(updated Sept. 30, 2022)
Everyone knows it’s important to get some down time.
But if your primary relaxation strategy is Netflix and wine, you may be due for an upgrade. Here are four reasons why kicking back with a bottle to binge watch Stranger Things won’t cut it.
1. Cool your Jets
Scientists use to blame fat for heart disease, but now they’ve turned their attention to inflammation. Inflammation acts like a magnet in your blood vessels, gluing cholesterol to the walls. It may not be the butter that’s killing you but rather your body’s inflammatory response to the stressors in your life. Connecting with your body in a relaxed, focused way is emerging as an essential piece of the puzzle.
Embodiment practices may be a bit like Lipitor, without the side effects. If you want to feel happier, healthier, less inflamed, and more relaxed, regular mindful yoga practices can help. Side effects may include chilling out, sleeping better, eating healthier, and feeling happier.
2. Netflix ≠ Real Nervous System Benefit
The benefits of practicing slow, mindful interoceptively focused embodiment practices like yoga are backed up by an emerging body of research revealing that it can support everything from addiction, to auto-immune conditions, depression, anxiety, insomnia, IBS, and even neurodegeneration and aging. Slow, mindful yoga can help those with chronic conditions counter the stress and tension perpetuated by a world careening through space in hyperdrive. You are going to see so much about embodiment, (aka interoception or visceral resilience) coming out in the literature and media because it is the KEY to addressing what ails us – individually and culturally.
3. Cardiovascular exercise is not enough
Exercise is great and of course there’s tons of evidence, but even if you get regular cardiovascular exercise, you still may feel the need to regularly collapse with your cat and distract yourself with Don and Betty Draper’s appalling communication vacuum. While cardiovascular exercise confers some serious health benefits, it doesn’t necessarily put you in touch with your body and a deeper sense of yourself. Mindful somatic practices do. The yogis knew long ago what scientists are beginning to discover – the key to nervous system resilience is regular training in internally focused practices that help you connect with your body, reduce pain and discomfort, and strengthen your sense of self (and BTW, I’m not suggesting that you never watch tv – but it won’t change your nervous system like yoga does).
Practicing getting into your body and getting in touch with yourself can be scary and overwhelming at first. We are encouraged by just about everything in our culture to press the eject button out of our bodies regularly. We are fed a cultural diet of distraction. Also, disembodiment is a natural survival response when we feel unsafe – and it becomes a pattern when we’ve experienced repeated trauma. It’s good in the short term, but you may pay a price for disembodiment in the long term with chronic illnesses. So, some kind of embodiment training is increasingly being recognized as essential to reclaiming and maintaining good health.
Spending our lives outside of our bodies is great for a consumer culture because disembodiment makes us do all sorts of consumer-ish things – overeating, over-interneting, over-shopping, drinking too much, etc. When you’re not connected to your body, you tend to think and act in ways that ignore your inner wisdom and your core values. When you train yourself to listen deeply to the whispers of your body, you start to connect with yourself in a deeper way. You get clearer about how you feel and more capable of adjusting your body or your mindset when the feelings aren’t great – rather than numbing yourself out with external, fleeting distractions. You also begin to value your body as an ally to consult with rather than a slave to subdue or dominate. And you start to take more conscious actions that align with your values.
Embodiment’s slogans: “No pain, no pain” and “Just don’t do it.”
The best embodiment practices are ones that you can do easily and regularly, that keep you in the present moment and allow you to experience new insights. The best practices are those you feel passionate about, that spark a sense of exploration and novelty, and that tap you into rhythmic body processes like repeated movements and/or the flow of your breath. BTW, these elements (awareness, passion, repetition, and novelty ) to making neuroplastic changes in your nervous system according to neuroscientist Dan Siegel.
Want more embodiment? Check out my free guide, The 5 Secrets All Yoga Teachers Need to Know.