Self-Motivation through the body

By Sarah Haden



Being motivated about what we do is easier when our actions feel important to us and align with our values. We can’t bluff motivation: when our heart’s not in it, our body tells us loud and clear.


“The body is a map of the mind; the mind is a map of the body”  Hugh Poulton


The ruthless honesty of our body is a somatic language we can trust if only we learn to listen to it. More often than not we habitually ignore it. Re-learning to listen to our body is the first step to re-connecting with what is actually going on. From this building block of truth we can reassess if our aims are truly important to us and match our values.


How can we reconnect to this somatic language? The body-scan practice we learn in mindfulness gives us a practical place to start. Through this we become familiar with the physical expression of mental states in the body, our personal somatic vocabulary. Its non-verbal nature means it’s unaffected by the stories we tell ourselves and gives us a truer basis to judge experience by and question alignment. Quite simply, the body doesn’t lie.


Even when we feel aligned there will still be challenges and periods of doubt and uncertainty but these have a different quality and we can use the same toolkit to take responsibility for these unhelpful states of mind.


“If you expect your life to be up and down, your mind will be much more peaceful.” Lama Thubten Yeshe


When the tension is mounting, dropping into our bodies, feeling our feet and finding our breath help us stay grounded. One way to learn these skills is through an integrated approach to yoga and mindfulness. We practice synchonising the breath with movement and developing the capacity to move our mind around our body at will.


Starting a regular self-practice in yoga, mindfulness or another approach where the mind/body connection is developed, encourages us to be disciplined when we get distracted. Staying on task is key to feeling motivated and upbeat about our goals and interactions. Ask any yoga teacher what the hardest posture is and almost universally they will say “standing on the mat”. The resistance to practice can feel both physical and mental. It’s that absence of energy and heaviness of body, that sense of obstruction and blockage that prevents movement and flow.


When we do get on the mat in the face of this type of resistance, we are signaling to the brain that we are taking charge of our unskillful habits and practising a direction that creates energy, and supports us to remain motivated of our own accord.   This is one of the reasons why self-practice is so important: it brings us face to face with our impulses and reactions and, without external stimulation or motivation, encourages us to reframe our relationship to how we feel.


Rather than push our feelings away, deny or suppress them treating them as a problem to be fixed, we learn simply to feel them. In doing so we no longer need to fight our mind and body, forcing a practice with effort and strain.


We start with the simple act of smiling; it releases the muscles of the face and softens our reaction so we can feel what is going on in our body and mind. Where we find tension we can open to it with warmth and acceptance; it’s a dynamic and intimate invitation to expand towards the difficult with loving kindness.


“With the smile we can recognize when mind becomes heavy and full of unwholesome states like sadness, grumpiness, anger, dissatisfaction, depression, fear, anxiety or whatever the catch of the day is! When we learn to smile and have fun with whatever arises in the present moment then we are able to progress quickly.” Bhante Vimaralamsi


Finding that we can engage with our mind and body in this way gives us a sense of confidence about our capacity to self-motivate and self-regulate. We now have the potential to feel light, fluid and soft in our yoga and in our life, moving with renewed ease, smiling and having a freer relationship with whatever comes up in the present moment.  Applying this experience in wider contexts we can bring focus and clarity to our goals and interactions and support personal motivation to remain resilient when the going gets tough.


Sarah Haden

March 2016


Join Sarah Haden and Hugh Poulton at Dima for a week of exploring integrated yoga + mindfulness 20 – 27 August 2016