How To Use Movement To Break Through Repetitive Thoughts, According To Taryn Toomey
Self-care looks a little different these days. In such weird and (sorry to use the word of the hour) unprecedented times, practices that used to be nice to do every once in a while have become essential to do every day.
For me, one such practice is heart-opening: Every day, for the length of one song—the same song, every time—I'll sit cross-legged, close my eyes, extend my arms out to my side and bend my elbows to form 90-degree angles. Then, I'll move my arms back and forth. To start, they usually move to the beat of the song, but the idea is that by the end they align with my heartbeat. After 3 minutes and 43 seconds of this, the world I see when I open my eyes somehow feels a little bit more vibrant, a little bit less scary.
I have Taryn Toomey to thank for this little sliver of quarantine sanity. I picked up the move in The Class, her workout methodology that pairs repetitive movements with mindful observation and has long had a cult following in New York. For Toomey, staying moving—especially when so much around us remains stagnant—is a way to reflect, release, and, ultimately, expand.
How movement can help balance out a seated meditation practice.
"I know that when I'm not physically exerting some sort of movement or energy, my mind becomes anxious and I act out against myself," Toomey says of how she balances the mental and physical. "I also know that when you burn the fire and only the fire, the body becomes unbalanced."
With this in mind, if you already have a seated mindfulness practice, adding on an element of movement can bring something new to the table. While meditation helps us quiet down enough to notice certain things going on in our minds, movement helps us express what we find.
"One is observing thought through sitting, and one is training mind through physical sensation," Toomey says. "What we're doing is we're observing the mind, while physically moving, which creates different thought patterns than while sitting. It's a moving meditation." Both tools are a means to the same end: They let us escape repetitive, negative thoughts and patterns—at least for a little while.
Connecting to your body in a meditative way can look like a lot of things: I do heart-openers; if Toomey isn't teaching a full Class, she likes a few quick rounds of cat-cow into a downward dog. The actual movement matters less than the intention you put behind it.
The key is using your movement of choice as a way to simply feel into what your body is telling you. I say simply, but doing this is actually super difficult! The instinct is to think through every movement and place it within the context of what we've seen other people around us do. "Oftentimes, we think and act in a way in which the world has told us we'll be 'liked,'" says Toomey. "When we're acting from this coding and programming, it creates more thinking, as opposed to embodiment of your own soul, consciousness, blueprint, purpose....call it whatever resonates."
You'll know you're on the right track if—as Toomey puts it—you feel like you're deep in an "internal conversation." "When you're embodied and connected to a space of deep listening, and you're not just acting from thought, that's when your own relationship expands. That's when you're able to feel a different type of connectedness with yourself, your heart."
Moral of the story: Take some time every day to move like nobody is watching.
Consider this your invitation to carve out a few minutes to move in a new way today. Choose a move that feels good. Pair it with music if you wish. When you start to think about how silly you look, focus on the sensations in your physical body instead. Do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.
The other day, I decided to take my heart-opener outside to the porch. The home I'm quarantined in is very close to neighbors. When I heard them come out to their yard early in the song, thoughts of Oh no, they can definitely see me and think I'm a crazy person immediately filled my head. Then, I remembered Toomey's words: "If you're in a looping thought pattern, chances are that you're probably not in your body." I brought my awareness back to my arms, back to my heart, and when I opened my eyes, I was greeted with the most beautiful sunset.