Going within – a simple yet powerful practice for finding presence in cancer recovery

Just another brilliant piece of eloquence from Eckhart Tolle. This quote struck me recently as I’ve been focusing more on mindfulness in my teaching, both in my community yoga classes and in the context of the Mindfulness in Cancer Recovery Program I’m co-facilitating with my friend and colleague Ginny Stasinski.

Several key practices in mindfulness involve using the body or the breath as a point of focused awareness (a doorway if you will), to help us drop into presence, instead of being off in the stratosphere of our swirling thoughts… or as we’ve been calling it, the thought tornado. You know the feeling, right? When you suddenly realize that you’ve been lost in some complicated story or series of worries, thoughts, or judgements that just take on a life of their own and sweep you away from yourself? You really have no idea how long you’ve been off in this daydream (or nightmare as it might be), and how all of this tension came to arise in your body (maybe in your shoulders, your jaw, your low back, or even as knots in your stomach). Sadly many people just exist like this all the time, never even really realizing that it isn’t our natural state of being. Or that it isn’t the healthiest way to walk around.

Those of us with cancer know this thought tornado, or maybe more aptly named – this fear tornado, all too well. It is so common, no matter where you are on the survivor continuum, even if you are many years from your cancer diagnosis. Our minds can fly off into an orbit of fear or other emotions for so many reasons. Sometimes it’s because we develop some new pain or symptom that we fear might be a sign of recurrence. Sometimes someone we know, or even a celebrity, has a recurrence of their cancer or passes away. Sometimes it’s the smell of a hospital environment, an insurance snafu, or any other little experience that reminds us of our cancer or cancer treatment.

But mindfulness can help us stay anchored and balanced, allowing all that mental noise to settle. Once we begin to be able to notice ourselves getting swept away, we can use our mindfulness tools to come back to ourselves, to our peaceful, calm, rational selves, “to that deeper sense of aliveness underneath the fluctuating emotions and underneath the thinking”. And the simple practice of tuning in and feeling the energy of our inner body is a fabulous tool. Whether you like to practice this while sitting in stillness, or you prefer to practice it while in some kind of mindful movement like yoga or walking, it is easy to do and it works wonders. The way Eckhart describes the tuning in, “feel it in your hands, your feet, your abdomen, your chest. Feel the life that you are”, it’s very much like the body scan that we practice in mindfulness (click HERE for a short sample body scan), or in savasana after the active part of a yoga practice. And the simplicity of the practice is part of its magic! Our bodies are always here, so at any time, we can just turn our awareness inward, and focus on that inner energy.

In yoga philosophy, this practice of turning our awareness inward is called pratyahara, and it is one of the 8 limbs of yoga, as described in the original written text by Patanjali. So it is clearly considered an important skill, and is an integral part of the true path of yoga. (If you want to read more about the 8 limbs, I did a series of blogs on all of them between September 2020 and December 2020, which you can find in the blog archive. HERE is the one on pratyahara).

So whether you call it body scan meditation, pratyahara, body awareness, or just going within, this simple practice of shifting our awareness inward can have profound benefits in helping us drop below the fluctuations of our minds, into our true center, where we are present, at ease, free from excessive worry, and most alive.

Keep practicing. Namaste.

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