Mindfulness means accessing the treasure of your physical experience
Ever feel like you’re not quite IN your body? Like your awareness is just outside it somewhere? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
When you are new to the practice of meditation, or even if you’ve been practicing for a while, it can seem HARD to just “be” in your body. It was for me. My mind resisted ferociously! I would find my attention constantly jumping out of my body and into thinking about how “annoyed” or “angry” or “depressed” I felt.
I remember back in the summer of 2010, lying on a yoga mat in a huge room with other teacher trainees, as we immersed ourselves in the curriculum of the program known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or “MBSR”. As the founder of the program, world renowned meditation teacher and author Jon Kabat-Zinn, led us through a meditative practice known as a “Body Scan”, I remember thinking “this is ridiculous!” I initially hated it. My mind wanted to go back to what it was “used to”: thinking, ruminating, having opinions, worrying, getting things done! These were the things my mind was really good at! Being in my body was the last place my mind wanted to be.
Resistance is understandable. Work compassionately with yourself.
It can take time for an anxious, troubled mind to become comfortable with just “being” in the body – time and patience. The body and mind are closely linked, and they influence each other. The body is a reflection of the mind. I was intrigued to learn that even our typical day to day body postures are a manifestation of the life we are living, including the life of the mind. Our emotions live in the body and express themselves there. Sometimes these postures, these mirror images of our lifetime of thoughts and emotions, can become fixed or frozen into neuromuscular patterns held in the body – a sort of “body armor” that we unconsciously carry around with us.
So, when we first bring our attention into the body, and the immense storehouse of information and feelings that it holds, some of it not so pleasant, it makes sense that we encounter resistance. But mindfulness practice asks us to turn toward what is, not away. We can do this, little by little. Our unconscious struggle to escape the truth of our own experience lies at the root of our suffering. I have found that the best way to engage with and move through resistance to “being in” the body, in the sustained way asked of us by meditation, is with a great deal of self-kindness and compassion.
Keep it simple and kind.
Try starting simply – feel your hand on your heart or tummy. Feel the aliveness of your body just breathing. And then, just breathe, naturally, letting your body breathe itself at its own natural rhythm and pace. Begin moving your awareness around and through your body, checking in with the sensations that exist When you encounter mental or physical resistance to “attending” to the physical experience of your body, be it feelings of anger, fear, sadness, or the distraction of constant thinking, note the sensation and offer yourself some compassion because of the discomfort that is there. You might place your hand on the area of discomfort in a gesture of compassion for what you are feeling. Try to visualize breathing warmth and healing into that spot.
Laying the groundwork for a new way of being.
What’s important here is that you are not denying what you are experiencing. Instead, you are developing your capacity to be with and in your body. This begins to establish the foundation for present moment awareness and sustained meditative attention. This is the foundation for a new way of being in your life altogether.
Even just a few minutes of “being” in your body and in your breath starts the process of teaching your nervous system that there is a different way of being and it has nothing to do with thinking, struggle, fight or flight. Then, you can build on that experience of presence, a little each day. There is more to learning how to meditate, but embodiment is a very important prerequisite. There are several guided embodiment practices on the "Resources" page of my website to get you started.
You are building something powerful inside yourself each time you practice, whether you realize it or not. Over time, it will become more and more clear that you are changing for the better. Your body has been your fast friend your entire life. It holds such treasures for you if you can learn to pay attention. Feel, breathe, listen, be . . . .
Madeline Ebelini is a former stressed-out lawyer turned certified mindfulness instructor with a mission of helping people reduce stress through teaching them practical and effective mindfulness techniques. She teaches the 5-star reviewed online course Mindfulness For Stress Relief, and leads a weekly live online meditation group Remember to Breathe.
If you would like to explore mindfulness meditation, register for the free webinar “Learn 3 Quick Mindfulness Practices for Stress Relief.”
Click the button below and get instant access.