I’m a big fan of mindfulness. In theory, at least.
Mindfulness is associated with all sorts of benefits: greater tolerance, focus, and self-acceptance, decreased reactivity, an understanding of negative, self-sabotaging behavior patterns, and the ability to stay present, among others.
It’s kind of a no-brainer. But mindfulness — specifically, mindfulness meditation — is hard.
Contrary to popular belief, meditation isn’t sitting in an extremely uncomfortable position and emptying your mind. It’s noticing your thoughts. It’s sitting with them for a specified amount of time and observing the rabbit holes that decorate your brain space. It’s staying present, even when it’s boring, or uncomfortable, or the last thing you’d ever want to do.
Years ago, I decided I needed to develop a mindfulness practice — partly to reap the benefits, but mostly so I could know what the heck I was talking about during class. I signed up for Headspace on a whim, hoping to form a daily meditation habit, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed the app. It wasn’t seeing the latest “Star Wars” in theaters, or cracking open a new candle, but it quickly became a ritual for me.
If you’ve experimented with mindfulness, you’ll probably be somewhat familiar with the body scan technique. Headspace users will recognize it as one of several components that make up the standard meditation. Most sessions begin with a body scan — an opportunity to “check in” with different parts of the body, with the intent of building somatic awareness.
I hated body scans. They drove me nuts, to the point that I actually brought it up in therapy.
“It’s like I get stuck,” I told my counselor. “I start at the top of my head, but never seem to make it past my shoulders.”
I have a love-hate relationship with my body. My body has been to hell and back, and I’m grateful for its perseverance. But my body is also the source of all my problems. It doesn’t work right. It’s plagued by mysterious aches and pains. It is fitful and stubborn and not at all what I’d consider “beautiful” or “sexy” or “aesthetically appealing.” But it’s mine. I have no choice but to make do with the body I have.
My somatic awareness is dismally low. I know when I’m coming down with a cold. I know what to do when my chest is tight or my allergies flare up. But I don’t really know my body. I haven’t stared at it in a mirror for hours on end. I haven’t taken it to the gym. I can’t move the way I want to, which has hampered my ability to sit with it during a body scan, to learn and to listen.
I could feel my body — the breath in my belly, the pressure on my tailbone, the curious twinging in my right pinkie toe. It was just that once I reached my shoulders, the mental image of my skeleton became a big, fat question mark. It was like throwing a phone into a black hole and expecting a call to go through, or a signal to penetrate all the gravity and decimated matter between Earth and the event horizon.
My therapist’s advice was infuriatingly cavalier: “Can you incorporate the question mark into each scan? You don’t have to fight it. You can just say, ‘I’m not picking up on anything’ and move on.”
She made it sound easy. But it worked.
I lost the habit of meditation for a while, and decided to start fresh after graduation. I considered staying with Headspace, but ended up switching to Shine, a self-care app designed by and for marginalized folks. I wanted something a little more intentional than Headspace, and Shine’s weekday motivational messages and journaling feature acts as a startup ritual. Every afternoon, before I dive into my day, I meditate and check in on my mood, signaling my transition to deep work.
One thing I appreciate about Shine is its approach to body scans. Instead of trying to understand myself, which is fundamentally at odds with my question-mark body, Shine asks me to identify and release areas of tension. It takes me a while, but I can usually penetrate the black hole long enough to go, “Oh, this is where I’m feeling that days-long tension headache.”
The meditations aren’t completely accessible — I’m often asked to rest my hand on my belly, or wrap my arms around myself in a hug. But it’s a start. It’s a step toward somatic awareness, and a way to restore my relationship with my body.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.
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