Most people focus much of their attention on their body from the neck up—namely in their heads. It is no wonder we are so fixated with our thoughts since it is estimated that we have 6,200 of them a day. Most thoughts rest beneath our conscious awareness but others are quite persistent and loud. And, these thoughts are not necessarily concerned about the needs of the body but lead us into behaviors and patterns that are often automatic, repetitive, and unskillful.
When we move our attention to the body, however, we are getting immediate feedback about how to keep the body safe, protected, fed, rested, moved, and otherwise happy. The definition of yoga, a practice that is dedicated to minding the body, is “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” In other words, when you take your attention off your thoughts (i.e., the fluctuation of the mind) and onto your body, breath, and movement, you achieve the state of yoga. This open and spacious state is one of happiness and calm as well as one that allows for insight and direction toward the right action to arise.
When you bring awareness to the body, here are just a few things you will discover:
- Physical hunger and satiety cues signaling time to start or stop eating
- Taste of food that give us pleasure and delight
- Sounds – from nature to technology – keep us in touch with our environment
- Smells –from pleasant to unpleasant – can do everything from motivate us to create cravings
- Sights can also create urges (think ads on the computer or food sitting around)
- Stress and tension signaling it’s time to stretch and move
- Fight, flight, and freeze response indicates it’s time to pay attention to possible threats in our environment.
- Aches, pains, and other distress might require medical attention
If we are not paying attention to these and all the other signals in our bodies, we can ignore both the pleasure that comes from living in a body to the displeasure that comes from ignoring early warning signs of future ailments. Examples of both:
Helen came back after one week of practicing mindful eating and said, “I don’t like anything I eat, I just hadn’t noticed before.” With this realization she began to seek out food that pleased her senses.
My husband, a primary care physician, ignored the signs of an impending heart attack—primarily shortness of breath and chest pain–for six months. On a trip to the mountains in Colorado he had a heart attack and was extremely lucky to get two stints put in before he died.
So that you don’t miss out on important information and sensations, here are five ways of practicing greater awareness of the body:
1. Mindful Breathing.
Mindful breathing is one of the easiest ways to get in touch with your body and activate the relaxation response. Simply stop for a couple of minutes and focus on your breath. Deepen your breath so that your belly expands on the inbreath and deflates fully on the outbreath. Do that for as long as you like and feel the peace moving through your body.
2. Mindful Stretching.
Take a moment to simply sit or stand and notice what the body feels like. Where are the places of tension in the body? See if you can intuitively sense how to move your body so that those areas of tension are released. Sometimes all you need to do is notice tension and the body automatically knows what to do to release it. Maybe your shoulders are up to your ears and you need to let them relax. Do this simple exercise daily and notice how more responsive you are to the body over time. Go to my multimedia page to discover some mindful yoga that can help you be more in touch with your body. If you want a little in-person tutorial, I will be doing a Mindful Movement Meditation this Wednesday (5/19/21) online over Zoom through The Center for Mindful Eating—and it’s free! You just need to sign up ahead of time.
3. Mindful Eating.
Most of us eat when we are doing something else from working on the computer, watching TV, or socializing. When we do other things while we eat, it is harder to learn to listen to the body for taste, hunger, and satiety. Not that you will never do other things and eat, but it is helpful to regularly take time out to “just eat.” Pick a snack or meal and a time when you can be alone and quiet. Listen to the BASICS of Mindful Eating and discover what you’re missing when you eat.
4. Mindful Walking.
Mindful walking can be a wonderful practice to help you slow down and pay attention to your body. When you walk from place to place, even just around your home or apartment, pay attention to the body moving. Notice the sensations in the soles of the feet as you lift, move, and place each foot. Take your attention off your thoughts and on to the simple act of walking.
5. Mindfulness of Routine Activities.
Routine activities are often those things that we wish we could get finished without spending much time on them. Like somehow, they are getting in the way of your life. But, in fact, these routine activities make up much of our lives. Instead of wishing your life away, mindfully engage in making the bed, brushing your teeth, putting on clothes, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, sweeping the floor, driving somewhere, gardening, cleaning up the house, making your to-do list, cooking meals, etc. All these activities give us an opportunity to bring mindfulness to our bodies. Notice the sensory experiences in cooking, for instance. All the smells, sights, and tastes are amazing when we are present for them and lost to us forever when we’re lost in thought.
By listening to our bodies, we learn to experience more of our lives. The benefits include enjoying the pleasant and allowing the unpleasant to guide us in ways that lead to better self-care, instead of down a path of destruction. Mind the body and its messages and you will find greater peace and ease in your life.