Wherever you go in life, whatever you do, one thing is for sure: your body will be there with you. The relationship between ourselves and our bodies is our primary connection, so it makes sense that on our journey to cultivate more mindfulness, we begin with habits that support us in being more present with the body.
Much like a mother attunes to her baby’s needs, we too can orient our attention inward to discover what nourishment or nurturing the body might be quietly asking for. Through the process of becoming self-attuned, we learn to become our greatest ally.
The body houses a tremendously helpful alert system for navigating our needs, thoughts and emotions. For me, a 60-second check-in provides boundless intel about my inner world. I close my eyes and sense that I’m thirsty, a little tight in my mid back from being at my computer all day, and I’m feeling residual frustration from a conversation I had this morning. What was lurking below now floats to the surface to be tended to or guided by.
Being present in the body is a homecoming, a re-inhabiting, an opportunity to return to and reengage with ourselves. It’s where we quite literally come to our senses, or what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls “falling awake.” Attuning to the present moment, most often through our bodily senses, we experience the delight and beauty of being alive.
Of course, some of us may encounter physical or emotional pain as we look inward, which can make tuning into the body uncomfortable and confronting. Through mindfulness, we can begin to cultivate a friendliness, or at least a sense of solidarity, toward what’s happening inside, even if we don’t like it. As we turn towards ourselves and create habits of fondly tending to and accepting our body—its shape, sensations and stages—we turn resistance, struggle and aversion into acceptance, compassion and love.
You are experiencing life with and through your body; it’s a faithful and enduring companion. The practices I’m going to share today will support you in creating a mindful body connection.
We reap what we sow. When we fill up our tanks and refuse to run on fumes, we begin to tap into endless resources that not only give us what we need to do our work in the world but also to stay steady when the unpredictable winds of adversity inevitably blow our way.
Healthy habits that attune us to our inner worlds provide the gateway to better self-care and a sense of harmony with ourselves. Mind-body connection isn’t just a spiritual pursuit; it’s an incredibly pragmatic practice. Imagine driving a car without a dashboard. You’d never know the status of your speed, gas, tire pressure or oil. Thankfully, your car has gauges for all of these key metrics, which allows you to care for your car and keep it running. You too have a dashboard. I’d like to offer you some practices that support you in tuning into it.
Stop and Drop
During my Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training, I learned the acronym S.T.O.P. as an effective way to quickly drop into the body. S.T.O.P. stands for Stop… Take a breath… Observe… Proceed. I think of it like tapping my brakes when I am so often moving full speed ahead. But when I learn to drop in for just 30 seconds, I slow down long enough to notice what’s happening inside and around me, making me aware of my environment, thoughts, emotions and physical sensations.
You start by gently closing your eyes or relaxing your gaze as you place one hand or both on the middle of your chest. Bring your attention to one inhale and one exhale, without any intention to change or deepen the breath. Just be with this one in and out breath. Internally, say “hello” to your body and this moment, then look to label your experiences on the inside and outside with single words. Perhaps the words “busy,” “stressed,” “tight,” or “tired” come to mind. Maybe you notice you’re thirsty, hungry or clenched. Tend to your needs; take a sip of water, grab a snack or gently roll the shoulders and neck.
Use any time you shift from one task to another, move from one place to another, or come and go from your home, as a prompt for this stop and drop practice. If you can aim to practice this habit several times a day.
The Mindful Body Scan
Scanning the body for emotions, tension and discomfort is a useful way to quickly tune into our state and triage our needs. We observe sensations, good or bad, that have escaped our notice while our attention was focused elsewhere. It’s also how we detect and diffuse stress. The body has a physiological response to the fast-paced, overly demanding world most of us live in, often unnecessarily flooding the body with hormones such as cortisol. By tuning into our stress response, we can begin to release it.
Start in a seated position, closing your eyes and taking a few grounding breaths. Repeat an anchoring phrase in your mind, such as “I am here now.” Beginning with your feet, slowly bring your awareness to the body’s sensations. As your awareness travels up through the body, notice any warmth, tension, even numbness or absence of sensation. If your mind wanders, which it will, repeat your phrase, breathe, and bring your attention back to where you left off. When you reach the top of your head, finishing by taking a few nourishing breaths, perhaps placing your hand on your heart as a sign of friendly camaraderie with yourself.
Connect this practice to a cue you experience frequently, such as waiting. This could include waiting for your kettle to boil or a Zoom call to start. Notice moments when you’d normally “kill time” by checking your phone and choose instead to do a quick, 3 to 5-minute body scan.
I’ve noticed that the people I know who are thriving tend to take really good care of themselves. It can take a lot of effort to get through the day, but those people who have created habits around caring for themselves with consistency and deliberateness seem to have boundless energy and vibrancy.