This is Dawn Strom and in this month’s blog, I am exploring the connections between meditation and the somatic movement techniques I teach in my Somatic Movement Therapy work.
Meditation is a tool that has long been used to quiet the mind and connect to the spirit. It is a practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference, such as focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. The goal is to focus on the present moment and to use this presence to cultivate peace of mind and well being.
In recent years, the practice of meditation has been applied to research in health and wellness, specifically for treating depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. In connection with the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, John Kabat -Zinn created a mindfulness-based stress reduction program that has been used as a protocol in much of the research that is done on meditation.
Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. She used the MBSR Program in her study, and what she found surprised her — that meditation can literally change your brain
Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain via Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain and creates the effects of empathy, emotional regulation and a decrease in stress.
I have been utilizing meditation techniques in my movement private practice for years as a way to approach the mind body connection. I had the opportunity to take a course in graduate school on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program of Dr. Kabat -Zinn and was struck by the similarities between the visualization exercises that were used to help ground me in my body and the somatic visualizations that I used with clients in my movement therapy and Gyrotonic Training practice on a regular basis.
The two practices that I saw as similar were the body scan technique to connect to sensing and feeling your body and the awareness of the breathing. They are both used in my Movement Therapy and Gyrotonic Practice as a way to get out of your head and drop into your body, to develop a practice of sensing and feeling your body and regulating your breathing to balance your body.
The first technique is doing a simple body scan.
To get started, get into in a comfortable position, either seated on a stool or lying on the floor on your back with your knees bent. You want to be comfortable, so choose whatever feels best for you. Go ahead and get into your chosen position and close your eyes. Bring your perception inwards and just take a couple of deep breaths. Next, I want you to bring your perception down into your body and think about bringing your inner eye all the way down to your feet. You’re going to do a little internal tracing of how your body feels starting from your feet and coming all the way up your spine, up to your head and down through your arms.
Start with your feet. Feel your feet on the floor and notice what they feel like. Notice how you’re holding your feet to the floor, how you’re touching the floor with your feet and if you have even weight in both feet. And then go ahead and trace your legs with your inner eye, noticing how your legs are balanced from side to side. Then come up into your hips and your pelvis and then all the way up your spine and all the way up through the top of your head. Notice how your spine is aligning, whether you feel like you are sitting upright or you’re a little collapsed. Just notice how your body is aligning and then bring your awareness all the way down and out through your arms. Notice how your arms are hanging at your body and how they feel side to side.
The second technique is the simple awareness of your breathing. It starts the same way. Find a good place to sit comfortably in an upright position or lay on your back. This time bring your awareness to the feeling of your breath, and how you’re breathing. Notice how your lungs are expanding and contracting, and notice where you feel your breathing.
That is the second element of a simple somatic awareness practice. Developing your somatic practice also provides a foundation to go deeper into using mediation to work with your thoughts and emotions. We will talk about that in another video.