Have you ever noticed how awful it feels inside when you experience disappointment? Maybe your stomach clenches tight or it could even feel like you just took a punch in the gut. It’s just not fun. But what about when you receive a delightful surprise, now that can get the joy juice going. Maybe you feel lighter and brighter inside or perhaps you experience a thrill like a tickle in your tummy.
I had the opportunity to play with noticing how different emotions feel in my body in a very focused and new way one weekend, with my grandchildren when they were little.
I remember that morning after breakfast I heard them all cry in unison, “Aw – we wanted to play outside today!”
I glanced out the window and saw dark clouds and a high wind blowing. As I took in their mournful faces, I empathized. “Do you guys really like it when you get to play in the playhouse, ride the horse, and dig dirt with your shovels, and you especially like to do all those things in the warm sunshine?”
Three sets of big sad eyes turned to me as they nodded their heads in agreement.
Spontaneously I twirled around into a pounce and asked, “Well now, who wants to play with grandma?”
Sharing squeals of laughter I felt like the Pied Piper as they chased after me, running around the rooms and down the stairs. “Would you guys like to play a new game?” I asked; as we slowed down to catch our breath.
“Yeah! What is it? What is it?!” they asked with excitement shining in their eyes.
Getting out a game, I invited them, “How about we play Wild Ride to the Heart?”
“It looks like Chutes and Ladders!” Andrew exclaimed, pointing to the board.
“It does look similar, doesn’t it,” I acknowledged, “let’s look and see what we can see…” Together we all traced the board with our fingers, naming the different colors, pictures, and places we’d get to explore as we played. “Mad Mountain, Cranky Pants Court, Love Lake, Scary Circle, Courage Canyon,” the children giggled with wide-eyed delight as I continued, “we’ll get to ride our emotions and notice where they are in our bodies. And we’ll get to practice breathing a warm feeling into our hearts!”
“Can we practice that now?” Hannah asked eagerly.
“Absolutely, we can all practice together.” Lifting my hand to my heart I modeled the process for them, “First place your hand over your heart, focus your attention on your whole heart space, and gently close your eyes. And as you breathe a warm feeling into your heart, notice how it feels in your body.”
Following my example the three children grew very quiet. The softly I heard Carter say, “It feels warm, really warm.” And smiles spread over their faces.
We had so much fun taking turns spinning the spinner, made faces of the different emotions for one another to guess, told stories about times when we had felt the different feelings, and practiced breathing warm feelings into our hearts. At one point in the game Carter got a surprise card asking him, “What makes you sad? Tell the other players.”
“I don’t want to.” He frowned, folded his arms over his chest, and slouched forward.
“Hmm…” I puzzled out loud as I tapped my chin, “I don’t think your face looks cranky, or mad, I wonder if maybe you are feeling shy? Is it that you like the freedom to choose what you tell others about?”
“Yes.” He nodded as he replied.
“Thank you for being willing to tell us how you feel and what you like, Carter. That really helps us all to understand so much better. I’m wondering if it might be helpful for all of us to practice going to our hearts now, and notice what happens when we breathe in a warm feeling.”
Smiling up at me he straightened up, placing his hand on his heart and nodded again. The rest of us followed his lead in silence, until we heard him exclaim, “It’s working! It’s getting really warm again, and I feel happy again!”
“Yay!” we all celebrated with him. “Now let’s rest in the warm happiness inside of us for three more belly breaths, and fill up with Life as the warm happiness spreads all the way through us like a golden mist. Imagine playing in the sunshine and feeling how warm it is, imagine you can smell the earth as you dig in the dirt, imagine feeling the horse beneath you as you ride with grandma, imagine hearing the sounds you all make cooking up play food in the playhouse. Notice now, did the warmth gets warmer as you imagined being connected with experiences you love?”
“Yes! Let’s imagine again!”
Learning to notice what you sense is key to developing a mindfulness practice. Sense perceptions are the realm of interoception (the internal sensations of your body) sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Each sense is a potential pathway to the higher frequencies of needs met, such as pleasure, relaxation, vitality, and strength. Besides being an enjoyable experience, pleasure reduces the sense of stress and initiates the process of recovering from it.
Relaxation in our bodies involves the “rest and digest” wing of the nervous system, which is the natural counterbalance to the “fight or flight” wing. Relaxation dials down stress as it strengthens the immune system, increases resilience, and lowers anxiety. When you take the time to fully receive the gifts of mindful relaxation, you are building up your own inner resources for physical, mental, and spiritual health.