Our bodies can be a great ally in mindfulness practices. The body is right here with us all the time and by turning our attention towards the immediate experience of our body we quickly bring ourselves into the present moment.
Many people, however, are very cut off from the experience of their body. For some this is a survival strategy as a result of trauma or assault.
For others, it may be a result of cultural or societal influences, such as the prevalent messages in the media that your body must look a certain way or be a certain size to be acceptable or appreciated. In the USA, the culture often teaches us to focus on rote education, not experiential learning, to be the best on a test so we can get ahead, pursue the “American Dream”, get the most things, keeping our attention external so it is rare for us to think about our body, let alone to feel our it! The body, if perceived at all, is seen as the vehicle which carries our head around; something to be manipulated into the perfect shape, or an inconvenience of pain or illness. Yet when we turn our attention towards our body, especially with a heart of loving kindness, the body becomes the vehicle which transports us to the present moment.
Because of the pervasive culture of separation from our body and the commonality of trauma, care should be taken as we begin to engage in mindfulness practices using the body as gateway. It is helpful to be aware that we may be surprised or encounter the unexpected, both pleasant and unpleasant, as we turn our attention towards the body. It is a practice to be engaged with kindness, compassion and patience. An intention of slow, loving inquiry can be very helpful and practical.
Take a few moments to turn your attention to your body right now. As you read, take a pause after each prompt to turn your loving attention to the sensation in your body. Or click here to let me lead you through the reflection.
Take a few moments to reflect on this experience. Has it shifted your perception of this immediate moment? Do you feel a settling or slowing down? Might you have encountered areas of softness or areas of tightness in your body? Were there sensations of difficulty or fear? There is no right or wrong in your experience. It is your experience. It is your body. Turning your attention and mindfulness to the body isn’t about manipulating it to be something it is not, rather it is about training the mind to become aware of our immediate sensations and begin to be able to hear the innate wisdom which resides in our body. It is about creating a safe and loving container for our body to tell us its story, our story.
It can be very helpful to have support as we engage in building a more intimate relationship with our body. I have found external help from wise and trained companions particularly supportive in learning to engage my capacity of loving kindness towards my body, especially as I have worked with the held experiences of trauma. I am able to take the sense of safety I experienced in a session or class and recall it as I do body-centered meditation or mindful movement, such as Continuum or yoga, on my own.
As we befriend our body, our body as ally begins to reveal itself. We more readily hear the information it has for us, such as when a situation may be unsafe, or when an experience is pleasant or peaceful. We can sense into our body as a barometer when making decisions, turn to it as wise counsel. Often as the channel of communication between our mind and body becomes more open, more free flowing, more loving, our authentic, creative expression comes forth. This expression can lead us to know ourselves and the world more deeply. It can help us to remember who we truly are.
I'll end this post by sharing a recent creative expression which emerged for me after a Continuum class. Thank you for your attention. May all be well.
Raine Brown is a long-time meditator, a mindfulness teacher and facilitator, writer, explorer of the human experience, grant manager and Holistic Counselor. I hope these shared reflections inspire your curiosity and path of self-compassion.