Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness by Will Johnson



"The word mindfulness would suggest that the practice focuses solely on the arena of our minds, but without establishing a bodily posture and base that can naturally support the condition of mindfulness, our attempts to remain mindful may be frustrated or unsatisfactory." With those words, certified Rolfer Will Johnson, author of The Posture of Meditation (Shambhala, 1996) and director of the Institute for Embodiment Training in British Columbia, launches a fascinating exploration of the intersection between embodiment and mindfulness. This is a territory in which yogis should feel right at home, in the sense that the objective of hatha yoga is, as Gary Kraftsow put it at the 1999 "Yoga, Mind and Spirit" conference, to enable one to sit still. Yet, as Johnson notes, the practice of meditation is often understood as an effort to transcend the body (and, indeed, all the limitations, attachments, and impermanence of the physical world). Indeed, he says, "Body ordinarily gets very bad press in most spiritual and religious circles. However, mindfulness asks us to open to the entire range of perceptions and experiences that we have in this present moment." In other words, to "kindle an awareness of sensations, accept what we have kindled exactly as it appears, and then surrender to the process of change that inevitably occurs." These three steps correlate to the three key bodily dynamics examined here—alignment, relaxation, and resilience—and Johnson devotes a chapter to examining each, adding body-awareness exercises to promote our cultivating those principles in our own bodies. Johnson's entire treatise runs less than 150 pages, but it is a challenging work—not dense or difficult, but tantalizing and thought-provoking. At times his language has an out-of-left-field quality, but more often his words ring true. On every page he offers observations that are inspiring, even rapturous, in their devotion to the possibility of mindful embodiment, and many passages seem to yield additional fruit upon rereading. In the end, it's hard to resist his vision of the essential unity of body and mind, as when he urges: "Don't transcend the body. The appropriate moment to transcend the body is the moment when you die. Until then, embrace the fact of your incarnation. You were born into a body. You live as and through a body. Be fully alive. Immerse yourself in the direct experience of your life, holding nothing back. Just remain mindful as you do so."