Watch the Video: Watch and participate in this exercise by eating a single raisin (or other small piece of fruit) slowly and mindfully. Afterwards reflect on this simple and profound exercise. (note this video matches the written chapter very closely)
Blog by Dr. Rob Rutledge
The Power of Bringing Consciousness into your Body
“Clench your feet and wiggle your toes inside your shoes. Nobody will notice.” This is the advice Reverend David Maginley, the Spiritual Care Specialist at our cancer centre, suggests to brides and grooms. Having presided over hundreds of weddings he knows the simple act of bringing attention back into your feet can lessen the feelings of anxiety and uncontrolled excitement, and allow the young couple to focus on each other and the beauty of the ceremony. (Clenching the feet also will push the blood from the calves up to the heart and brain – lessening the chance of fainting and making the wedding day even more memorable.)
Dave told this story at a seminar he and I presented for Testicular Cancer Canada as part of a session on working with fear and anxiety. It was the second time in two days that I had heard this advice. The previous day I had attended a breakout session at the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology, lead by a yoga therapist, Ann Pitman, from the Ottawa Integrative Oncology Centre. Ann led a group of social workers, psychologists and other cancer specialists in an exercise which taught multiple ways of bringing people who are suffering with anxiety and high stress levels back into their bodies. In one breathing exercise, we straightened our spines on the in-breath and relaxed back and hunched forward slightly on the out-breath. In another exercise we stood up raising our arms high over our head in a 3 phase in-breath before flopping forwards and throwing our arms towards the floor with an exaggerated out-breath.
As I brought my attention into my legs and feet during this session, I realized how rarely I’ve spent time “in my body” throughout my adult life. I remember drawing a picture of myself during an art therapy session when I was in my twenties. I captured the image of purple and bright green colours radiating from my head and eyes. The torso was smaller – and my legs were like tornado-shaped wisps of grey that didn’t even touch the ground. I had no feet. Even this morning, during my meditation session, as is typical, I alternate between my mind drifting off to plans for the day, and bringing my attention back to my breathing. But rarely do I actually feel the weight of my knees, shins and feet on the mat. Rarely am I truly in my body.
Over the last few days, however, as an experiment, I’ve tried to consciously bring my attention back to my feet. While walking or climbing stairs, I’ll purposely press down harder with each step. While sitting at a meeting, I’ll unobtrusively twist one or both feet – feeling the stretch in my calf and the many joints around my ankles. When I do this I can feel more energy coming into my body, and somehow I seem to feel more at peace. In a way I’m using mindfulness to empower my body and produce a calm and engaged state of mind. I am yoking the mind and body.
But the teaching here is much more profound – being outside the realm of classic western science and medical teaching. I believe that consciousness has an effect on our physical bodies. When we bring our attention to a certain part of our body, the cells in that region are energized. Like saying a prayer for the body part, or practicing a form of energy medicine like Reiki or Healing Touch, we can increase the energy field of the tissue thus facilitating its healing. I don’t know how this works, or if we can control the outcome in any way, but I do believe in the powerful and loving act of bringing your attention back into this walking, talking, breathing miracle – your body!
Dr. Rob Rutledge is a Radiation Oncologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.
In 1999, Rob co-created the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. These weekend support groups teach a powerful and integrated approach to the cancer diagnosis and ways to heal at levels of body, mind and spirit. To date, more than 1,600 people have attended the retreats in over 20 cities across Canada and abroad.
Rob also leads the Healing and Cancer Foundation, a Registered Charity, that freely offers educational videos, documentaries, and webcasting seminars – and he is co-author of a book called The Healing Circle, which captures the teachings and inspirational stories from the weekend retreats.
In 2010, Rob received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Award for Excellence in Patient Care and, in 2006 Doctors Nova Scotia presented him with the Health Promotion Award in recognition of his contribution to physician health and health promotion in cancer patients.