Body Awareness Therapy

A little while ago, I took a class dubbed “Body Mindfulness”, which was a light exercise and meditation class employing elements from Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and mindfulness meditation. It turned out to be an exercise therapy called Body Awareness Therapy (BAT) developed sometime in the 70’s and used by physiotherapists to alleviate symptoms both in physical ailments such as chronic pain like from whiplash and mental illnesses like schizophrenia and the like.

This class caught my attention because I’ve had problems with feeling disconnected from my own body, feeling as if one or more bodyparts or in some instances my whole body isn’t really mine or fully under my control. I had an inkling that it was a problem that could be removed or alleviated by actually using my body, exercising and the like. But it’s incredibly difficult to get motivated and I detest the pains and aches and exhaustion that comes from exercising. So, a light exercise class that seems to focus on connecting body and mind by focusing one’s attention on the body and movements more than the movements themselves seemed like just the thing.

I often struggled with actually showing up for class, but once I was there, my experience was very positive. The exercises did indeed help not only with loosening up on some muscle-tension, but helped making me feel more connected to my body as well.

The exercises were very simple and fairly easy to do at home. Most of them only required a yogamat and enough room on the floor to stretch out. We’d start the class by taking note of how we’re feeling in the moment, our mood, various bodily sensations we might be feeling at the moment. I’d often feel a tension in my neck and shoulders, maybe some strain in my thighs, ankles and feet from the kneeling position. Sometimes I’d feel mostly happy and content, other times I’d not want to talk at all, and whether it was good or bad feelings and sensations, they were all valid and perfectly acceptable. There was always a relaxed atmosphere in the room, no one ever asked any more than you were willing to share and you were free to participate as much or as little as you were able.

Next, we’d do a lying down or sitting meditation exercise where we’d slowly move our attention first to breathing, then to various body parts one at a time. I’d often find my thoughts wander and might have fallen asleep once or twice during this exercise. It wasn’t uncommon to hear someone else snoring softly somewhere either. The point, I think, was to gently coax your mind and attention to focus on your body, let go of wandering thoughts without judgement and just be in the moment. The mindfulness part of the therapy.

Next, we’d do various standing exercises. The main focus was to visualize this center-line going through our bodies and slowly move it and our bodies back and forth, side to side, up and down, twisting around. If you’ve ever taken a lesson in drawing the human body, you might be familiar with the helping line often drawn straight down through the center of the face and follows the spine all the way down the body. That’s what I’d visualize – just more like a rigid thread or rod going through my body that I can move around and my body sort of just follows.

Then we’d do various exercises lying down, often times with a big sausage-pillow, filled with something like sand to give them weight and firmness. We’d use the weight, hugging it on top of our chests, use the firmness to lay our back or legs on it and relax into a stretch over it. Some of my favorite exercises were just lying down and moving the arms. One started lying on our backs, eyes closed, with the arms laying straight down our sides. Then we’d slowly, very slowly lift them up and sloooowly raise them up and then down to rest above our heads. It was always something of a surprise to note just how heavy my arms are. Sometimes we’d open our eyes when it felt like our arms were at their highest point above, to give some visual feedback on our physical sensations.

Another one we’d lie on our sides with one arm straight up into the air. Then we’d slowly swing it around in the shoulder-socket, first in tiny circles, then slowly widen the circles until the circle stretched as wide around as possible, practically dragging the hand on the floor at the front and back. Those exercises could really loosen up some muscles in the shoulders and back.

Finally, we’d finish up the class by repeating the starting exercise, noting how we’re feeling in the moment compared to at the beginning of the class. More often than not, I’d feel a definite improvement, if not in my mood, then in how my body felt overall. Sometimes, I’d note a tension in new muscles, sometimes I’d have more or less of a headache. More often than not, I’d feel much more relaxed and at ease compared to the beginning of the class.

It’s a bit of a challenge to actually keep up with the exercises, but I’m happy to say that I feel much more connected to my body these days and haven’t had any episodes of being unable to recognize it as my own. It doesn’t do much for the face in the mirror, but I don’t spend much time staring into mirrors anyways.

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