Reading over insurance claims and medical bills, my breath becomes shallow as I review the compounding information of in-network, out-of-network, what they say I owe, and what I expected to owe.  My stomach ties in knots and my shoulders become like earrings, they are so close to my ears.

As I wash my school-aged daughter’s hair, she howls like banshee in pain. I have carefully avoided their being any contact between her eyes and the shampoo, I’m certain there has been none. We move on to conditioner and I remind her “this one does not sting.” She continues this “war cry.” My whole body is tight so I feel like a Grecian statue, frozen in frustration.

Sitting in my unmoving car on the freeway, hot car fumes waft around me. I check the clock, survey all the lanes for possible movement, clench my jaw and repeat the whole cycle again. The entire freeway is stopped but I feel like I am jumping out of my skin, anxious and twitchy all over except for the rock that has formed in my low back. I want to be anywhere but here.

Our body sends us clear signs that can be like a map to returning to our natural well-being, if we learn how to read them.

By mindfully witnessing my experiences, I’ve noticed the series of reactions that follow difficult situations. The first reaction of our body is to produce adrenalin, which brings quick (and hard to “catch”) mental and physical reactions. At this point two reactions tend to happen simultaneously; thoughts form in the foreground of our experience and body sensations in the background. The “foreground” thoughts, driven by adrenalin, focus solely on fixing or coping with the situation. Our instinct then is to get the situation to stop somehow (any “how”) and from there we can begin to plow through mindlessly, leaving damage behind us. What is in the background are the physical and emotional responses to the stress. These further “amp up” our stress reaction and can easily go unnoticed.  Without mindfulness, these sensations and feelings can begin to “run the show” as we move through the stressful situation and onto the daily events in our lives. Attending to our body sensations first can calm our whole being. From this more balanced place we have more access to our good thinking and wise actions.

If I am not mindful while I scan insurance claims, I will let my short breath and “shoulder earrings” send me into a tailspin that might result in my writing reactive emails to my doctor, shouting at my husband as we research the problem together, or stuffing it and lashing out at the receptionist the next day when I call to clear things up.

If I forget my body awareness while washing my daughter’s hair I might (or might have) become so unnerved I begin to explain (loudly) that this yelling will mean we don’t have time for bedtime stories… today, tomorrow or ever again, I want to say but don’t. Or I stuff it and am very short tempered during PJ’s, and am brushing her teeth too hard as my body relives the stress from the earlier hair episode.

And we have all seen and heard that sudden shout from the car next to us (or maybe it is our own car) and what is clearly an adult’s hissy fit, during a traffic jam.  I have avoided this reaction in myself many times by attending to my body and following the map back to well being.

If we learn to listen to our body signs we will notice that the sensations and emotions in the background can be our wake-up bell. This is the moment we can return to mindfulness and take the road back to ourselves.

Step 1. Notice your body – feel the tension, where and what it is in your body.

Step 2. Soften around what you feel – remind yourself that mindfulness is rooted in kind awareness; judging your tension will only make you more tense.

Step 3. Use the body signs like a map – navigate your way through the tension, steering toward a relaxed body. From there notice the thoughts that gave rise to the body tension and bring kind awareness to those thoughts.

Step 4. Now you are back in the driver’s seat.

You can have your feelings without letting your feeling have you. 


Rebekkah LaDyne teaches Embodied Presence through Mindfulness, Meditation and Gentle Yoga.

Her Yoga and Mindfulness CD’s are available on iTunes – search under Rebekkah LaDyne.  For more info on her teaching visit her at