starts deep in your body. You don’t notice it at first because it starts in the deepest, strongest layers of muscle – the ones that attach to your spine in your core. You only notice it when it creeps out to other areas of your body – when it has climbed into your shoulders, neck, or jaw. Or when it pulls your lower back and moves into your knees and feet. The tension that clamps your core deprives your body of oxygen and nutrients carried through your arteries to all of your muscle tissue, and to your brain. Your central nervous system, which runs right through the middle of your spine, also gets compressed. This makes you feel lackluster. Tension in your core constricts your breathing, which further limits oxygenation of your body. Before you notice it, tension has deprived your body of the prana – of life force — that makes you feel vibrant and alive. When your body is deprived of prana, your mind suffers. The core tension in your spine climbs up through the deep muscles that attach from your spine to your skull. Tight skull bones not only cause headaches and jaw pain, but also constrict blood flow and oxygen to your brain. A brain deprived of oxygen and nutrients dulls your thinking and decision making, which in turn creates anxiety. Anxiety causes more tension in your body. It’s an uncomfortable circle. But you can step out of the circle and onto the path of wellness by learning to release your core tension and create ease in your body and mind. Awareness and Ease – Your Path to Vitality How do you keep core tension from depriving you of your vitality? By bringing your awareness, in new ways, to things you already do with your body. Increasing your awareness of what you are doing with your body releases physical tension. How? Paying attention to your movement slows you down. When you slow your movements, you create less muscle tension. The faster you go, the greater your muscle tension. When you hurry, when you run, there is more tension in your body than when you stroll. When you keep up with the always on, unrelenting pace of modern life, you are always in a state of hurry — even if you don’t notice. Slower movements deepen your breathing. Your breath becomes longer and easier. You get more oxygen in your body. When your body is more at ease, prana flows more fully through you. Oxygen and nutrients move more effectively throughout your body, nourishing your muscle tissues and feeding your brain. When your brain is nourished you gain clarity of decision and action. You feel more and ease and less anxious. When you release your deep tensions you cultivate your innate experience of wellness. The Power of Tiny To do these practices you don’t need to add anything to your busy schedule, or go to a special place to do them. You simply bring your attention, in a new way, to things you are already doing. Tiny practices slow your body and still your working mind – the one you use most of the time. Your working mind is the one that calculates, identifies, categorizes, reasons, thinks. Psychologists call this your “cognitive consciousness.” You need your working mind to do all that you must do. Tension in your body creates tension in your working mind. Slowing and stilling your movements releases those tensions. Then your working mind also slows, those spinning thoughts still, and your cognitive consciousness rests. This rest eases and refreshes – all in less than a minute. Other practices — whether fitness workouts or meditation, require time and dedicated practice. Conversely, you do tiny practices in short amounts of time throughout your day. Because they are woven into your day, you are more likely to do them, and they can be more effective and beneficial to you. By bringing your attention to what you already do in new ways, you gain insight into the ways in which your body and mind work together to create the wellness you seek. Three Tiny Practices. The first two tiny practices are pause practices. That means you pause as you are about to move, or are in the middle of your movement. Pause Practice: In this practice, you bring your awareness to beginnings throughout your day. You begin many things as you go through your day. For example, you start work. Whether you work at home or go to an office you sit down at your place of work and then start working. Pause before you start your work. Once you are seated, or even if you stand to work, pause for 10-15 seconds before you start using your device. Your eyes may be open or closed. Your breath is easy. You are not forcing your breath or holding your breath. You are simply pausing. Do this before meals. As you sit to eat, pause before lifting the food to your mouth. Your eyes may be open or closed. Your breath is easy. Simply pause before you begin eating. With practice, you will find that this pause refreshes you – body and mind. Threshold Practice: Threshold practice is a form of pause practice. In Threshold practice, you pause before you go through a door or doorway, up or down stairs, through one room into another — even if there is no doorway to pass through. Come up to the doorway or the stairway or the border between two rooms. Pause. Stand still for 10-15 seconds. Then move again across the threshold and into the next space. Pause briefly gain, then move on. Do this in your house, place of work, where you shop, wherever you may be. Do this whenever it comes to mind, whenever and wherever you notice that you have come to a threshold. Seated Softening Practice You sit often throughout your day. How often do you let the chair fully support you? When you sit, you probably don’t notice that you are holding yourself up. You have not settled into your seat. You use core muscles to hold yourself up instead of leaning your weight into your bones and into the support of the chair. Over time as you sit, your muscles become fatigued and you begin to slouch. Your low back arches, your shoulders round forward, you get a crunch in your neck. Blood flow throughout your body and to your brain is diminished by the tight muscles that cause you to slouch. Pulling your shoulders back just creates counter-tension and more muscle fatigue. When you sit back into your seat so that your body is more fully supported by your seat, then your bones support you and you don’t need to use your muscles to hold yourself up. Your spine naturally stays in better alignment, your low back isn’t swayed, your shoulders don’t round over, your neck doesn’t crunch, and your muscles don’t become fatigued. If you are sitting at a desk working on a computer, pull your chair in closer to the desk so that you can continue to lean back into the support of the chair as you work. Whether you are sitting at a desk, at a table, working or taking a meal, whenever you sit, become aware of how you are sitting and adjust yourself so that your seat supports you as fully as possible. Then lean into your bones and into your seat. You will notice the release of your tension immediately. Anywhere, Anytime You Can Boost Your Wellbeing Yes, these practices are tiny. They take only 15-20 seconds at a time. That means you can do them often and in any place throughout your day. The more you do them, the more release of tension you get. The more at ease you become, the better you feel. As you gradually release the tension in your body, you will have greater physical vitality. Your mental sharpness will increase. You will enjoy the things you do more and more. This is how you cultivate wellness — with your awareness, in tiny bits, over time. Your life becomes vibrant – by sitting, pausing at the start of things, and crossing thresholds — by doing what you do already, in a new way.