No doubt we have all attended, and likely taught, yoga classes where we have heard, or given the instruction “listen to your body.” This instruction sounds good, and it makes sense. After all, isn’t this attention to the body what differentiates yoga asana from other forms of physical movement?
I clearly remember attending my first yoga class, nearly 30 years ago, while living in London, Ontario. I came home excited to have found something completely new, something I had never experienced before. Every position, movement and form was familiar to me from years of immersion in the world of fitness. What was unique and new was that I was invited over and over again to “feel.” And that has made all the difference.
Little did I know that this new found tool would take me places I never knew existed.
Fast forward ten years, and a re-location to the East Kootenay in B.C. As a new yoga teacher, I mirrored the words of my early teachers, instructing students to feel various body parts as they explore movements and positions.
Attending my first meditation retreat with Richard Miller in Hinton, Alberta, this instruction began to radically change. Instead of just feeling a location of stretch, participants were invited to “feel the whole left arm as radiant sensation.” What? I could feel my feet on the ground, but we weren’t even stretching an arm! How was I supposed to feel this, and even more importantly, why?
Invitations continue: feel the tongue, the mouth, feel the insides of the ears, feel both hands at once, feel the brain! I was lost. I was confused. I felt like there must be something terribly wrong. Was everyone else able to follow these instructions? What was wrong with ME?! Invitations became subtler: feel the space that surrounds the body, feel the ceiling, the walls, feel inward and outward simultaneously.
Are you kidding me? Now the real doubt began to creep in. Who was I, calling myself a yoga teacher, when I had no idea how to access what was being presented here? And what difference would this make to my yoga practice, or to my students?
And yet, something piqued my curiosity. I returned to meditation retreats with Richard over and over again. Often confused, something kept drawing me back. And something shifted, a doorway opened. It opened to a world that I didn’t’ know existed, and yet it felt like it had been there all along. I would love to say that this shift happened in a moment, but it didn’t. All I can say is that there came a time when I realized that I had access to feeling everywhere simultaneously: inside the body, outside the body, whole body sections, and whole body at once, as if this ability had always been there. I could no longer NOT feel everything that was being invited.
BodySensing is a practice of opening the capacity to feel, using all of the senses, the whole body, inside and out, and even to feel the limitless space that surrounds the body. BodySensing can be done in movement or in stillness. BodySensing is meditation – whether this is incorporated into your yoga asana, pranayama, or practiced during seated or lying meditation.
BodySensing isn’t limited to yoga. This is a skill that can infiltrate our entire day – waking or sleeping, walking, swimming, dancing can all become opportunities to explore BodySensing. Peeling carrots, eating a bowl of soup, and making love all become further explorations of BodySensing.
With practice and time, the inherent aliveness of sensation in the body becomes restored. The borders and boundaries of the body dissolve. We begin to experience ourselves as vast, limitless space. The normal physicality that we take ourselves to be opens up to a broader experience of ourselves as spacious, timeless, free from restrictions and limitation. We reconnect with ourselves as integrated, whole, complete and perfect.
Isn’t this the ultimate goal of any yoga practice – to feel this connection? This is the final understanding of all contemplative practices – to know ourselves as freedom.
BodySensing now oozes from my pores. When leading a BodySensing practice, I am always amazed to hear what comes out of my mouth. Descriptions and instructions can sometimes feel wild and far out, but the experience always leads to this same sense of freedom and feeling of ease.
Although most teaching of yoga is infused with the instructions to “Feel your body,” BodySensing movement as I describe it here comes from the Kashmir non-dual tradition. I was introduced to this through Dr. Richard Miller who learned this practice e from his teacher, Jean Klein, an Advaitan teacher who was influenced by the teachings of Kashmir Shaivism.
Whether you are mobile or not, experienced with yoga or not, BodySensing is a delicious practice that can open you to the freedom of all that you are, and take your yoga and meditation practice to places you never expected.