I was speaking with a client recently about some concerns she has with mindfulness. She told me she had attended a course on mindfulness, and during the program she had been repeatedly instructed by the teacher to ‘feel into her body’ – a common enough instruction used in meditation practice. She had some significant problems with this instruction though, and felt that the practice of mindfulness was just not for her - “Telling me to feel into my body, is like asking a blind man to have a look”, she said.
Interestingly, the practice of mindfulness comes from a traditional ‘chop wood carry water’ lifestyle in which the foundations of the practice begin in action - by being mindful during the activities and behaviours of our daily life. Mindfulness in its traditional sense begins as a doing practice, and then gradually progresses through more subtle layers of awareness until it becomes a quiet sitting practice.
So the challenge my client was experiencing makes sense. Over the course of many years being at war with her body she has become incredibly capable at ignoring it. She now finds it very difficult to notice and/or interpret the natural wisdom of her body, and the signals and information it provides. Asking her to ‘feel into her body’ in such a subtle manner is a very long way from her current state of awareness.
As opposed to enhancing mindfulness, our approach to daily life activities can instead train us to become Mind-LESS of our bodies. We can learn this in many ways, such as:
- Ignoring and trying to overcome the natural wisdom of our bodies – including signals of hunger and fullness, and the need for rest
- Being told that our bodies are wrong or bad, and that we must work to overcome them – as is the message with weight loss dieting
- Being inattentive during our daily activities, particularly when we deliberately distract ourselves – eg. watching TV while exercising
- Pushing ourselves beyond our bodies natural range of wellbeing – eg. over-exercising, restrictive eating, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic inactivity etc.
So how can we turn this around? How do we learn to pay attention to the wisdom and intelligence of our body so we can respond to our needs in appropriate ways? This requires gradually tuning in and turning up the volume on the station in the mind that receives information from the body – otherwise know as Interoception (the felt senses of the body) and Embodiment (the experience of the moment as felt through the body).
Here are some ideas for developing your interoception and embodiment:
- Consider whether you are meeting your body’s basic needs - such as nutrition, rest, and activity. If we have become significantly disconnected from these needs, seeking professional opinion may help until we can get our own intuition working effectively, eg. consulting with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian to help you understand your nutritional needs
- Explore gentle movement awareness during your daily activities – ie. slow down when you’re walking and feel the natural side to side motion of the body as you walk, the way weight transfers through your feet as you move, and how your breath responds to the movement
- Consider embodied movement practices such as gentle forms of Yoga, martial arts, Feldenkrais etc – practices where the focus is on the felt sense of the body, rather than the external form
- Take small steps to attend to your body. Start in non-threatening ways, perhaps giving your hands and feet a self massage at night before bed, and offering this to yourself in a compassionate way that enables you to experience and feel these parts of your body without judgement
- Pause intermittently throughout the day to just notice your breath and posture, and see if there is anything you are particularly aware of in your body in that moment
- Develop skills in embodied forms of meditation which include body scan practices to enhance the connection between mind and body.
The mind and body are aspects of ourselves that are fundamentally and intricately connected. Increasing our awareness of this connection, and our ability to interpret the wisdom of the body is a key aspect to enhance our health and wellbeing.