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Living Right: Practicing Presence

When we talk about improving our health physically, we often first think about eating a more balanced diet or exercising on a regular basis. But, it’s also true that your body gives you a lot of information about how you need to take care of yourself—if you take the time to listen.

What does this mean exactly? How do you develop body awareness and effectively practice "presence?" Getting a massage is one way to tap into this inner awareness, and below are more tips for staying in the moment.

Sensory Awareness

There isn’t one specific theory surrounding body awareness, perhaps because it’s not measurable in the same way as, say, blood pressure. Some budding research, however, is beginning to scientifically explore the mind-body connection, as well as the role body awareness plays in emotional well-being.

Cynthia Price, professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, has been involved in developing measures to better study body awareness. Her own preliminary research findings suggest that body awareness is related to emotion regulation and improved mental health outcomes among women recovering from trauma and/or chemical dependency.

How to Practice Presence

“Paying attention to internal body sensations in the present moment is fundamental,” Price explains. “Present moment awareness is also referred to as mindfulness. Being mindful of our bodily experience involves the ability to turn our attention internally and to observe or take note of bodily state and sensations.”

The question still remains, though, of exactly how you become more present and aware. Paying attention sounds fairly simple, but remaining in the moment and developing true body awareness takes practice.

In an article co-wrote with Jack Blackburn called “Implications of Presence in Manual Therapy” that appeared in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Price outlines a couple of ways to develop mindfulness.

  • Weighing. Weighing is the idea of monitoring the effects of weight. You can look at this idea from a more philosophical standpoint, for example, by asking yourself as various thoughts enter your mind: How much does this thought or feeling weigh? The point of these exercises is twofold: by giving weight to your thoughts, you can more easily parse out what is bothering you or what might be causing you stress
  • Measuring effort. You can also stay present and develop body awareness by being conscious of the amount of effort you’re expending during an activity. You may find that you can get the results you want without expending as much effort, creating less strain and stress on your own body in the process..

Body Awareness for Your Health

Being present and developing body awareness probably isn't going to happen overnight. With practice, however, you’ll find that being in the moment and paying attention to sensory cues is natural—and may become an important aspect of your wellness practices.

“Paying attention to inner body sensations as a way to discern how you are feeling emotionally, and then taking the time to attend to and process the emotions, is one way body awareness translates to self-care,” Price explains.

And the same goes for stress. “When you’re stressed, take time and attend to the body by using breath and attention to sensation,” she adds. 

Being able to tune into how you are doing and how you are feeling can help you more effectively deal with any problems before they negatively impact your health and well-being.

Quiet! Learning to Listen

Though it sounds simple, quieting your mind and really staying present takes some practice—and patience. Today, however, there are myriad resources aimed at helping you take that first step.

Tm.org. This website is dedicated to transcendental meditation, and is full of information both about the benefits of meditation and how to get started.Though it sounds simple, quieting your mind and really staying present takes some practice—and patience. Today, however, there are myriad resources aimed at helping you take that first step.

Mindful.org. Here, you'll find great information about mindfulness, including several articles ranging in topic from exercises about how to get started with meditation to setting up a mindfulness or meditation group in your area.

This article was excerpted from mtj® (Massage Therapy Journal®) Winter 2012. Subscribe to read the entire article.

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