The body speaks to us in many ways, but we tend to ignore the messages until we are forced to pay attention. How does this happen? We are often “too busy” to listen. Our bodies are affected by our thoughts and emotions. Over time, habitual holding patterns of tension build up in our muscles. This is happening on a daily basis and we are mostly unaware of how our bodies are reacting to stresses (both internal and external) by creating more tension and strengthening these holding patterns which are so familiar that they feel “normal.”
How to we deal with the build-up of tension over time? First, we need to develop awareness and to listen to the subtle messages our bodies are sending us. If we do not listen and respond but continue to discount these messages, they become louder and we are no longer to ignore obvious pain. The tension build-up in the body can take many forms. We may react to stress by clenching the teeth. At first, there may be no awareness of the clenching, but we become aware through the subtle discomfort in the jaw or face and if we do not respond, there may be headaches that become frequent and more painful. The neck and shoulders are great tension holders. We ignore the subtle messages until we get into the pain that cannot be ignored.
Both yoga and mindfulness meditation give us highly effective tools to develop the skills of listening with awareness to the subtle messages of the body and the ability to respond intelligently and effectively. Yoga sensitizes us to the enormous amount of information the body is sharing, by enabling us to really feel what is going on in the body – where the tension is, how to stretch, release, relax and let go. Meditation develops the skill of being present to what is arising in the moment and to respond from awareness, rather than creating more tension through old habits of reactivity. With practice we become able to let go rather than holding on and creating more tension. Research shows that the ability to let go increases our well-being and empowers us to handle the stresses of life more skillfully.