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[Yesterday in my post about restorative walking, I mentioned ‘emptying the shoulders’ in passing.  A reader picked up on the phrase and commented on it, which prompted me to write more about it today.]

Notice how your shoulders feel right now.

If you’re really lucky, they may feel like you haven’t got a care in the world.  But for most of us, there will be tension.

Exactly what that tension feels like, will be different for each person, different even day to day.  The imagery that goes with emptying your shoulders of tension will be different too.

For some people the experience of tension in the shoulders might feel like a hot fullness.  For others it might be a feeling of heaviness.  For someone else, the shoulders might feel frozen.  Another might experience it as a tight pain.

My reader from yesterday had a lovely image of letting the tension drain out like a hot liquid.

For someone who experiences it as heaviness, it might feel good to visualize removing a heavy backpack.

For someone whose shoulders feel really frozen and tight, emptying the shoulders might feel like letting them melt and become fluid.

If you start by feeling how it is in your shoulders right now, then you can invite the right way of emptying them to come to you.  Don’t think it out.  Just let your curiosity play a little: ‘I wonder how…’.  Leave a little open space for the question while you stay with the feeling as it is.

I’m paying attention to my own shoulders right now.  The feeling is a little prickly.  I see an image of a burr.

I wait for a moment with that image and the sensation that goes with it…

I see myself picking burrs out of a sweater.  A grey sweater.  (The imagery can be vey specific and the little details can be oddly powerful.  Something about it being a sweater, and grey, is right for this moment so I take it in just like that.)

The image comes of someone sitting behind me, picking burrs out of the grey sweater across my shoulders.  Lots of little burrs.  It feels great!

I’m stretchng, and yawning.


restorative walking 101

by kye on October 25, 2009

This past week, I was dealing with a difficult, time-consuming situation.  By the time I could step back a little I was drained of energy.  My body was tense and tight.  I needed a restorative walk.

I just got back from that walk feeling balanced, relaxed, and at peace.  I’d like to share with you part of what I did that made it so effective.

First, I took my walk in the morning.

A tough week takes its toll on body rhythms.  Fortunately, these rhythms are easy to re-set if you know how.  Our bodies are programmed to respond to morning light to keep our rhythms in sync with the natural world.  This re-rhythming is augmented by the rhythmic movement of walking.

I began my walk this morning by paying attention to my breathing and posture.  For the first five or ten minutes I breathed in for four steps, then out for eight steps.  I loosened my shoulders, and let them circle back and drop into their natural, relaxed back-and-down position.

These breathing and posture changes ‘re-set’ my autonomic nervous system, helping the sympathetic system let down and supporting the calm quiet of the parasympathetic system.  I felt myself settling back into the feeling of being in ordinary time with a regular routine.

Next I began to rest in sensory experience.  I focused first on just that most basic of senses, the sense of touch.  I gave all my attention to the sensation of each foot connecting with the earth just-so.  Then I noticed other physical sensations of walking, like the feeling of my hips in motion.  I felt the breeze, and the temperature of the air.

Once I was grounded in my own movement, I added other senses. I started with smell, which is nearly as primal as touch.  This led naturally to the sense of sight, as the scent of late-season flowers invited me to find where they were blooming.

When I turned for home, I deepened my relaxation a little further.  I softened the muscles around my eyes, especially at my temples.  And I let my shoulders and arms go very loose and light, playing ‘empty coat sleeves’.  I let them swing freely, however they were moved by the movement of walking.

As I reached home, I noticed how easy it was to climb the stairs.  Time it took? —about 20 minutes.

My simple recipe, summarized:

  • walk in the morning light
  • use breathing and posture to ‘talk’ to the autonomic nervous system
  • move deep into sensory exploration
  • soften the eyes
  • empty the shoulders

If you try my recipe, don’t feel like you need to add all the ingredients at first.  Just pick two or three that sound especially good to start with.  Over time you can add the others.

It would be a pleasure to read about your experiences with this way of walking, if you’d like to share them below: