Body Awareness vs. Overthinking


Awareness Preludes for Ease & Confidence

Do you struggle with overthinking? Perhaps you were bullied, intensely criticized, or made to feel that you are less than, stupid, or ugly at some point in your past. 

You overthink things and feel overwhelming anxiety sometimes when you have to face challenges in your life… but you don’t know how to stop ruminating. So you try to relax, to calm yourself, but it doesn’t work.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the trauma you experienced, mind you. But how can you best take care of yourself now? First, get curious about the overthinking. Forgive yourself for having this natural response to trauma. Second, tune into your body.

Perhaps you think of mind and body as separate.

We talk about the mind-body connection, or mind-body unity, but grammar still separates them with a hyphen. Usually, the mind or brain wins out when folks are looking for solutions, and then you just end up “thinking” even more.

The true unity of our body-mind is almost impossible to express in English.

Yet, there are specific awareness skills rooted in the unity of our human organism that can help you unify all aspects of your life. Relief from overthinking and anxiety is a side effect of these skills that I’m coming to appreciate more.

Overthinking is a very normal response to the traumas of daily life, and trying to stop it directly is very difficult. You need to move your awareness elsewhere, and you need to give yourself specific directions.

Once you learn how to do that, you can literally be a more inclusive leader and friend. You will be able to hold a problem or challenge in your awareness while seeing the bigger picture!

The reason I love the word awareness is that it’s neither purely mental or purely physical.

How do you pay attention, and what do you pay attention to? Most of the time, our awareness includes something of our bodies. But if you think about it, awareness is much bigger than your body and more inclusive of your environment.

The important thing to me is that many of my clients, at first, don’t know that they can be aware of themselves and their bodies while engaging with others. That’s a shame because it’s very easy to learn.

This problem first became a clear to me when I was teaching large group classes at an acting conservatory.

My students seemed to suffer from a very narrow window of attention.

They could move their attention from one thing to another, but their window of attention wouldn’t change shape, expand, or shift in quality. This could be partly because young people are now spending huge quantities of time in front of very small phone screens, which drastically narrows attention and causes people to forget they have body at all.

Whatever the cause, they had a really hard time being present to themselves at the same time as they were aware of someone or something else. That makes acting, which is all about relationship, very difficult!

I’ve since come to see that if I don’t address that fixity of attention, it will color everything my students do. It’s almost like not being able to breath.

This is why I invented awareness preludes. I almost always begin my lessons, classes, workshops, and trainings with these practices.

What is an Awareness Prelude? 

A musical prelude is an introduction, something that prepares you, opens you, to receive what will come next with a more open state of being. It is a statement of the most basic and primary topics or elements to be explored. This famous Bach prelude is a wonderful example.

An Awareness Prelude is like that.

It’s a liminal event between the state you are in, and the one you are about to enter. Nothing is more basic than awareness. Awareness preludes make you available for the flow of life.

Alexander Technique research from the 70’s introduced the term “unified field of attention,” meaning an awareness that included at least something of yourself, and something of your environment.

“It was only after I realized attention can be expanded as well as narrowed that I began to note progress. In order to move on a conscious level in which I could be aware of both doing and not-doing (of the inhibitory as well as excitatory part of the movement), I had to expand my attention so that it took in something of myself and something of the environment.”

Frank Pierce Jones, Freedom to Change
Another researcher from the 70s, Les Fehmi, discovered something he called Open Focus.

According to Fehmi, you can choose to rest in an open focus, not centering any one sensory experience but instead letting all your distinct senses (some say there are up to 50!) be one unified experience. This was the first Awareness Prelude that I learned and continue to share in my own version.

Much of Fehmi’s work explores the spatial aspect of your kinesthetic sense, rather than trying to “feel your body.” This reminded me of many experiences from my professional dance career in which spatial awareness was front and center – so incredible, so present moment, all senses alive and flowing. Space is an essential element of dance, like sound and time is for music.

The Alexander Technique helped me tap into the superpowers of spatial awareness. Of course, you can’t really separate space, time, and sound from each other! There is a unity.

Then, one day, I was experimenting with my own attention and realized that I could fix it, or let it move.

Fluid attention creates a distinctly pleasant sensation in your body. You can flow attention through your body, out into the world and back to yourself. It’s possible to direct the flow, or just watch it do its thing, just like breathing.

You can choose to spotlight pain with your attention, or you can choose to spotlight ease. Whatever you get curious about will be amplified in your central nervous system. The Ease-o-meter prelude was inspired by the work of Mio Morales. Mio is an Alexander Teacher who studied with Frank Pierce Jones. Clearly, there is so much to be explored in terms of how much choice we have about how we pay attention and what we attend to!

Overthinking is also a natural response to trauma in your system that should not be pathologized.

Instead, you can play with how you include it in your awareness, which is so much bigger and more expansive. This is what I’ve been teaching in my recent workshops for young Afghan women who are living in an incredible traumatizing, restricted reality that is killing their hopes and dreams for the future.

These women are the leaders of the future – our future. They are so inspiring in their determination to walk through the fire and claim their place in the world. Please support them if you can, even if it’s just by learning more.

If you’d like to experience a few of my Awareness Preludes, check out the video, or book a 1:1 session.

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