Sometimes, when I can remember to, I stop what I am doing for just a minute or two and notice what’s happening in my body. Often as not what I find when I do this are areas of tension — especially in my neck, jaw, shoulders — that are uncomfortable, even painful. It’s as though my muscles and fascia have tightened into a kind of protective armor against life’s unpredictability.
We receive a constant stream of information through our senses, most of which is totally out of our control. Without consciously realizing we are doing this, we tighten, shut down, as a way of attempting to arm ourselves against the chaos of life.
There is no need to armor ourselves against experience, yet we so often do this simply because it is a habit. We each have acquired our ways of holding tension in our body. Maybe for you it’s tightening your jaw; for others it might be a tightening in the stomach. Some hold a lot of tension in their shoulders, others, in their hips. A great way to discover where you are habitually tense is to pay attention to your body while you’re driving in rush hour traffic. Wherever in your body you store your tension, and whatever triggers you to react by tightening up, putting on armor, you can learn to recognize and relax.
This is an invitation to stop what you are doing for a minute and to notice what’s going on in your body. Where are you holding tension? Which places are tight? Which feel relaxed? Can you ease the tight places into relaxation?
Often, just bringing these tense areas into the light of awareness can help begin to unwind them.
Relaxing is so important to our ability to connect with what’s happening in the moment. It’s the key, really, and the more relaxed we can be in all the situations of our lives, the better able we will be to give ourselves fully to whatever is happening. And relaxing is great for our health, too. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Practicing relaxation techniques can reduce stress symptoms by slowing your heart rate, lowering blood pressure, slowing your breathing rate, reducing activity of stress hormones, increasing blood flow to major muscles, reducing muscle tension and chronic pain.” (See this previous post for more on the many benefits of relaxation.)
Acceptance of the moment is a form of love. We are able to practice this form of love only to the extent that we are relaxed and open to the moment. This is why it’s so important to take time to notice your body with loving, open attention, letting ease into the tight places, letting go. This way, relaxing, rather than tensing, can become a habit.
So, the next time you are in the midst of a stressful situation, or even just everyday life, take a minute and let your attention lovingly move through your body, reminding all of the places where habit arms you that it’s okay to soften. Doing this regularly, you may begin to find yourself in a more loving, open relationship to your life, connecting with, rather than hiding from, all its beauty and challenges.