If you want to be mindful, you have to live in your body. Do not be fooled by the word “mind” in mindfulness. Perhaps the “fulness” is the embodiment of awareness – the mind of the body. I have come to learn through my years of practice that in order to live mindfully, I must listen closely to my body. Therefore, the claim that Knowledge is Power lies not just in the mind but in the body. (Body) Knowledge is (Em)Power(ing).
I was asked recently to speak to a group of high school freshman about mindfulness and stress. I shared this illustration by @mollycules, the artist of Buddha Doodles, because it reflects the strength, flexibility and resilience of the body. We CAN learn to bend with the winds of the day without being uprooted. Practicing mindfulness helps us to stay grounded and to not abandon ourselves when stressed or challenged. Our bodies know what is happening before our mind does. A critical aspect of mindfulness practice is learning to listen to the body’s natural wisdom so that we can then make the wisest choice for ourselves in any given moment or situation.
There is a difference between hearing and listening. Many of us hear our bodies through the sensations of excitement, anticipation, pain, etc. Sometimes we follow the sensation so much so that we cling to it. Sometimes we detest the discomfort so we push it away, try to numb it. The body knows what it needs to survive, but too often we ignore it or mute it. We do not listen.
Take a moment to contemplate this: What message or information has my body shared today that I have ignored or muted? Perhaps you are tired, but instead of resting or getting some fresh air, you push through more emails and pour another cup of coffee. Why? Is your answer the wisest decision for your long-term well-being?
We do not have to break in order to be successful in life. We do not have to work harder. We have to listen to the body speaking (sometimes screaming). This is empowering. Sure, it may be unfamiliar and feel counter-productive at first, but that’s because you will be disrupting the conditioned social belief that faster is better, more is necessary, burnout is a sign of success. For today, begin by just noticing when you hear your body and whether you decide to listen or ignore. No judgment, just notice with curiosity. This is growing your awareness. Tomorrow I will share a body scan practice.
The body’s language is sensations. It is always speaking to us. The body is ALWAYS in the present moment even while our mind is somewhere else. Purposely paying attention to the breath or another part of the body guides our minds back into the present. As we practice using our attention in this way, we gain insight into the habits of our mind AND the communication of our body.
The body speaks through sensations. Some common sensations are temperature, pressure, tingling, tensions, touch. The body scan practice is about bringing curiosity to the physical experience of the body. Noticing without judgment. Listening through feeling.
The body scan reconnects the mind with the body as we gain awareness of the way we respond to and relate to our body. This practice encourages us to not abandon ourselves and to (re)start trusting and accepting our body. Through our body in this moment we can “be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.” So let’s practice!
Here is a brief description of the practice. Play around with it. The intention is to feel into the body and let it speak. Can you hear the whispers? How about the loud, perhaps nagging, sensation? Maybe there is no noticeable sensation? What is that like?
Guided Body Scan (5 minutes)
When we spend time connecting with our body, we are cultivating love for ourselves. As I shared last month, loving ourselves in this way is radical self-care. It is not selfish; it is necessary for the well-being of our physical, emotional and relational selves. It is necessary for our collective well-being.
It is a call for compassionate action to listen to our bodies. Will you heed the call?
Each day that I purposely listen to the language of sensations I gain more awareness of how I am relating, responding and showing up. With this growing awareness, I find that I am more often pressing pause on the habitual patterns of relating and responding in order to show up in a way that reflects my values, my intentions.
I can discern what is working and what is not working for me – what really matters and how to live this fully. This is a daily, very worthwhile, practice! We are always emerging. There is no finish line, just a continual unfolding. We have the choice to be awake or to stay asleep.
- Pause whatever you are doing. Take a couple of deep breaths.
- Notice your feet touching the ground. What does this feel like?
- What sensations are drawing your attention? No need to go looking, just listen through sensing.
- Now ask yourself: what is my body saying? Is what I am doing or how I am showing up working for me right now?
- See if you can just be with whatever sensations arise, whatever emotions arise, whatever thoughts arise without being carried off by them. It’s a simple, “Hmmm…this is what’s happening…interesting”
- And finish with another deep breath knowing that no solution needs to be uncovered, but insight may arise at some point.
- Continue to listen as you move through your day.
I read this quote over and over when I first came across it. Wow! This is the beauty of unconditional love. In a world where interactions are often transactional, it is so easy to learn to love others and ourselves conditionally. We set goals and expectations about how we (or another) should feel, perform, engage, appear, be perceived, etc. Often unconsciously, we blame something or someone when our goals or expectations are not met in an attempt to soothe ourselves.
We do this a lot to ourselves through how we relate to our bodies. We place conditions on the body in order for it to earn rest and care. It’s kind of insane how we treat ourselves and allow others to treat our bodies. The amazing thing is that our body takes it for as long as it can, committed to keeping us alive. Our body is our most loyal friend. And yet, we continue to mistreat it, ignore its calls for care, push it beyond its edge, abandon it? We love ourselves conditionally.
What if you paid attention to your relationship with your body, the conditions you have for loving and caring for it? What if you grew this awareness and began to let go of these conditions and started to listen to the body’s requests for care? What if you loved your physical body just as it is right now? What would change?
Try this brief body awareness practice:
- Pause and bring a kind attention to your body.
- Scan your day and recall how your body has felt and how you responded to it – did you tell yourself to push through? did you ignore it? did you threaten it or make a deal with it?
- Consider the conditions you’ve placed on your body today or in the past. Perhaps you see a pattern.
- Now hold this understanding with tenderness, no judgment.
- Now visualize putting these conditions aside and seeing your body as the unique, extraordinary being it is.
- Say something lovingly to yourself, showing appreciation for your body. It can be small, like appreciating your fingernails.
- It’s ok if this is challenging. Loving our physical selves can be really hard for some of us. Take it slow and know that you are worthy of loving yourself UNCONDITIONALLY.
The amygdala is believed to be one of the oldest parts of our brains. It is our body’s alarm system – where the fight, flight, freeze response is triggered. When it becomes activated, the prefrontal cortex, which integrates all parts of the brain and helps us with problem solving, goes offline. This is why it can be difficult to concentrate, make decisions, or think before we act when we are stressed.
Have you heard of the “paper tiger phenomenon”? It is when our body responds to an event or experience as if it were life-threatening (a real tiger) when in fact it is not (a paper tiger). Think about the last time you felt nervous before attending a social event where you did not know anyone. Your life was likely not in physical danger, but your brain reacted as if it were a real threat.
Mindfulness can help disrupt this pattern by deepening our awareness of when our brain has gone offline.
The practice of Name It to Tame It is one way to bring mindfulness to a stressful situation or experience. When we pause and notice the body signaling that our amygdala is activated, we can help get our brain back online through naming the sensation, feeling or emotion. We are purposely reactivating the prefrontal cortex. This takes a lot of practice but it is amazing when you can witness what is happening biologically and then consciously turn down the alarm so that you can respond from a place of clarity.
I encourage you to practice Name It to Tame It throughout your day. At the least, when you feel stress (like irritation, nervousness, frustration, etc.), tell yourself, “Oh, my amygdala has been activated.” Bring kind attention to your experience because it is just your brain trying to protect you. A lot of relief can be had knowing that this is part of the human experience and not a personal flaw. Remember, this (body) knowledge is (em)power(ing)! We can respond consciously (i.e. truly thinking before we speak) rather than succumb to our habitual reactivity (whatever that may look like for you). This is mindfulness.
What are you trying to achieve in this moment? Listen to the sensations in your body, the feelings, the emotions.
What if you take this moment to sit with the sensations, feelings and/or emotions without trying to fix, change, control or manage them?
What if you simply witnessed yourself? What happens to your awareness?