Michael Byrne, ND, MA
Psychotherapist, Naturopathic Physician
Seattle Healing Arts Center
9730 3rd Ave. NE, Suite 208
Seattle, WA 98115 [map]
(206) 428-2067
Mindfulness, or Bodyfulness

Mindfulness, or Bodyfulness

Watching an old video of a talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I very much enjoyed a question he asked. He reflected upon how so much of our education is focused on teaching one how to think. But, he asked, how often have teachers in formal education sought to help others explore how to be aware?

Thinking happens above the shoulders. It is an activity of the brain – neural networks, creating, analyzing, categorizing. In contrast, awareness, is something that involves our body. Our whole body. Our hearing and sight, our sense of smell, taste and touch. And while thinking can take us into the past or the future, awareness is always in the present. Our senses tell us what is happening around us right now, not some other time.

In part, the term mindfulness has come to designate the conscious intention to be aware, to be awake to what is going on around us. To be mindful is to be present. Thought of in this way, the focus is on our capacity to sense and feel, rather than our capacity to think. And thus, to be mindful is actually to be body-full. To be aware is to be present in our body, and present to what our body senses. And to do that, to be present to what we are sensing, to what is going on around us, it is often easier if we are not thinking quite so much. As an example, we often hear what someone is saying much more accurately when we are not busy thinking about our reply.

Now there is nothing inherently bad about thinking. Thinking can help us to achieve all sorts of creative and useful things. And yet it seems that our brain can get overly excited about thinking, to such an extent that we forget to attend to our body and what it is experiencing. The distinction that interests me today is the distinction of time. Our brain is so quickly drawn to things not in the present. We can easily start considering tomorrow, or return to the events of yesterday. But the body is always in the present. The senses are always aware of what is happening right now, not some other time.

It is this difference that I think makes all the difference. For it is in the present moment that life is actually happening. The past and the future are great places to go to learn, to dream and to be entertained, but it is in the present moment where all the action is. That is where we create our lives. And there is a lot of evidence that links the ability to be present to many desirable things in life, such as health, vitality, peace, and effectiveness.

That last statement is quite a claim to drop without evidence, but I’m going to leave it at that right now. Plenty of others have written about the power of being present and how it helps us in so many ways. But now I’d like to get out of my head, and I invite you to do the same. How about some Bodyfulness?

So first, take a few deeper breaths. Let yourself slow down a little. Feel your breath coming into your body and going out. Just follow those sensations for a couple breathes. Now take note of where you are and what else you are sensing. If you are sitting, what does the chair or ground feel like? How do you experience the sensation of contact with your clothing, the air, gravity? What do you smell? What is the sensation of air coming into your nose like? How about sounds? How many sounds can you identify as you quietly listen right now? All of these questions involve the brain because I am asking you to name things, but you can also just experienced sensations without labeling them. Just noticing what was occurring? Continue for a few moments letting your attention travel about your body, or move from one sense to the next, and just notice.

These might seem like silly or simple questions, but the truth of the matter is that we do not usually attend to what the body is experiencing, at least not consciously. And there is great value in slowing down and noticing where you are. I’d like to suggest an experiment for you to try the next time you are in a situation that gives you some difficulty. See if you can remember to stop for a moment to tune into your body and what it is aware of. The “stop” may just be internal; that is fine. So ss soon as you realize you are unsure what to do in a situation, or are uncomfortable, stop thinking and just notice what your body is sensing. What color predominates around you? Are there any smells you notice? What sensations do you feel in your torso, in your chest? What are a few sounds happening around you that you hadn’t noted consciously yet? And then, after you have taken a moment to be mindful, or bodyful, bring your attention back to the task or question that you were challenged with a moment ago. How do you feel about it now?  What are your thoughts about it now?



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