Warming-In

We all share some concern for the state of the world today. Whether you’re moved by issues of health, politics, war, gender identity, queer rights, environmental stability, our world has a way to make you worry. The relentless pace of change and challenge over recent years has left no life untouched. And now, as masks are removed and doors are flung open, in the midst of global violence, we are left wondering, “What do we do now?”

My perennial message here at Anatomy on Purpose is to come back to the body. When I write this, I get a funny feeling in my tummy like I might be misunderstood. By ‘come back to the body,’ I’m not suggesting you do anything particularly advanced, spiritual or time consuming, though people often think that being in their body means that.

The truth of the matter is that you’ve never not been in your body. At least, not since you came out of the person that birthed you. You’re stuck in there. In your one body. Every minute of every day for as long as you’re you. But one of the trickiest issues in the world that we live in, is the tendency to promote, prolong and improve our capacity to forget we have a body. Most jobs train us for this, including being a parent.

We practice forgetting ourselves and the one body that we live in. People tell me, “I love the yawning breath that you’re teaching, but I just don’t have time.” I don’t have time to breath. How is it that we have normalized this?

Before we take on global warming, or global pandemics, or global violence or global suppression, we have to come back to ourselves. And even though we’ve been trained to forget it, ourselves live in a human body that moves and breaths. I have worked with some top tier performers in the world of business, health, and athletics. People who put in 16-hour days at their job, stare at screens to solve problems effecting thousands or millions of people or push their bodies to the absolute peak of other physical performances.

What I notice most about people who do hard things, is they often forget their bodies. This fascinates me because the hard things that they do are all done by a body. We can’t do hard things without one. This brings me to the notion of performance. Many people don’t see themselves as performers because performers have talent or make art. I think this is incorrect.

We are continually performing. All of us. We perform the role of working person, parenting person, student, athlete, dog-walker, politician, dentist, grandmother. We perform our identities, and we perform our tasks. We perform them in and through our bodies, and it is exhausting. When I ask people to reflect on all the ways that they perform, they come up with multiple stages, hats, masks, and tasks in which it feels like their striving to achieve.

What would a peak performance of yourself look like?

First off, peak performances happen for people who are IN their bodies, not for people who’ve forgotten them. I’ve never heard an Olympic athlete, or a famous musician say, “I give my best performances when I’m too stressed, strung out and overwhelmed to even breath.” No way. But that is the state of most of us out there performing every day.

Coming back to the body, means making a commitment to interrupt this habit we’ve all gotten into. The habit of starting the day off forgetting your body and everything you want it to do for you, or everyone else for the rest of the day. You want it to perform from a rather starved state. Learning to breath, or “Warm-In” to your body each day isn’t spiritual. It’s not advanced. And it’s not time consuming. You’re in that body anyways.

I call it “Warming-In” to your body instead of warming up because the goal of the practice is to get a felt sense of yourself in your body, not warm it up to go do something else. A warm-in is an expression and expansion of your current understanding of how you are and what you need. Practicing a warm-in every day is a simple commitment to knowing these things. How am I? What do I need? Without a felt sense of your own body, you can’t really know the answer to these things.

Do you ever find it hard to catch your breath? Or like your body is trying to yawn but it can’t? This accumulated tension from our “on-the-go” lifestyles keep us at a distance from the systems in our body that make us clear, calm and efficient.

To combat this, I start by re-teaching people how to yawn. If you can’t catch your yawn, you aren’t ever getting a full breath. The way I teach this is to start with dropped-belly breathing (check out the post about yawning), then move into making contact with the soft tissues in the soles of your feet. I use a soft foam ball for this, not a rock-hard torture device, because the idea is not to attack my body, it’s to communicate with it. The soles of the feet are the bottom end of the connective tissue that runs the length of the body, and the furthest away from that head, where we seem to spend all our time. For most people, outside of these brief warm-in habits, the rest of the day is spent attacking problems, pushing limits, and toughing it out. But our peak performances don’t come in this state.

We are sensorimotor beings. Sensory first. Motor second. What this means is that we feel and then respond. By learning how to feel into our own bodies more specifically, we can respond in more appropriate ways. This skill set is learned first in our own bodies. How to feel first, not push too hard and not over-work to get a result. Peak performances usually feel easy, because the person performing has learned how to stay in a feel-and-respond state with ease, even when doing hard things. They don’t lose track of their body.

Anatomy on Purpose isn’t about teaching one particular way to warm-in. Or one specific way to breath. Or giving you a program the prescribes a solution to the way you feel in your life. If I did that, it might change the way you breath, or how strong your glutes are, or something specific like that. But it wouldn’t help with performance. It wouldn’t help with the way we show up in our lives each day, to do the tasks or wear the masks that life requires of us. It wouldn’t help us come back to the body, in a way that shows up for the world. And all the work we have to do.

I’ll keep writing about all the ideas, and I hope that you’ll keep reading. But more than reading I hope that you’ll engage your body. Roll a soft ball on the soles of your feet. Relax your low belly before you breath in. Join in a workshop or come on retreat so we can practice these ideas together. And you can meet other people learning the same things for themselves. Check out @anatomyonpurpose for short video clips that talk more about ways to come back to your body.

To occupy your own body is a radical act.
It’s literally taking a stand.
For the one body you’ve got.
And everything we need it to do.

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