Body – Awareness – Body Awareness

by pre., Friday, October 10th, 2008.

Last loop around we presented a meditation at the beginning of each month before we talked about it for the rest of that month. We did this mostly because we wanted to launch with a meditation available, but in fact we’d really sooner talk about the meditation to prepare you for actually practising it. Thus, this loop around we’ll be launching the meditations on the last Friday of each month, after we’ve talked for a few weeks about it.

The last loop around the spiral we also concentrated on bedtime meditations, to help you learn how to influence your dreams, become more conscious of the mind-building processes which happen during sleep. We wanted something utterly relaxing to help put your mind in that receptive suggestible state. This loop though we’re sure you’re getting better at that and so we’re instead focusing on exercise. Each of the next eight meditations we bring to you will be designed to be listened to during a short low-impact exercise program. Just ten minutes or so each day. Because of this, we’re swapping the order in which we attack the skills in the spiral slightly, dealing with body awareness before we move onto self awareness next month. These excercises aren’t designed to help you lose weight. They’re designed to build awareness of your body and to improve posture, poise and body control.

Body Awareness

You will improve your awareness of your body’s senses. These senses are more numerous and complicated than the simple “touch” which popular culture would hold as one of the ‘five’ senses.

Proprioception or the kinaesthetic sense tells you where your limbs are in relation to the rest of your body. Close your eyes then move your right hand till it’s in front of your face, then open your eyes. Were you accurate? Was your hand indeed in front of your face? How did you know it was there? Because of the proprioception sense. You will increase this kinaesthetic sense by moving slowly, and paying close attention. Practising feeling where your limbs are.

Your sense of balance of course helps you to avoid falling over and to know which way is up. You’ll improve this by holding balance in particular poses.

Your body can also give you information about how tense or slackened your muscles are. Often people can “carry tension” in their shoulders or back, keeping the muscles more tense than they should be. Learning to notice this will make it easier to consciously relax, helping with many posture difficulties. You’ll improve this sense by paying close attention as you relax your muscles during some of our exercises.

You will also improve your Breathing Awareness, by taking attentive notice to your pattern of breathing, controling it as you move and paying attention as you breathe more deeply, more fully, using the appropriate muscles to expand the chest cavity.

Your muscles also have stretch receptors. Many of the exercises in this month’s program are deliberately designed to stretch muscles, and to help you learn to focus on the signals received as you do so. You’ll learn to enjoy stretching within your own limits to ensure you have full flexibility and range of movement. We’ll talk more about this in a couple of weeks.

Before that, next week, we’ll talk about awareness of posture, the reasons good posture is essential, what to look out for in bad posture and how these exercises will help you to improve yours, essentially by having you practice good posture and take note of how that feels.

Please bare in mind that we can barely scrape the surface with these basic exercises, and that to quickly gain a full understanding of your body awareness you should enrol in a course in The Alexander Technique, Tai-Chi, Yoga, Pilates or similar. You should do at least one hour a week for a few months to fully grasp the potential, and will likely want to do more after that.

Also remember that while these excercises can help you stay more fit by improving your posture and range of movement, giving you energy, it will not be enough to keep genuinely fit. You’ll also need to do some aerobic, cardiac exercise. Long brisk walks, cycling, swimming etc. Something to get your heart rate up and exercise the blood systems used to oxygenate the muscles and indeed the whole body.

Body – Awareness – Posture

by pre., Friday, October 17th, 2008.

As you know, when you use muscles they grow. When you fail to use them they begin to waste away. It’s a fairly complicated process but essentially, some small proportion of muscle cells are damaged with use. That damage releases chemical signalling molecules which cause the surrounding tissue to divide, multiply, and differentiate into new muscle cells. So, assuming you have the time and appropriate nutrients around, for every cell you damage you get many more new cells to repair it.

Now of course the way you stand, your posture, effects which muscles are being used. Particularly the inner core muscles which support and separate the vertebra and the leg muscles which carry your entire weight. Standing up straight, holding the head high, having the appropriate pressure on the knees etc. uses these muscles, and so they grow. Slouching, leaning, and other bad posture habits allow these muscles to relax, to remain unused, not doing enough micro-damage for the repairs to maintain their weight, and so they begin to wither. Worse yet, with the muscles withered it’s harder work to stand up straight, and so you’ll tend to slouch and lean even more.

In this way your posture and the shape of your body are intimately related. The more you hunch your shoulders the more your belly will widen to accommodate your bent back. The higher you hold your ribs the stronger and flatter your stomach will be. When people say things like “if I eat the weight all goes on my hips” they rarely realize that the reason the fat is distributed that way is the varying use of each of the different muscle groups in their every day life, moving and sitting and standing and the way they stand.

Strong core muscles also help to hold the internal organs and guts in place. Like all mammals your gut is supported by a big cellular bag attached to the backbone known as the peritoneum. If we stood in the posture of most mammals, on all fours with our guts hanging down from a horizontal back, this would be just fine. However we stand upright, and thus our guts tend to slip downwards, falling to the bottom of the abdominal cavity. This makes us more prone to hernia than most mammals. The core muscles around the stomach squeeze this bag, pushing the guts backwards, up from the abdominal cavity. Strong abdominal muscles hold the guts and internal organs in place, helping to prevent the pear-shaped body.

Good posture then will naturally increase the strength of your muscles, increasing your metabolic rate and thereby reducing body-fat, toning muscles and shaping your body.

What is good posture?

The key to good posture is to ensure that the back is supported by moderately engaged stomach and back muscles, that your weight distribution is even over the body, and all joints are carried in their ‘neutral’ zone. The first of our excercises simply has you stand up straight, growing as tall as you can. You’ll sense your stomach, gluteal (bottom) and back muscles to properly support the back. You’ll ensure that your feet are flat on the floor, supporting all your weight equally. Ideally an imaginary “plumb line” down the centre of your side-profile would pass just in front of your knee joint, up directly through the thigh-bone, behind the hip-joint (which should be straight and level), straight on through the lower spine and the centre of the chest cavity and into the neck and ear-lobe. There are plenty of images on the web to help you picture this if you search for them.

As mentioned, the first of our excercises simply has you stand in this position and pay particular attention to how that posture feels, letting yourself breathe deeply and opening up your filters to grow more suggestible and let your brain learn. As you learn to know what good posture feels like, you’ll be able to translate that good posture practice into other non-standing positions. You’ll develop a sense, a body-awareness, of the best way to stand to support your back and ensure good balance.

Common Types Of Bad Posture

The Swayback slouch tends to pull the head forward, pushing the neck backwards and curving the spine. This posture uses less muscle-power than standing up straight, and this is of course precisely why it’s bad: You need to use the muscle power so that your muscles continue to be used enough not to waste away. Further, the slouched posture compresses the rib-cage, making proper breathing more difficult and so stealing vigour and vim.

Likewise even a minor Kyphosis, curving the spine rather than pushing it up tall, causes the muscles which support the rib-cage to grow tight and shorten and the shoulders to pull inwards and up towards the ears. This in turns makes standing up straighter more difficult, less likely, warping your entire body shape over time.

Even just too much sitting can tend to shorten your hamstrings thanks to constantly bent knees. This pulls the pelvis backwards and causes tension in the lower back and weakened abdominal muscles. Some of our excercises stretch out those hamstrings to try and compensate for too much inactive sitting.

Posture, then, has repercussions all over the body. Slouching one way can make the muscles on that side shorter, causing yet more slouching on that side. Many older people are bent out of shape not by gravity, but by a lifetime of leaning. Good posture will improve your muscle tone, body shape, and keep you fit and healthy for longer.

Body – Awareness – Range Of Movement

by pre., Friday, October 24th, 2008.

As we’ve noted, a muscle which is used grows and a muscle which isn’t used begins to waste away. This is not the whole story however, for a muscle reacts not only to the amount it’s used but to the range of it’s movement.

A common example of this in modern life involves the hamstring muscles, a group of muscles which run from the back of the knee, up the back of the leg and joins with the hips. When the knee is straight the hamstring muscles are stretched. To use the knee you contract these hamstring muscles which pull on the knee joint and so bend the knee.

With a modern sedentary life, people tend to sit down much more than we did when we evolved striding around on the seat-free pains of Africa, meaning that the knee is bent to about 90 degrees for hours at a time. The hamstring muscles get used to being contracted, and begin to lose some of their full length. The muscles end up short and tightened so that when you do stand up, the muscle pulls down on the hip-bones tilting them back and making the spine curve back which is nice for well paid osteopaths and hunchback fans but not so much for those who aren’t keen on back pain.


As people get older, they tend to become less and less flexible. They aren’t able to bend the joints as far as they used to, to straighten them as much as they used to, to have to full range of movement that they had when younger. It feels as though this is a function of the joints themselves, that the joints are more creaky, perhaps ceasing up and in need of oil. In fact, while this is true of arthritis, the reason for this lack of range of movement is more often connected to the muscles which pull that joint. Because they’re rarely extended to the full capacity, they become tight and short like the hamstring we just described, being unable then to stretch far enough for the joint to have it’s full range of movement.

The mechanism under which your muscles learn to constrain their movement is still debated. Some think that the muscles themselves, being constantly regenerated by the damage-repair process mentioned last week, build new fibres to fit the shape that they’re used for. I.E. that the length of the muscles themselves physically changes. On the other hand some think that the stretch reflex is tuned. The Stretch reflex is a short neuron loop built practically into the muscle. When the nerve is stretched it sends a signal to the muscle to contract, thus constraining the muscle by a simple feedback mechanism. Normal learning precesses and conditioning can effect these neurons, so that a muscle which is rarely stretched has a more active stretch-reflex. Rather than the muscle physically shrinking in length, the stretch-reflex becomes over-active restricting the muscle’s full movement. Probably both of these effects and more are actually involved to some extent.

Either way the old maxim still applies: use it or lose it. If you want the full range of flexibility and motion available to your body then you must use the full range of motion and flexibility available to you, indeed, you must be constantly pushing the limits, increasing that flexibility and motion.


The good news is that muscle memory is quite short-term, and if you get into the habit of extending your range of movement by deliberately extending your muscles to the full extent you can gradually rebuild the full range of moment your body allows. You’ll even learn to enjoy this process, to take pleasure from stretching your muscles within their tolerances. To enjoy pushing the boundaries and keeping your muscles capable of their full abilities. You’ll learn to love building new muscle tissue, making your muscles larger and more flexible, with an extended range.

The excercises we’ll introduce next week mostly involve stretching some muscles, attempting to ensure you keep your full range of movement, building the kinaesthetic senses and at the same time conditioning the stretch reflex to allow muscles to reach further, and to build strength and flexibility.

To use our example of the ham string muscles, if they begin to tighten and shrink thanks to being sat down for too long, conscious and deliberate stretching of the ham-string muscles can reverse these effects. A ham-string stretch will indeed be introduced next week.


Micro-damage to the muscle fibers is a natural part of movement, the mechanism under which muscle change occurs. However too much muscle damage causes scarring, creating new scar tissue rather than muscle tissue. Scar tissue can’t stretch and contract like muscle tissue can and weakens the muscle. Furthermore, stretch damage to the tendons is not a natural part of movement and the repair mechanisms for tendon damage in fact reduce their length, possibly permanently. Stretching is good, over-stretching is very bad. If it starts to actually hurt, stop. The feeling of a stretching muscle is quite pleasant when you get used to it. But if you experience actual pain, that’s not a result of useful micro-damage but muscle ripping and scarring, over-strained tendons. If you damage a tendon you will regret it and won’t gain extra range of movement or muscle growth.

Body – Awareness – The Exercises

by pre., Friday, October 31st, 2008.

Our guided meditation this week introduces ten different light exercises. The track consists essentially of instructions on how to perform the exercise, which muscles to tense and relax and what patterns of movement to use, even how to synch your breathing with the movements. There’s also a smattering of reminders to pay attention to the way it feels to perform these movements, the signals from your body as you do so, and some suggestions that your kinaesthetic senses, posture, poise, balance and breathing are improving. You may wish to do the excercises in front of a mirror to help you check you’re performing the actions accurately and learn to improve your kinaesthetic senses through visual feedback, being able to see as well as feel while you pay attention to the way your body feels.

When we introduce the next seven meditations in this series, you’ll be expected to be performing essentially the same routine you will learn here, but we’ll barely mention the names of the exercises in those future mediations. You’ll use this meditation to learn to listen to your body, respond to it, and move as it demands while you follow those future meditations while performing essentially the same movements.

Of course, if you have any health issues you should consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program


Our new guided meditations are designed to help you to learn how to move, literally which muscle movement patterns are best able to support your weight, encourage full movement ability and keep the lungs inflated

Your posture effects the way you breathe, and the way your breathe effects how much oxygen your brain has, and effects posture in feedback. Your muscles learn patterns of movement which include a coordination of your whole body, including your breathing. Reflecting this importance of breathing control in this and coming meditations, each will have a breath track. You should try and keep your breathing synchronised with the backing music and the breath track will help you to keep track of this. It will drift in and out of audibility, but whenever you notice it you should try and ensure your breathing is in sync with the breath track. Breathe in when the breath track sucks, breathe out when it blows.

The Exercises

1 – Neutral Standing Posture

Stand with your feet a fist-width apart, rising up and elongating the spine, keep your shoulder blades relaxed, resting down into your back. Your neck should be straight and your face looking horizontally out in front of you. Imagine the plumb-line down the side of your profile described in the posture section. Keep your core stomach muscles pulled in and up to support the spine, pulling your tummy backwards and breathing deeply from the chest. Pay attention to how your body feels, constantly wiling your shoulders to rest down deeper into the back.

This exercise is designed to help you learn what good posture feels like, to know the natural position to which you should always return, to discourage slouching and improve balance.

As you get more advanced, you can add a neck-stretch, tilting your head sideways and stretching the neck muscles. Even rotate the neck around, letting your head drop forward and stretching all the muscles around the neck which support your head.

2 – Roll-down

Breathe in and ensure your stomach muscles are supporting your back then as you breathe out bend the knees very slightly and allow the head to fall forwards. When the muscles in the back of your neck are fully stretched, curve the spine slowly, one vertebra at a time, until you’ve bent down as far as you can. The whole time your shoulders and neck should be relaxed, allowing your head and arms to fall under gravity until you are (once you’re limber enough at least) touching your toes. When you reach the bottom, take a few deep breaths, maybe allowing your arms to freely swing like pendulums, then once again ensure your stomach muscles are zipped up before reversing the actions and slowly raising back to standing tall in the neutral position as you breathe out.

The Roll-down is designed to relax the muscles in your shoulders, arms, neck and spine, allowing gravity to stretch them out, while also stretching the muscles of the back. It should increase your control and kinaesthetic senses. As you pull back up you strengthen core stomach muscles and learn to return to a good posture.

3 – Arm rises

As you breathe deeply in, move slowly to standing on tip-toes, while also raising your arms around your peripheral vision (hands always just in sight) till they meet above your head. Avoid pulling the shoulders up towards your ears, keeping them relaxed and lowered. As you breathe back out, reverse the actions so you end up back in the neutral posture.

Arm Rises should help your body learn the neutral position and use the full range of motion of muscles in the back of the legs as you stand slowly to tip-toe and back. It should also train your shoulder muscles to remain relaxed while you move your arms.

4 – Side Reaches

Start in the neutral standing position then engage your abs, pulling in the stomach and allowing the knees to bend very slightly. As you breathe out slowly let one arm raise outwards and up over your head. Then bend from the waist to allow your body to form a “C” shape and stretch the muscles at the side of your body. Keep stretching and elongating those muscles as you take a couple of deep breaths before reversing the actions to return to the neutral position. Then do the other side and repeat, being sure to do each side an equal number of times.

This exercise stretches the core muscles which support the back, and your neck and shoulder muscles. As usual, the more slowly you can breathe and perform the action and the more attention you pay to your body the more you’ll improve your kinaesthetic senses and balance.

5 – Standing on one leg

Stand in the neutral position, and bend one knee so that your foot moves up behind you. Hold that foot with the hand on the same side as the body and, keeping the stomach tight to support the backbone and the neck muscles relaxed, pull the foot towards the bottom. Ensure your hips are not tilted and remain horizontal. Hold the position, paying attention to your balance, for a few deep breaths then switch sides and repeat. Remember to always treat each side equally.

This exercise stretches the Quadriceps and Hip Flexor muscles in the leg and some of the muscles in the arms while training your kinaesthetic senses and especially your balance.

As you get more advanced you may try to really test your balance by closing your eyes. Careful though, don’t fall over!

6 – Curl Ups

Now lie down either on the floor or a very firm bed. Take your head in your hands and move your feet towards your bottom so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees at right angles. The curl-up is like a sit-up, but rather than repeating lots of them you slowly pull up as far as you can while you breathe out, holding you stomach muscles tight to support your back, and hold the position for a full deep breath in, out and back in again before lowering again as you breathe out one more. Relax while you breath back in, ensuring the stomach muscles remain tight and zipped up, before repeating. Try to keep your neck muscles relaxed the whole time.

The curl up should strengthen the core stomach muscles which support the back and hold the guts in. It will help you to learn the patterns of movement which should be involved to ensure the back is fully supported while you are moving, standing or even just sitting. The more slowly you can pull up into the curve, and the more curled up you can be (so long as you’re still holding in the stomach), the faster you’ll improve your kinaesthetic senses and your muscle strength.

7 – Spine Curls

Move your feet backwards towards your bum so that the feet are flat on the floor and the knees bent roughly to right angles with the feet a fist width apart. Engage the stomach muscles to support the back then as you breathe out, tilt your hip-bones up so your tail-bone lifts off the floor, then slowly raise the hips, gradually peeling and curling the backbone off the floor one vertebra at a time, until you form a straight line from the knees, down the hips to the stomach and chest. Breathe in while holding that position before slowlyreversing the actions as you breathe back out again. Repeat. After many listenings, when you’ve got used to these movements, you may sometimes try bringing the heals together, pointing the toes outwards, opening the knees and doing the same to use the turn out muscles in your legs and bottom.

This exercise should increase your awareness of your spine, creating space between the vertebra, making you taller and letting the spinal fluids flow more easily. It should also help you learn to control the stabilizing muscles which support the lumber spine, keeping you aware of how to maintain that support as you move. It also works and strengthens the legs.

8 – Hip Flexor & Hamstring Stretches

Lie flat on your back, tensing the core muscles so that ideally there’s a small gap between the small of your back and the floor, stretching your legs out in front of you. Pull on one knee, hugging it into your chest for a few deep breaths. Then straighten that leg, pointing the heel as close to the roof as you can, holding the back of the thigh for a few deep breaths. Finally, point the toes and rotate the ankle for a breath or two before lowering the leg and repeating with the leg the other side.

These excercises stretch the hamstrings and other leg muscles, improve the range of motion available to the legs and should help you to learn better control over your lower limbs. They are particularly useful for people who sit much of the day.

9 – The Cat

Roll over and onto all fours, adopting the four point kneeling position. Hands pointing forward directly under the shoulders, elbows slightly bent, certainly not locked. Knees at right-angles and a fist width apart, right underneath your hip sockets. Keep your back as straight as possible, like a table-top. Neck stretched long, looking at a spot a little way in front of your hands, making an equilateral triangle between the spot you’re looking at and the two hands. Hold this pose for a while, breathing deeply with your stomach muscles engaged, scooping your belly up towards the spine to support the back. After a while, as you breathe in, arch the back like a cat, letting the neck drop down and the hips tilt forward, stretching the middle of the back up towards the ceiling. As you breathe back in, reverse the curves, slowly and gently, looking up so the tail goes up and the waist goes down, lengthening and mobilising the spine, still pulling the stomach muscles tight to support it as it bends. Continue to swap these positions gradually as you breathe deeply.

The cat is designed to help you understand how your kinaesthetic senses are effected by different orientation, help you find that neutral straight-back position and so learn how to spread the load evenly around your body even in strange positions. Also to stretch and relax the muscles in your back and neck.

As you get more advanced you can, after arching your back each way for a while, return your back to a horizontal position, flat as a table-top, then begin to move one leg and the opposing (diagonally opposite) arm outwards, straightening and lengthening them stretching and holding them in position to improve your awareness of those joints before returning to neutral with the table-top back and trying the other arm/leg.

10 – Chalk Circles

Roll over onto your side, putting your arms straight out in front of you, one on top of the other with back flat. Your legs should be in the sitting position, forming a right angle with your knees and hips. Breathe deeply in to prepare and engage your core stomach muscles to help keep your back straight. As you breathe out slide the top hand forward until you feel your muscles stretch between the shoulder blades, then as you breathe in draw a circle up and around your head with that hand. Keep it on the floor as it moves up and over your head, your arm fully extended the whole time. Twist your spine to allow the hand to continue to circle until it’s gone 180 degrees and is stretched out forming a straight line with the other arm. There, stop and relax as you breathe out. As you next breathe in, continue the circle around until your arm points down towards your feet. Relax and reach downwards, stretching the muscles in your arm and neck as you breathe out. Finally finish the circle to join the hands as you breathe back in. Repeat, then roll over and do it twice on the other side. Be sure to do an equal number of circles on each side of the body.

This exercise opens up the armpits and chest, stretches the muscles in the neck and keeps the range of movement of the arm hanging from the shoulder as wide as possible.

Finish off

When the mediation is over, get slowly and carefully to your feet, shake the muscles to relax them and then spend a few seconds standing tall with the stomach muscles engaged, concentrating on your balance and the way your body feels. Then continue your day, trying to keep the core muscles strong and keeping tension out of your shoulders and neck. Allowing your posture to naturally readjust as you do the excercises more and more.

This is only a glimpse

As we mentioned at the beginning of our words about this track, we can only give you a small glimpse of the range of excercises which can keep your body limber, active and improve your balance and kinaesthetic senses. We really recommend at least a few weeks of a full Pilates, Tai-Chi, Alexander Technique or Yoga classes. Ideally try them all!

Guided Meditation File 9 – Body – Body Awareness
Backing Music “Touch Me” By Professior Kliq
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