Perception, Body Dysmorphia and Sensation

As human beings, we have the unique capacity to accept our perceptions as truth. But if we really pay attention, we often learn that our perceptions are, in fact, pretty far off from the truth. Being with what “is” can be painful and our perception of discomfort or pain turns into a story: “I have tight hips, I’m not flexible, I’m not good at yoga, I shouldn’t be here, I hate this body, the girl next to me has a perfect body, I wish I had a different body, I need to go deeper so I become more flexible, etc.”

This is a common example of cyclical negative thinking. These thoughts are not only self-loathing and dysmorphic in nature, but they take us out of our body and away from the momentary experience, and often cause us to go beyond our physical capacity. In other words, this is a great way to get hurt.

Sensation can come in handy in these  cases, but here’s the catch: in order to really notice sensation, we have to pay attention. When we pay attention, we begin to see that not everything in us is as broken as we perceive.

The, “I have tight hips,” story becomes, “I feel intense sensation in my outer right hip. This is uncomfortable. Can I sustain this? Can I sit with this? Can I breathe?” The experience is no longer about the hip. The experience is now about the momentary experience of, “What does this feel like?”

Understanding that pain and discomfort are normal human experiences, and that we have the capacity to be with pain, is hugely empowering for many people. It can pave the way for us to heal emotionally and physically.

Here’s the kicker: We can’t really ever get rid of these thoughts. Body Dysmorphia feels very real. Losing a loved one is incredibly painful. A broken heart leaves us shattered and terrified of loving anyone new. These are all legitimate and painful human experiences.

But what if it’s all just sensation? What if we could notice a broken heart just as we would sensation in the outer hip during an asana practice? What if we took it even a step further and noticed that when a certain emotion came up, it was almost always accompanied by a dysmorphic thought about this body?

The dysmorphic thought is our perception and we work on guiding our mind into the sensation. What does this feel like? So we can notice and then we ask ourselves: “I’m noticing that I am sad. I am also noticing that I feel terrible about my belly today. It looks swollen and bloated. ” And then we go there, where it’s uncomfortable: “There is sensation in my belly that I don’t want to feel. I feel sad and there is sensation in my belly. Can I sit with this and reathe?”

More often than not, the sensation will override the negative thought. From there, the work is to sit with the sensation and then the mind wanders again, so we guide it back — Again and again and again. That’s meditation.