Simple Changes for a Healthy Body

tense face squatting

Last week I went to a personal trainer to have a mobility assessment. It was comprised of basic movements we naturally do as children — squatting, rolling and crawling — but forget how to do as we get older.

The tests confirmed that my upper back and shoulders are exceedingly tight. My shoulders roll slightly forward, and my neck is a little out of alignment. Basically, I’m tight where I should be relaxed and overstretched where I need some tension. (Welcome to life working at a desk.)

It wasn’t news to me, but was helpful to get a professional eye to size me up. I haven’t made progress on fixing the issue because I’ve been using “not knowing” as a personal barrier to action. I chose to do nothing instead of trying anything.

She gave me a series of simple stretches to do regularly — as often as hourly, every day. And by simple, I mean stupidly simple. Things like lowering my chin to my chest to stretch my upper back and holding for a minute. And she told me to simply pay attention to my neck and shoulder position throughout the day to notice when it’s out of whack.

Really? I can fix my back by just paying attention?

People sometimes wonder if basic mindfulness meditation can do anything for them because it’s deceptively simple. In shamatha, we’re reminded to come back to our breath, over and over again, to pay attention to the inhale or exhale. If it’s that simple, how could it work?

We think things have to be complicated to be effective. We look for the single exercise to fix all our problems, and neglect to make time to walk every day. We jump from diet to diet, instead of eating real foods in moderation.

But here’s the secret: Simple works. If you let it.

My back is already feeling better, four days in. Not because I got some complex workout plan. Not because she gave me a silver bullet. Because I’m taking small steps, on a regular basis, to pay attention. By simply bringing awareness to my actions, I’m creating space for something different.

The practice is the key. Small stretches, tiny moments of awareness. Using the tools I have to make incremental change, day after day.

I recognize things aren’t close to perfect. I fail more than I win. I’m going to have painful days and I suspect I’ll have to undo years of damage before things get back to good. But it’s something.

And it’s something I can take onto the cushion, as well. A reminder to trust in the practice. To come back, again and again, no matter how small the changes seem. To keep telling myself, simple works, as long as I do, too.