Suchness of the body

Suchness of the Body

Suchness of the body is a Buddhist teaching on embodiment. By its nature, the body is perceived as neither pure nor impure, but simply as “such”;  the way it is – tathata.  Read the full article on Buddhist Yoga here.

Befriending the body

Like streams flowing into a river, suchness of the body is the inner flow of sensations, an emerging inner landscape that presents itself to us when we pay attention. Just as we would meet a dear friend, we meet our body as it is.

To come closer to the suchness of the body, we need to allow the felt sense of the body to presents itself without predicting, expecting or dismissing anything. If there are parts we do not feel, we don’t search for them, we simply know that this is how it is at this moment. 

We don’t search for or expect anything particular. There is no wrong or right way to be in the body, and in that sense we do not judge what we find. Just as we wouldn’t judge a dear friend. 

Entering the wilderness

Photo by Nadiya Ploschenko on Unsplash

Suchness of the body is constantly changing, ever shifting wilderness, like the rainforest or the ocean. In order to control it, we tend to mentally fix our bodies in space and in time and we try to landscape our inner experience from wild forest to Prussian garden. 

You have probably heard people saying things like, “I know by body” or “my hips are like that”, etc. By doing this, we turn our body into a fixed object that our identity, or the self wraps itself around. “I am this, my body is like that.”, we tell ourselves repeatedly. 

The understanding of suchness invites us to approach the body in a more open and accepting manner. By allowing the mind to rest and abide in the body, we shift from the fixed sense of self toward a process of being in the body (embodiment) that is unfolding moment by moment. 

Getting stuck on a particular sensation is another way we get caught in and fixated on a limited sense of the body. This happens often with sensations of pain, especially chronic pain, but also other experiences, such as grief. Mindfulness of the body builds the capacity to stay with the bigger picture, without getting stuck in a particular detail or sensation. Instead, we come back to the totality of the felt sense of the body once we realize we are stuck.

Practice awakening instead of mastering

Beginner’s mind is the mind of a master

Zen saying

Contemporary yoga tends to emphasize physical practice as if ALL the answers are to be found in the material manifestation of life. There is perhaps an unexamined assumption that if we get that part right (science, anatomy, biomechanics) we have answered ALL the questions there are about yoga. 

As advanced level yoga teachers, we have this amazing opportunity to teach people about the suchness of the body. The body is the starting point for this inner practice. Biomechanics and anatomy are important for the physical practice to be safe, sound and fun, but they are not a means in itself.  

We are entering the wilderness, or suchness of the body without trying to master it, or to fully know it.

Mastery and suchness of the body are almost on opposite ends of a spectrum. Where there is mastery, there is very little new learning. We feel very comfortable in that position. We also tend to become more dogmatic about what we know. In mindfulness based yoga, the body is a tool for contemplative practice.

Moving (and living) on an automatic pilot

When we think we know something, we tend to go on automatic pilot, especially when it’s repetitive.

Discomfort triggers momentum, as well. We move through the motions to avoid feeling discomfort (think of the full body scan at airports, for instance). How does going on automatic pilot translate in physical yoga practice?

Yoga as an exercise uses momentum to repeat the same sequences and familiar patterns in the body.  Active practices like vinyasa yoga tend to focus on proprioception, as opposed to interoception.  Moving on autopilot provides us with a sense of mastery: “I’m in control of my body. I know my practice well.” 

Moving purely on a momentum and from the external point of view, we can easily end up in a box that doesn’t fully fit us. Secondly, by transitioning between poses quickly, we lose the opportunity to notice what we’re feeling, including whether something is difficult or even potentially risky in terms of injury. 

Interoceptive tools in Dynamic Mindfulness classes

1. Guide people into moments of stillness between the movements, whether sitting, standing, or laying down. When teaching beginners, propose a simple check in; am I in my body or am I not in my body? Let people know that not knowing the answer is okay. Whenever they notice that they’re not in their body, instruct them to place the attention in the part of the body that is touching the ground or some other surface to come back into the body.

2. Guide people into their ‘belly-brain’ to settle into mindfulness of the body. For instance: “Feel the belly rising and sinking as you breathe. Give yourself time to relax your belly on the inhale.”

3. Connective tissue work. Self massage practices can help to check in with our bodies. We can also introduce massage balls for soft tissue work, as objects without emotional load.

4. Putting hands on our own body and bringing attention to where the hands touch the body can be very helpful. Being aware of the points of contact with the body is an entrance gate into the interoception. Also, this is a great tool to offer to people who do not opt in for receiving hands on assistance in yoga classes.

5. Use the toggling technique: moving back and forth between the old way and a new way of moving and really feeling the difference. This includes being okay with awkwardness; that it is often an important learning moment.

6. Language – Starting from inner to outer. First bringing the awareness to our body (where we should place the awareness), then after some time to the breath and then to the movement as a final step.