Changing the energy pattern in the body can change the thinking pattern in our mind. Once the somatic imprint has been established it can take only a few seconds to switch from the effort of trying to do something to the ease of letting something come through. When our body runs the energy of constriction and separation we get a mind of constriction and separation. When the body runs a pattern of expansion and interconnection we get a mind of expansion and interconnection.
Creatures of Habit
By the time we have reached adult age we have put in thousands of hours developing habits, which have carved smooth roadways, like super highways with few exit ramps in our brain. Once a behavior pattern is triggered the momentum quickly builds and we begin to experience familiar sights and voices. Most of these responses are related to our body’s energy patterns commonly known as fight, flight and freeze.
We have read the books and we know that reacting with anger and judgment does not make us feel better or change the behavior of the annoying person. Even though we ‘know’ that we should respond differently often we find ourselves returning to the familiar movie that we have seen so many times. We are suddenly irritated, judgmental or humiliated.
I became interested in why; if I know and feel that I really do want to be compassionate I so quickly react with irritation and judgment when I am triggered by inappropriate behavior. What I discovered is that my body is on a different program from my conscious mind. In other words – we can’t change our mind with our mind alone. If we could have we would have, it is certainly not for lack of wanting to be kind or knowing that being kind offers a better outcome than being irritated. It is instead a lack of embodied habit.
With the Conscious Embodiment practices we practice cultivating compassion, confidence and presence while we are under stress. Stress is activated in the body before it shows up in our conscious mind. Small children and animals know before we know when we are mad, sad, glad and afraid. By the time I am aware that I am irritated I have been running that irritation energy for between 10 and 30 seconds and it has gained momentum. Simulating stress through memory or physical pressure allows us to study the body’s stress pattern. If we are tuned into the body’s pattern we can catch it at the beginning and shift to a more skillful pattern on the spot. I can catch the beginning of the pattern in my body even before I am thinking or feeling irritation.
In Conscious Embodiment we make a distinction between two parts of ourselves; we call them personality and center. Our personality is the part of us that references on managing the stuff of life –things, people and concepts. Our personality is afraid of loss; it is always looking for security. Every person has a particular pattern or way of organizing energy in an attempt to manage a situation to achieve maximum security and minimize any perceived threat.
Our center is the part of us that we experience when we are in the zone or the flow state. Center sees the big picture, it is not afraid of loss and relates naturally to impermanence – it references on interconnection and what is emerging. The centered part of us needs no verification, as it experiences no separation.
The embodiment practice is to copy the body’s energy patterns in those expansive moments and imprint them so they can be reproduced or evoked in stressful situations. Once the imprint is accessible we will need to practice shifting from the constriction of personality to the spacious confidence of center not once but thousands of times. To be clear we are not trying to transform our personality – it is our humanity but we don’t want to spend 80% or more of our time in that part of ourselves. With practice we can become more adept at shifting from personality to center.
Research shows that the practice of centering restores the capacity for the long-term, higher functioning aspects of the brain – big picture thinking, innovation, morality and intuition. Stress mutes these higher functioning capacities and activates the short-term survival aspects of our brain – narrow focus, hyper vigilance and defensiveness. The brain and the body are intrinsically connected. Centering shifts the energy in the body from contraction to expansion. This shift activates our sense of interconnection and wisdom allowing us to move from narrow focus to big picture thinking – from irritation to compassion.
At last, some empirical data –
The way we sit and stand changes our chemistry and therefore it affects the way we think and speak. When we sit and stand in a closed, contracted posture (personality) more cortisol begins to flood the system. In an article called Power Posing from the Association for Psychological Science, researchers found elevated cortisol is associated with negative health consequences like impaired immune functioning, hypertension, and memory loss. When we sit and stand in more open and expansive postures (center) we increase our testosterone. Increased levels of testosterone improve mental and physiological systems to endure difficult and stressful situations, and perhaps to improve confidence. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/21/10/1363
One way to make the shift from personality to center is to start by working with the breath and posture.
- Use your inhale to uplift your posture and lengthen your spine.
- Next breathe your exhale downwards toward the earth softening your chest and settling into the earth.
- You can also put the two together using an image from a French press coffee maker. As the plunger slowly presses down, the drinkable coffee rises up.
- So as we exhale down we have a sense of rising or uplifting.
- Using the fingers, reach out toward the far wall until the arms are straight instead of bent. Continue extending and put your attention on the space behind and to the left and right.
- As you drop your arms keep the sense of expansion as if you were still reaching out. Let gravity soften your shoulders and ask yourself,
- “What would it be like if there was a little more ease in my body?”
- Remember that every atom and cell in your body is primarily space, sense how the openness in your body connects with the openness around you.
- You can imagine that the space is buoyant and supportive. Consider the space as a shock absorber.
- Words, thoughts and feelings can land in the space around you and can be examined with interest and detachment.
(This takes about 15 to 30 seconds)
Once you have a distinct experience of the centered state you can streamline your practice and coach your self into the state with the words:
“posture”, “expand” and “relax”.
(This takes 3 to 5 seconds)