To notice is often the first step

The act of noticing can be so simple, yet so profound.

I took a walk today.

I’ve been thinking (for a long time now) about ways to move my body more. Since the pandemic started, I’ve been so much more sedentary… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At first it was necessary. The sheer volume of emotions I was feeling as the state (and then the country) shut down required me to slow down and take time to think, process, feel, release. Then it started to feel beneficial–joyful even. Luxuriating in morning sunbathing and afternoon naps, leisurely sipping tea and letting my mind wander and ponder all manner of things… uninhibited by DOing.

Over time, though, it started to feel stagnant, with the murkiness of stagnant water… my body started to feel clogged, bogged down, weighted, hindered, blocked even? And as much as I counsel friends, family, and clients on the importance of moving the body–not as punishment or to earn nourishment / rest / worthiness, but to simply revel in the wonder of what the human body is capable of–I’d let my post-covid fatigue get in the way of doing it myself.

[This isn’t to say that recovery from debilitating illness doesn’t impact our bodies’ capabilities or that DOing is always the most important thing… my struggle with long covid has truly affected my body’s current baseline and I’m working on making room for that in terms of what I expect from myself… but experience has taught me that sometimes moving my body actually helps improve my energy levels, and I had begun to ignore that truth in order to avoid physical activity on many an occasion.]

So today I went for an impromptu walk in the park. Literally. I was preparing to teach my biweekly meditation class and arrived early–in my sandals–and took a quick trip around the park. Without planning, I had forgotten my headphones, so without podcasts or playlists to distract me, my mind wandered. I noticed a couple of joggers in running shoes and realized I was not in walking-appropriate footwear. Then I noticed the sound of my flip flops flapping against the bottom of each foot… and how my right foot sounded different. It was louder, and slapped my heel with more force than the left.

“That’s funny,” I thought. Over the next few steps I listened closely as I paid attention to how my body felt with each step. I didn’t feel like I was walking unevenly or favoring one foot over the other. But then… why did they sound different?

As I finished the walk, I started experimenting… trying to see if I could get my left steps to sound the same as my right ones. After several steps, I did… and after several more steps I realized how my left foot muscles were engaging differently than before… and how they had started to gently ache. Clearly I was putting more effort into each right step than the left ones, but I didn’t realize it until I took the time to just notice this simple experience of walking along the sidewalk.

Throughout the rest of the day, I’ve been continuing to experiment with movement and how different movements feel in my body. When do I reach with my left hand versus my right? What is my default sitting position in the car, and what does it feel like if I shift my hips, or lean forward or back, or square my shoulders instead of leaning on the center console? What does it feel like to take a deep breath? Or relax my shoulders? Or unclench my jaw?

So many times, I’ve noticed subtle differences to how I carry my body and where I put my weight, how my breath is moving in my torso and if there are more comfortable positions to be found. And many times I’ve had to remind myself to bring compassion to my body, to not judge my habits of movement but instead be curious about how or why they came about, if they are serving me now, and if I want to shift them. It’s an interesting experiment, and one I probably wouldn’t have tried if it weren’t for the lack of distractions in the park this morning.

The act of noticing can be so simple, yet so profound.

As my own embodied mindfulness practice has evolved over the years, one of the key components has always been taking the time to notice. Notice how my body feels, how it feels to move it in certain ways, how it feels when I let it be still, and [maybe most importantly] what it wants to tell me. Sometimes it’s easy to notice, and other times it takes conscious effort. It certainly isn’t a habit I was raised with, but one I’ve focused on developing for many years because it helps. It’s also one of the first practices I help clients develop in our sessions.

Noticing is so often the first step to self care… for how can you care for yourself without knowing what you need?

So now I invite you try noticing something about yourself today… try slowing down enough to notice… try letting yourself be bored enough to pay attention to the things you normally don’t notice. What comes up for you? Is it easy? Or challenging? What happens when you take a deep breath, or unclench your jaw? How does it feel to point and flex your feet, or stretch your arms over your head? Are your shoulders hunched, and if so, can you try to relax them? What do you notice?