The Happiness and Joy OF the Body

Interesting concept I am working on this week, how do I know I have a body? Not a visual, but a sensational body. Okay, back away from the word sensational, we’re not talking supermodel body. I am talking about the “feeling” of having a body. The physical sensation of knowing that the energy in which I exist actually does exist within.

Yep, I know you’re thinking I’ve lost it. Gone all-philosophical. Or perhaps even wondering why would someone even wonder about that. While it is true, I do think differently than most people I know. The reality of the concept of having a sensory body is deeply rooted in mindfulness.

My mind interprets the sensations my body experiences and from there determines my state of being. Happy, angry, sad, frightened, or worst of all, apathetic, these states of mind are all sensory driven. They are real body experiences that manifest in the mind.

I know, right; this really simple biology of the physical body translates into something we cannot even fathom, like the universe, it is too big. So I decided to break it down into smaller chunks that I can grapple with.

I teach anatomy and have a pretty good grip on how things work in the body, biologically. I, of course, started thinking about the question, how do I know I have a body? from the anatomical perspective. The visceral organs are innervated by the vagus nerve, one of only twelve cranial nerves. It sends information up to the prefrontal cortex, which then integrates that information with the different parts of the brain. Information also passes through the insula, the part of the brain that is crucial to understanding what it feels like to be human. So really my body tells my brain it exists and is present.

I have a mindfulness practice. I practice yoga, a physical body expression, meditation, the art of clearing the mind and relaxing, and mindfulness, to practice being aware and present. Those combined practices allow me to interact and function in the world on my terms, rather than as a reactive being.

Today I woke up with a profound headache. I recognized the pain….tension. School is about to begin, I have too much on my plate and I don’t really feel like summer even began yet.

I started back tracking in my head to really isolate where the source of tension resides in me. As it turns out, my neck and shoulders, or for you anatomy geeks, the sternocleidomastoids and the trapezius, are where the pain lives in my body, today.

Rather than taking aspirin, my drug of choice for pain, I decided to breathe and focus the breath into those places. That lead me to exploring the idea of how do I know where the pain lives? I again backtracked to direct my awareness to understanding how I came to that conclusion.

I figured out that I treat my body a lot like I do a car. I get in, turn the key, punch the gas, I have a destination and I simply go there without thought or recognition of the journey along the way. Sometimes I will arrive and really have no recall of the experience of driving there.  I do that in my body too. I have a piece to write or a paper to grade or a meal to prepare. I just do those things and never really take the time to focus on the actual sensation of those experiences in my body. As a result, my body gets awfully tired of being ignored and presents me with the pain I need to acknowledge its existence.  Today, that pain happens to be in my neck!

Based on that knowledge I make choices. Do I jump right back into the crazy busy day I know is in front of me? Or do I take the time it takes to take care of my body, first.  I decided to do little of both. My neck still hurts, so I have to take care of that or just resign myself to a lack of quality in everything I do today.

I did a ten minute seated mindfulness practice and wrote this piece. Writing is a part of my daily mindfulness practice. I went for a short walk staying focused on the act of walking, and at some point I will engage in a physical yoga practice.

Staying in tune with my body allows me to experience the physical expression of my emotional self. Awareness of my own responses can help me be more aware of others responses and allow me to be more empathetic and less reactive.

Ultimately my ambition in life is happiness. When I am connected to myself IN the world around me I become part OF the world around me and I move toward that which brings me happiness and joy.

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