Mindfulness starts in the Body by Sonja Tewes BA DTM(CHM)

For the purpose of this article, I am going to define Mindfulness as 'skilful awareness, which is rooted in the body and in the present moment'.

I came to a training in Mindfulness Practice as a newly qualified massage therapist, in the mid 1980's. The setting for this training, through residential workshops, was a graceful Georgian mansion overlooking the Brecon Beacons, in Wales.

Our teacher, the late John Garrie Roshi, presented this 'Way of Mindfulness' as if it was the most cutting-edge piece of education in our lives.

A small, dynamic man, with a 'no-nonsense' approach, yet a depth of compassion which reached beyond words, his teaching was crystal clear. He devised an extensive range of physical exercises, which were the foundation of our training. The original purpose of the exercises is summed-up in his often repeated words: 'All you have to do is change the posture; the breathing; the facial expression and the gesture with practice, with devotion and attention and energy and you shall be free'

For me, these exercises have represented a precious resource. In the context of the wider teaching about taking responsibility for ourselves and learning from our reactions to life's stresses and strains, I have found no better way of bringing my attention back to what really matters. And no better way of releasing the muscular tension patterns which restrict breathing and limit the flexibility of the body . . .

The whole emphasis of this teaching centres around the way in which we breathe. We learn how to co-ordinate movement, relaxation and breathing, in a way which uses minimal effort. We learn how to breathe out through the palms of the hands; the soles of the feet and through the arm-pits! (The influence of martial art forms is often apparent.)

The exercises range in character from gentle, repetitive movements to dynamic sequences. Not only are the details of the exercises important, but also the quality of the attention which we bring to them. In this way, they are exercises in mindfulness. We learn to observe our limiting postural habits with greater compassion and to feel how they fit in with our internal reactions, thoughts and opinions.

As we learn to create more space in the body, through breathing and postural awareness, we find stillness. We learn skills to help us let go of the tension patterns which are part of our early conditioning. We learn to see and feel these behaviour patterns, before they turn into muscular spasm or pain. We then have the choice of whether to go with the old way, or to try doing things differently.

As a masseuse, I have spent a large part of my life working with the skeletal muscles. I love the clarity of working with my hands! This Mindfulness training has helped me to work with the problem of back pain in a much deeper way, supporting awareness of the muscles and joints and, in particular, helping to balance the left and right sides of the body. The exercise training offers a unique opportunity to learn how to change our physical reaction to stress and how to 'unravel' pain, at a muscular and cellular level. The combination of therapeutic massage and one-to-one exercise tuition offers a comprehensive approach to healing for many aspects of musculo-skeletal pain.

The purpose of this Mindfulness training is to teach a system of relaxation and movement skills which can be practised at home. The benefits of the exercises are far-reaching, bringing the qualities of calm, ease and gratitude into the simple movements of our life: standing; walking; sitting and breathing. In a nutshell, we find ourselves in a brighter frame of mind, because we are more fully present in the body - and awake!

If you are interested in finding out more about workshops and individual exercise tuition, call 01647 433711 or email

SONJA TEWES specialises in Mindfulness training and therapeutic massage for women. Sonja is an experienced therapist, working in the Exeter and Chagford areas. Her workshops 'Mindfulness starts in the Body' take place at Exeter Mind and Body Clinic.