Cliché as it may be, every January I choose a word to represent my intention for that year. More important even than specific goals, the words helps me check-in and see if I am acting in line with what is most important to me on a regular basis, not just "one and done" the way goals can be sometimes.
In 2011 my word was Freedom, in 2012 it was Radiate (light and love), and this year it is Alignment. Why? Because it has a nice yoga ring and physical body aspect to it, but more so because my desire is to listen deeply to my truth, speak it and act on it (thank you Julie for helping me land on a word to capture this).
In short: alignment of thoughts, feelings and action.
I'm one month in, and let me tell you—it is hard as hell. But I needed to choose it so I wouldn't shrink away from myself, as I have been known to do in many areas of my life in the past (see: people-pleasing, auditioning).
Speaking your truth can be excruciating even if you know it is the best thing to do; it can be important and devastating all at the same time. But at the end of the day, it's all we really have if we are to live a full, authentic life.
Enter Stacy Sims & The True Body Project
To be honest, beyond coming to Bali, I didn't know how I would find the strength or resources to pursue this intention. Which is why I was delighted to stumble across a two-day workshop by Stacy Sims (who is pictured with me above) on somatics -- specifically, how the body handles stress and trauma, which we all carry to varying extents. This workshop was very fortuitous since the focus was on how to more fully integrate our bodies with our minds. Or align, if you will.
I learned so many important things (not to mention the fact that Stacy is awesome and inspiring in her own right), but the part that fascinated me most is this (scoot on in and listen close):
If your body is holding stress or trauma—even just sitting in a certain positions that visually mimic those of tension or fear—your emotions and thoughts will create a story to match.
What does this mean, exactly?
If you furrow your brow, try to think happy thoughts (it doesn't work). If you smile, try to think of something negative (it's very difficult). If you curl your body into a tight ball (or even sit hunched over), try to think of something exciting (tricky tricky) -- notice how you start to feel very tense. Conversely, if you widen across your collar bones, sit up straight, lift through the crown and lengthen your spine, see if you don't feel instantly lighter and calmer.
This is not to say that our emotions are invalid and merely puppets for our body movements—not at all—but it is to call our awareness to the very real, direct correlation and relationship our body has to our mind.
As Stacy reminded us during the workshop, more information actually travels from your belly to your brain than the other way around. Think about that next time someone asks you, "What does your gut say?"
This is where the post gets interactive. YES, INTERACTIVE!!!
Okay, I'm shouting. I just really want you to actually try each of these three things. They take 30 seconds each:
1) Face & Forehead — Lightening
The symptom: Most of us unintentionally sit with furrowed brows as we read or work.
The experiment: Take your thumbs, and starting at your third eye (okay in less woo-woo terms that space just above your eyebrows in the middle of your forehead), and with a nice amount of pressure glide your thumbs in opposite directions across your forehead, stopping at your temples and ending in a nice circle on each temple.
The check-in: do you feel anything lighten by doing this? You can also rub your hands together to create warmth, then place the palms over each of your eyeballs. Can you feel yourself actually lighten up?
2) Stomach — Centering
The symptom: A second (very American) habit is to constantly suck in our stomachs almost all day long, especially for women. Hide! That! Gut! What ends up happening is that we shorten our breath, sending it up into our chest and throat, and sending our thoughts spinning right along with it.
Experiment number two: settle into your seat, place one hand on your belly, and as you inhale deeply fill up your belly like a balloon (or a Buddha belly). Let it really go and expand and use it's full capacity for breath. Tighten slightly up and in on the exhale; repeat.
Check-in: after doing this for at least 3 breaths, do you notice a sense of calming or centering?
3) Feet — Grounding
The symptom: what also tends to send us too far into our monkey minds is that many of us literally forget our feet.
The experiment: To feel grounded, it helps tremendously to move (point, flex, rotate) and awaken the feet (even starting just by looking at them), then to plant them firmly on the ground. For any of you who meditate, Stacy even suggests trying meditation in a chair with your feet on the ground. No matter what you are doing or where you are sitting at this moment, either massage your feet if your shoes are off, or plant them firmly on the ground if you are sitting in a chair (with feet hip-width, legs at 90 degrees). Optional: close your eyes.
Check-in: do you feel your thoughts dissipate at all? Can you actually feel a sense of being more grounded?
On a most fundamental level, the point of these three exercises is to help you get sense for your body, and how it relates to your mood and well-being. Stacy believes "if you want to change your thoughts and emotions, you have to understand your own body patterns" as part of the somatic healing process. We need to invite our bodies to the conversation, which many of us often forget to do.
As a very wise man taught me, "Keep your head in the clouds, and your feet on the ground."
These techniques will help you do just that, and it is with deep love and admiration that I am learning to embody that sentiment in my days here in Bali.
More about Stacy: Stacy Sims is a fascinating woman who has been a great teacher and friend in our short time here. An alcoholic for 20 years, Stacy found movement to be an integral part of her healing process, leading her back to her creativity in her 40s, which included publishing a novel (among myriad other creative projects) and founding The True Body Project. To learn much more about somatics and the principles highlighted above, Stacy recommends checking out the books Somatics and Waking the Tiger.
A few gratuitous Bali photos
Several of you asked what Ubud looks like outside of my little hotel room. Good question! Here is a picture of one of the main roads, my daily haunt Kafe, and a daily prayer offering made from flowers and candies placed in a basket made of banana leaves.
Okay one more just for fun since critters seems to be a theme of my Bali experience; here is a crazy mega spider (the size of my hand) that I saw on a tour of a coffee plantation:
This post originally appeared on Life After College. I have imported selected posts from 2013 to catch new readers up to speed. Is that you? If so, a) awesome! And b) check out the new here guided tour. For long-time readers, nothing new in this one!