I’ve been practicing meditation as long as I’ve been teaching yoga – ten years this year. On paper, my two passions appear very closely linked yet I’ve mostly felt that they were separate.
The type of meditation I practice is from the Buddhist tradition known as Vipassana or Insight meditation. As my love for Buddhist teachings as a whole expanded, they naturally made their way into my yoga classes and teaching. Making room for more Buddhist and meditation themes in my classes, left me using just enough cues to get students into poses safely and bumping anatomical teachings.
This happened quite gradually and while I still felt very confident when I was asked a question about the movements of the mind, I was very unsure when a student asked me a question about an injury or condition. I would glaze over the questions replying vaguely with things like “Oh, that sounds like your shoulder muscles,” and then quickly refer them to a body worker or more anatomically fluent yoga teacher.
It seemed fine to do this for a while, yet I felt powerless the more I did it. In my eighth year of teaching, I decided to embark on the Integrated Yoga Tune Up® Teachers path, and from the get go, I’ve gained a proficiency in understanding the body that has empowered me to no longer be vague and uncomfortable when approached with a question.
Want to know the most amazing thing about this newfound proficiency? The Buddhist teachings of meditation are so intertwined with the anatomy of the body, they’re really not separate at all! As a result, my understanding of both has profoundly deepened and my teachings have become more complete.
One of the most obvious ways the two practices overlap is with the teaching of mindfulness of the body. This refers to being aware of the body from the inside out (e.g. how does this or I feel?), as opposed to from the outside in (e.g. does this dress make my hips look big?). The doorways with which our body relates to the external world is through the five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste). In Buddhist meditation, there is a sixth sense with which we relate to the world – the mind.
Science is beginning to define this sixth sense as interoception – a sensitivity to stimuli originating inside of the body (Lab of Action & Body, Royal Holloway, University of London). The Buddha taught that this awareness should be cultivated in the four classical meditation postures – sitting, walking, standing, and lying down. To make this possible we’d need to be aware of our body during transitions and while in movement and when we add movement to interoception, it is known as proprioception.
Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. To put it in layman’s terms, proprioception is a body-sense and allows you to more easily multi-task or and be coordinated. Having body-sense or being able to propriocept allows us to walk without needing to tell our body how to take each step, drive while being able to change the radio, or better yet, drive while being able to break up a fight in the back seat between kids.
If you’re reading this and are worried about your lack of body-sense given how well (or not so well) you followed along in your last step class, the good news is that this is a skill that can be cultivated. Come back on Friday to learn how you can improve your proprioception!