Karuna: Hi, I’m Karuna, I’m the founder and executive director of Mind Oasis and my guest today for Meditation Happy Hour:Tea Talk and Truth with Karuna is none other than Joseph Schwartz. And in full disclosure, Joseph is my husband. So, Joseph, how are you today?
Joseph: I’m good. Thanks for having me today.
Karuna: You bet. You are not here with me because you’re my husband. You’re here with me today because you are a part of the mindfulness team. Before we dive into your work and what you do, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you live, who you live with and all that good stuff?
Joseph: Well, I am blessed to live in the beautiful mountains of Colorado in the front range near Rocky Mountain National Park with our two beautiful dogs and my beautiful wife. We have a busy home because we have two businesses, the Mind Oasis and Dynamic Neuromuscular Assessment.
Karuna: Good. Tell me a little bit about DNA Dynamic Neuromuscular Assessment.
Joseph: Well, Dynamic Neuromuscular Assessment is a process of looking at movement structure and a way to therapeutically engage with how we move so that we can learn to move better, have less pain and discomfort our life, and to be able to have an active and full experience.
Karuna: So when you look at your work with DNA, which is what I’ll call it moving forward, how does that intersect with your your meditation practice and what you bring to Mind Oasis?
Joseph: That’s a great question. So there’s a field that’s called somatics and somatics is the integration of the trying, mind, body, spirit. Though the work that I do is the entry point through the body, we can enter in any one of those segments of the trying to have a an effect or an experience or to know what’s going on in our environment. My particular flavor is the body, what sensations that we’re having in our body, how well we move, and how well we’re able to respond to our environment. What are the feelings that correlate with those sensations when we move and how does our mind interpret those sensations and feelings? All three of those lenses have a specific effect on this trying which is our mind, body, spirit, and they’re all portals and entry points. My particular flavor is a term that I’ve called joint flossing, which is how we move our joints, how we organize, and how we coordinate those unique coordinations that we have. These have a very specific effect on your experience, and when we change the way that we move, we change our experience.
Karuna: So for people who are listening that maybe don’t have a movement practice of any sort. Maybe their flavor of meditation is to sit and perhaps their job is rather sedentary. What would you say to those folks an encouragement to get into their bodies?
Joseph: So if we start to look at our nervous system and our brain, there’s no separation between the brain and the body. It’s a continuous element of communications, it’s a network they call the central nervous system in the peripheral nervous system. So if we’re focused on our central nervous system or our brain and our feet in our meditation practice, we’re missing a very large portion of our experience. What can we do about that? Well, we have to be implemented because if we do too much, too fast, it’s not fun because it’s uncomfortable. So we have to find our comfort level to do an incremental amount of introducing more movement into our life. And what that really means is what does our daily practice look like? Like, for example, one of our teachers, Kelly Lindsay, loves to have the one song dance party before a seated meditation practice. Why we do that? Because it brings awareness to the senses in our body, we get to move, we get to get the wiggles out so that we can have a more productive set. There’s lots of different ways that we can organize our practice to get the wiggles out. One of them is in the programming that I’ve created for Mind Oasis called Mindful Movement, and there’s six different segments of classes that all build on each other. What they do is they give us a library, they give us a vocabulary of movement so we can start to find our own practice.
Karuna: So if someone has never practiced yoga or doesn’t have a running game, but is curious about your work and what it would feel like in their body to move is your series, which is a repeating series. So it’s a six week series, I believe we’re calling it Mindful Moving Meditation. And so what could someone expect who might be wondering if it’s appropriate for them?
Joseph: Well, you can expect to have a practice that involves very gentle movement, though just because it’s gentle doesn’t mean it may not challenge your nervous system. For example, if there are movements that aren’t in your vocabulary of movement, learning new movement can be challenging. However, it opens up something unique, because when we stimulate new movement, we stimulate growth, we stimulate thought process, we stimulate our life. And so there’s this continual exploration of what is available, where we have capacity and where perhaps we don’t have capacity. It’s those places that we don’t have capacity, if we start to incrementally add movement to those places, we start to acquire and recover and restore those capacities. Like in our youth, we had capacity to move in ways where we didn’t even have to think about it. But as we get older, the experiences in our life start to compound and we start to lose capacity. And so part of the youthing process is to recover these capacities.
Karuna: Wonderful. What the hell does this have to do with meditation?
Joseph: Now, that’s a very interesting question because if we start to look at the mind and how the mind is interacting with the brain. There’s a part of our brain, it’s called the cortex, which is the outer brain. Which is where we have our thoughts and our associations, and is where we plan and conceive and contrive how we’re going to respond and interpret. However, all that information comes through a part of the brain called the limbic brain, which is surrounded by this outer brain. The limbic brain is also recognized as the emotional brain, but it’s more so where our memories are stored. It’s where all the inputs from our environment, our sensory inputs like our vision, our hearing, our sense of smell, our taste, the sensations of our skin, hot, cold, pressure, movement, awareness, sense where our body is in our environment movement, which is called proprioception. All these inputs come in through the limbic center and the limbic center processes that information and then sends it out to the various parts of our brain. Now, one of the things that happens is that our body will literally hijack our thoughts. When those sensations stimulate a memory, that memory then goes and looks for a particular association related to that memory and how we coped with that particular association in the first time that we experienced it. And so we’re constantly being pulled back into the past or pushed forward into the future through expectations. What a mindful movement practice does is it anchors us into the present moment.
Karuna: Yeah, on my month long meditation retreat, I remember that as things got increasingly more difficult, as the world got quieter and settled down around me, my internal world really amped up. And during that time in my life, really the only thing that could help was to get on my feet and engage walking meditation. The moment I went back to sit it was a complete shit show. But when I could be in my body, feeling the air on my skin, feeling my feet on the earth somehow that grounded me. There was something else almost forcing me into the present moment. So why don’t you talk a little bit about how you teach walking meditation. I feel like walking meditation is really elusive. I remember being very elusive until I read about it in the Mind Illuminated. And, I had done the walking meditation where you’re in a group and you walk around in a circle, which to me is just like hell. So I thought walking meditation sucked. And I’m wondering if other people have either no idea why the heck one would engage in walking meditation if they’ve had a similar experience where it felt like sandpaper on your skin and maybe people have absolutely just no idea what walking meditation does for you and why you would engage it. So I’d love for you to just sort of pick apart walking meditation, according to Joseph.
Joseph: Ok, well, I think one of the biggest challenges that people have is that their sensory experience in their body has been muted. And when I say muted, I mean that the compounded experiences that they’ve had in their life, is that it’s no longer safe to be in their body and to fully experience sensations that their body is feeling. And walking meditation will bring that. So because of that, what we have to do is we have to give the mind actually something to organize. We have to give them something to do while we’re walking meditation, and for that is how are we organizing our body? How are we organizing our structure? How are we organizing our movement? And that focal point becomes the meditation practice. In my walking meditation practice, I’ve identified what I call 18 different points in the movement cycle when we walk. And each one of those points has many different qualities that we need to learn. How to organize what we’re moving through one point to the next, because really, if we think about movement, there are three stages in movement. There’s the beginning stage. There’s a transition to the end stage and that end stage becomes the beginning of the next movement. And so it’s this continual wave or it’s a continual cycle. And each place in that cycle, we are organizing, we are responding. We are receiving what are called afferent inputs or the inputs to the nervous system is receiving from our body to the to the limbic centre in our brain. And we’re processing, so when we’re in that room and we’re going around that circle and it’s driving us nuts, it’s because 1: those afferent signals are stimulating something in our past or 2: we’re not actually being present to those sensations. We’re letting our mind highjack us out of the present moment. And so to anchor back into the present moment. Which is one of the main benefits of a meditation practice is learning how to anchor, we can use our breath within minutes of contemplation, we can use this vehicle of our body. And so there is a process of learning how to be in the body. And that process is learning joint by joint, how each joint moves, how each joint relays a series of sensations and experiences. And so when we go through this learning process, it may feel challenging or pedestrian initially because we’re going through a cognitive learning process. But, once we’ve learned the process, then something else can reveal itself. And that’s what we’re looking for in our meditation practice, that’s what we’re looking for in our movement. Meditation practice or walking meditation practices is that we have so much focus on the sensations in our body and how we’re focusing our awareness on our movement and the environment around us. That’s something else that can reveal itself that wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
Karuna: Yeah, I’m happy you said that for those of us who are going through joint by joint and kind of start falling asleep because it’s not really our jam. I have to say that one of the benefits that I’ve found is that once you understand your eighteen point process or even if you get down to sixty four points at some point. It’s so that precision to me offers this opportunity to look at awareness and attention. And I think this is one of the most beneficial aspects of incorporating walking meditation into your seated practice, particularly if you go on retreat. So the meditation practices that we engage in on my devices, typically we’re engaged in a Shamitabh practice, kind of a fancy word that just simply means calm, abiding, peaceful, abiding. And the practices that help you get there are typically what we focus on in Mind Oasis, at least on the sensation of breath. But if one gets too myopic, if you get too into your breath and the doorbell rings or the dog barks, you jump out of your skin because you’ve lost your field of awareness. One of the parts of walking meditation that really excites me a little bit less than the 18 points is that when you start to be able to flow through them, you don’t have to think about them quite as much. The movement becomes the focal point, the attention and then the things around you, the air, the sounds, the movement of the trees, et cetera, that becomes your awareness field. Would it be tactile, would it be tangible? I’m not sure the right word for it. It’s visceral. Rather than feeling it on your breath and then hearing it with your ears or your skin, it’s almost like you’re in the attention versus awareness. You become the attention versus awareness as opposed to, in my experience, there being a little bit more of a barrier when you’re just seated with your breath. And this is a more experiential attention awareness practice that I just think has the potential to boost your ability to sit with that on your cushion.
Joseph: Precisely, I think that the attention that we’re giving to how we’re organizing in our body is the bridge for the awareness field. And it’s in that bridge that we become integrated with that awareness field.
Karuna: Yeah, I really like that. So you also have a workshop, a mini workshop coming up in August, and it’s all about walking meditation. And this is something special we’re doing for anyone who either went through the meditation challenge this past spring or is a member or has been a member of community meditation in the past. So any of those folks can join. And it’s complementary. And there are a couple of other mini workshops that are going on as well. So if people are interested they can join me in meditation and get to come and hang out with you and do a walking meditation. Can you tell us a little bit what folks can expect in that workshop?
Joseph: Yes. We’re going to start with an initial check in with our body. Where we’re going to do a journaling exercise, we will look at the three lenses, where does our attention go in our body? What are the sensations there? What is our body revealing or having a conversation with or trying to talk to us, essentially? What messages are there and then often in those regions of our body, there are feelings. There are experiences, associations, emotions that correlate to these sensations. Those two lenses combine and form, the third lens, which is our thoughts. And so we will go through a journaling exercise of looking at those three lenses and what’s happening in our experience in the present moment. Then we’re going to go through a movement practice and the movement practice will start with some very simple basic joint mobility drills so that we can have the tools that we need for looking at these 18 points. We have to have a reference like if I say come to ball of foot. What does that mean? We’re going to have some movement drills so that we have an understanding of what that means. We’ll go through a walking meditation practice in which we’ll look at moving forward engineering and also moving backwards, which is called reverse engineering. That’s going to have a very specific affect on our nervous system. Everybody’s experience is going to be unique to how they organize their body and their past experiences. After we do that, that’ll be about a half hour work, we’re going to come back to our seat. We’re going to take inventory again and we’re going to have another journal entry process. Looking at those three lenses again, how has our experience changed? By doing this movement practice, this starts to bring more awareness to the non tangible experience that we have to make it more tangible by actually writing down our experiences and then we can start to compare and contrast.
Karuna: Very cool, and you’re kind of on repeat six week series of Mindful Moving Meditation just started this past week. People can still join for sure, right? They get the recording from this past week and and then they can come in week 2. It’s listed under workshops and series on Mind Oasis.org I know that you are a movement therapist and that you are an educator at this point in your career. You share your wisdom with folks who are engaged in massage therapy, chiropractic, physical therapy and so forth. And I’m just wondering if you feel like either workshop is something that would be of benefit to those folks. And if so, maybe you can just talk about why.
Joseph: Again, I believe it comes back to the idea of having awareness in our body because it gives us the ability to focus our attention. For example, in physical therapy practitioners will give people exercise sets to help them with their particular problem. It’s usually a problem with pain or injury, or perhaps they’re unable to participate in the game that they love for the activity that they love. And exercise without the intention, an awareness, becomes mute. It’s going through motions without creating change. It’s only reinforcing a pattern that they’ve used to cope with their past experiences. So with the mindful movement of horses we’re looking at bringing more awareness into what we are experiencing. Looking at different ways that we can organize how we move so that we can change our experience, this becomes very important. Without that, intention to go into the minutia of our experience. Our brain literally goes into autopilot and it just accomplishes that. For example, people that go to the gym and put music on just to get a workout, they they may be receiving cardiovascular benefit from it, but they’re not learning to move better. If we want to engage in the process, I’m 60 years old and I’m pretty vibrant for my age. The process of youthing requires us to recover movements that we have lost. In order to do that, we have to focus on the minutiae. We have to focus on the intention of a movement. We actually have to slow it down to where it’s painful, even though pain isn’t involved, but it’s painful because it can be excruciating boring to look at how our joint moves very slowly and looking for the little glitches or the little places our brain wants to move around instead of engaging.
Karuna: So what I’m hearing you say is that for the workshops and series, that if you are in the movement art such as a physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist, personal trainer, that by learning some of these techniques about how to bring personal awareness to your own body, that you can take that and you can help your clients begin to not just do the things that you were taught in school to teach them, but to also actually engage the process in a more meaningful way. It’s a beautiful summary, so just to recap, Joseph has a weekly course Mindful Moving Meditation where he goes into all of these wonderful movement exercises in depth to help get you out of your mind and into your body this month in August. I think it’s the 22nd it’s on mindoasis.org You’re bringing a mini workshop on walking meditation that’s available for free for anyone who is a part of the meditation challenge and/or part of Community Meditation. So before we wrap up, the way that I like to always engage my guests is with a question because it’s tea talk and truth with Karuna. My tea today is sparkling water with lemon. Do you have tea or coffee with Joseph?
Joseph: I don’t.
Karuna: Oh, my goodness. Oh no. I got through the talk. I’ll say that we got through the tea so we have to get to the truth. And so what is your truth?
Joseph: My truth is that these bodies are joyful vehicles, and in order to increase our capacity of joy. We need to be in our body. We need to sense, we need to feel and we need to move. We need to move well and we need to move often.
Karuna: Is that something in your workshops and the teachings that you bring on Mind Oasis and DNA that folks would have the opportunity to explore?
Joseph: Well, I believe that that the the quality of the journalling work that we do helps to reveal that.
Karuna: Awesome, wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful gifts with the world. Thank you for being with me on Meditation: Happy Hour Tea talking Truth with Karuna. Joseph, we appreciate you. And I’ll just say that in addition to being a wonderful human being, you sit on the board of directors of Mind Oasis. You are our biggest donor and you are our biggest champion. So thank you so much.
Joseph: You’re very welcome.