Beliefs constructed from early experiences and traumas greatly effect our way of life. Most of our beliefs were created before the age of 7 yrs old, before our brains were fully developed. We carry these beliefs like filters; the way we interpret events throughout life depends on what we believe. These beliefs get reinforced like feedback loops and not only is it hard to break out of them, but it’s hard to even recognize how pervasive they are. These patterns can be seen in all aspects of life; in our bodies, emotions, behaviours and relationships.
Becoming aware of the body is a key way to discover what our unconscious beliefs are. They are held in the body, and becoming aware of body posture, sensation and language point towards the beliefs that keep us trapped in unhealthy patterns.
Shifting Habitual ways of being in our bodies can have a powerful impact on our behaviours, mental and emotional patterns. The body both holds the old patterns and is a powerful resource to create new patterns. For example, someone who believes they are unworthy might hold that belief as a collapse in their chest. When they become aware of this body posture it is a cue that the belief is at play. Through mindful awareness of what is happening in the chest and naming the belief that is simultaneous, ways to soften or expand the chest can come about. This will happen on its own through loving, mindful awareness. It is different than just changing the posture.
Dysfunctional patterns are ways our psyches communicate; once they are heard, accepted and seen with curiosity and compassion, new more functional ways of being can develop on their own. It is not enough to impose positive affirmations or posturing. This is known as spiritual bypass. Creating positive beliefs can hide underlying beliefs of insufficiency.
We must first inquire into the underlying beliefs and expose their function. When negative beliefs are seen as coping mechanisms put in place to help us function, rather than truths, we are free to choose more positive or neutral beliefs that better fit reality. We must realize this on a present moment, experiential level, rather than on just a cognitive level. Developing mindful awareness is key to experiencing how old patterns effect us and make space for new ways of being.
Because the body is grounded in the present moment, becoming aware of it creates the possibility for a new experience to occur. For example, if I believe that I need to hide in order to feel safe in the world and this belief goes unexamined, I will look for reasons to hide at any minute sign of danger. This can show up as body tension, avoidance in relationship or undermining ones self in work or creative projects.
When I become aware of the belief and how it is held in my body sensations and posture, I can make a present moment choice; is my environment safe enough that I don’t need to hide? If so, I can reassure myself of this and notice ways that my body feels at ease. By becoming aware of that ease I can have a new experience of the world. I begin to rewire my brain by having a new experience of the world and a new belief system unfolds; I can be who I am and feel safe.
Through mindful awareness, we find the body has an intelligence, a homeostasis that will come about through awareness itself. Like the ancient Chinese observance that energy flows where attention goes, more life force can be cultivated through body awareness.
When we become more mindful, we experience the old pattern and through guidance, a new experience can be received. Through new experience, the brain is rewired. An old pattern is seen through compassionate presence, and can change by itself. Mindfulness is the curiosity and openness to everything that is happening.
You can practice this by noticing your own body posture, breath and sensations in different situations in your life. When you are stressed, how do you hold your body? You can also start to notice this in others. Notice how your body feels when you see someone else’s body postures. Cultivate mindfulness by slowing it down. How do you get to a certain body posture? Slowly notice moment to moment changes, where they come from and how you are perpetuating them.
What are your thoughts, sensations and emotions are you experiencing? What core beliefs do they point to? For example; a collapsed chest may bring about negative thoughts about your self or the world, emotions such as sadness and sensations of shortness of breath and low energy.
Mindfulness allows us to observe from a warm, engaged distance, creating a working relationship to our experience. When we become frustrated, judgemental or overly attached to one point of view, it is a cue to remember to slow things down and get mindful.
The popularity of mindfulness and it’s wide spread research is a testament to its effectiveness and necessity for our stressful and confusing times.
Mindfulness exercise that creates new patterns:
I’ve developed this practice based on my Hakomi psychotherapy training and years of mindfulness based yoga practice.
Bring your attention to where you are right now. Just notice how you’re sitting, bring your attention to your body sensations and breath. Really slow things down and relax into whatever is going on. You might notice your breathing, without trying to change it, just notice. Notice your mind; are there a lot of thoughts? Are there spaces between? Can you slow your thoughts down to notice pictures, images, specific memories?
Now notice your emotional tone. Just breathe it in and name the emotion that is alive in you right now. There are 5 main emotions; anger, sadness, joy, fear and disgust. Often there is a mix of emotion so name what feels most present.
Next, experience that emotion fully; immerse yourself in its nuances; where do feel it in your body, where does it begin and end? Is there anything familiar about it?
Next, can you find the underlying belief? What do you believe about yourself or the world. (Ex: I need to hide to feel safe.) Identify the belief that sums up the emotion.
Once you have this, Can you find a new experience? Recall a time where you have felt the compliment to this negative belief. Maybe with certain people I can show myself and feel safe. What’s that like? To feel safe while being yourself? Recall any small or large experience of this, maybe it’s just being out in nature that gives you this new experience. Notice how it feels in your body, what new sensations do you feel? Notice where it feels concentrated in one part of your body, and let it spread into all parts of your body. Notice your breath as you do this. Really let your breath flow in the way it wants as you take in what it’s like to have these new sensations.
If you feel discomfort or overwhelm, tap into a resource. Perhaps it’s a tree, animal or person that reminds you everything is ok. Imagine that resource with you, letting you know you are safe where you are.
To close this exercise, ask yourself, “What do I need to know or do to remember this new experience?” Perhaps it’s a word, a gesture, a breath, or something you can do daily like, eat slowly with awareness. Perhaps it’s a yoga pose.
Here is the simple breakdown of this exercise:
- Notice what you are feeling in the present moment and what stands out.
- Slow down the experience down by focusing on body sensations, breath, and images or symbols that express the mental activity.
- Name an emotion you feel.
- Experience this emotion fully and find if there’s a belief attached about yourself or about the world.
- Create a new experience by finding the positive compliment to the belief.
- Experience the body sensations and new belief of this new experience and see if there’s an image, word, gesture or yoga pose that will remind you of this new experience.
The more you practice, the more you will be able to listen to the body’s intelligence and gain freedom in your life. It can only take a few minutes, a few times a day to make lasting changes. Consistency is the best remedy.