Awareness of the Body

Mindfulness practice is being aware of each experience and accepting that experience as it arises in the moment. With continued practice we broaden and deepen the awareness of each experience as it occurs.

An important element of mindfulness practice is awareness of the body, which includes awareness of the posture and movement of the body as well as awareness of sensations that occur in the body.

Our experience of the body is always in the present moment. The body knows only the present moment yet it has its own memory; the body is a storehouse of our personal history. These body memories are mostly unconscious; they lie below the level of immediate awareness. Since the body knows only the present moment it experiences these unconscious memories as if they were occurring right now.

But we tend to disconnect our awareness from the body because it is subject to pain and to unpleasant feelings.  The body houses desires and emotions that might be (or might have been) socially taboo. We vacate the body and become enmeshed with our thoughts and beliefs; we become identified with the mind.

When we suppress body awareness we also suppress our aliveness and the natural joy of being alive. Disconnected from the body we become alienated from nature and from the earth. We then perceive the natural world as foreign and unrelated to ourselves.

One of the most direct ways to access the unconscious mind is through conscious awareness of the body. As we experience the body with awareness and equanimity in the present moment we make conscious that which has been unconscious. This allows us to metabolize our past experiences and to live in the clear reality of the present rather than living with our perceptions shrouded by ghosts of the past.

There are many reasons, physical, psychological and spiritual, to practice mindfulness of the body. Jon Kabat-Zinn, originator of a practice called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, has documented numerous cases where individuals have improved their physical and psychological health as a result of the MBSR practice, which includes extensive training in body awareness. The Buddha taught extensively about awareness of the body as a foundation for spiritual awakening and liberation from suffering.

In mindfulness practice we hold the intention to be aware and accepting of each sensation that arises in the body. Begin by practicing with awareness of the breath and then become aware of any other sensations that arise in the body. Don’t think about the body or try to visualize it but just experience the feelings and sensations directly. Feel the body within the body itself. And, try to make friends with each experience, even if it’s unpleasant.

An alternative method of body awareness is to sweep awareness through the body from top to bottom and back again, over and over. Once again, this not a visualization, it is scanning the body with direct awareness.

 To be fully awake and free from suffering it is essential to be aware of the body; and to fully experience the body as it is in each moment. As we practice a clear direct awareness of the body we will experience the deeper reality of the body; we will see that it is much more than a physical form and that we are much more than a physical body. This is a profound experience--but we cannot think our way into it. To be fully awake we must embrace the body fully and directly with awareness and with equanimity.