How meditation can help people with Asperger’s Syndrome release tension and recognise body language

By Chris Mitchell, author of Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness: Taking Refuge in the Buddha.

Positive feeling from within radiates beyond: Chris trekking around Mount Cook (or Aaoraki, as the Maori call it), the highest mountain in New Zealand.

Body language, or non-verbal communication, is an aspect of life that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome struggle with. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome myself, I find that as well as being able to interpret non-verbal signals, being aware of your own body language – both intentional and unintentional – can also be difficult. I have found, though, that developing a mindful awareness of the body is helpful in being able to recognise this more effectively.

Having practiced meditation for almost six years, including going on meditation retreats and monastic stays, naturally the next level was to try and integrate qualities experienced during practice into everyday life, not only in relation to right or appropriate action through applying a non-judgemental approach. To try and enable this, I recently undertook an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) course, based on the work of mindfulness practitioner Jon Kabat-Zinn.

The Buddha taught us to see the body within the body. This includes noticing and becoming aware of different sensations through the body that are consistently present within us that we don’t often notice. Activities covered by MSBR, including body scans and stretching exercises, enabled me to gain a stronger understanding of how different feelings and sensations in particular parts of the body in turn affect the body as a whole, as well as how different body movements have after-effects throughout the body. These sensations are so difficult to notice in normal life for anyone, not just a person with Asperger’s Syndrome.

The even greater difficulty for a person with Asperger’s Syndrome to overcome, though, is being able to notice how sensations from within reflect on the outside, whether positive or negative. Quite often, certain areas of the body, particularly the stomach, become ‘reservoirs’ for feelings of tension and stress which radiate within the body and outside of the body. Often in my life I have found not being able to control such tension a problem in terms of how it affects the way I come across to other people – in other words, how my non-verbal presentation can affect others, when I least know it.

Techniques used in MSBR involved noticing your breathing while focusing on different parts of the body, and imagining if the breath could reach there, to different areas of the body so often taken for granted. Then, when stretching, one begins to notice the after-effect on parts of the body that are not involved in the stretch. When doing the exercises you are encouraged not to compete with yourself or with others, but rather to notice and acknowledge the limitations of your physical make up, allowing for acceptance of yourself as you are.

Something that I am beginning to find from the practice is that being able to acknowledge such feelings within the body helps me to feel more comfortable, enabling me to radiate a positive feeling within myself, thus giving me more freedom within rather than being constrained by tension. Hopefully, with continued practice, I can bring these positive effects to my work, including when giving talks seminars and training on Asperger’s Syndrome.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

2 Responses

  1. HansRugullies May 23, 2011 / 4:04 am

    Thank you for the information on meditation. Although I have been “meditating” for many years, I feel that the results have been meager.
    I thought seriously that I was a “spiritual” person, and yet driving my wife up the wall with monologues, raises the question in me whether I am using the right technique, or have a mental problem. Although I have been highly successful in machine design during my working life, in personal relationships I did not add up much to anything.

    I would very much appreciate it, if you could suggest to me a way out of my dilemma . Thank you for your consideration, Hans.

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