4 Steps to Practice Mindfulness of Your Body States
Awareness is the greatest agent for change. - Eckhart Tolle
The practice of mindfulness has gained popularity in recent decades with increased knowledge about Buddhism and the scientific research done on effects of meditation and mindfulness. It has been found that practicing mindfulness improves both mental and physical health. Practicing mindfulness is not a new thing. Many of the major religions and spiritual traditions of the world have always encouraged many practices and techniques that foster mindfulness in a person. In this article we will explore how we can weave mindfulness techniques into our daily life so that we are aware of our body states. Such awareness will eventually help us change our states to those that will promote our well-being rather than be victims of our circumstances.
The Advantages of Practicing Mindfulness
We hear a lot about the need for being in the NOW and many methods to achieve it. We hear about the advantages of meditation in making our life more meaningful and manageable. All this seems like working more on the mental level and does not seem of any practical application to day to day problems. Sitting down for meditation a few minutes every day will not help at the moment we are feeling extreme stress or dealing with anger. We need techniques that will immediately change our body state so that we can think clearly. This is where practicing mindfulness can help. According to scientists the advantages of mindfulness techniques on our physical well-being are:
- helps to relieve stress
- treat heart disease
- lowers the blood pressure
- reduces chronic pain
- improves sleep
- alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties
Are you always alert about your body states?
The Mind-Body Connection
The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. - Marcus Aurelius
The mind-body connection was explored and emphasized by many teachers, especially the Buddha. However, many spiritual traditions focused on the mind while the Buddha pointed out the importance of paying attention to what the body is trying to convey. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness taught by the Buddha are:
- Mindfulness of the Body
- Mindfulness of the Feelings (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral)
- Mindfulness of the Mind (or consciousness)
- Mindfulness of the Mental Qualities or Objects
Have you noticed that when you are thinking with great concentration, some parts or whole of your body has tensed up and sometimes you find yourself holding your breath? This is because the body and mind are interconnected and affect each other all the time. Many of the sensations in our body give rise to thoughts in our mind.
For example, when the body is dehydrated and you feel thirst, you think, 'I need to get a drink of water.' The vice versa also is true, our thoughts affect the body as well. For example, somebody has annoyed you and you are thinking about them, this thought will create a tightness in your chest, your breathing becomes faster and you start frowning. These are common body states that we all experience often in our lives. How can we be aware of what is happening in our body and what can we do to change our body states so that we don't become depressed, stressed out, develop eating disorders, etc?
Simple Tips to be Mindful of Your Body States
Observation without judgement is the highest form of human intelligence. – J. Krishnamurti
Step 1: Accept Things as They Are
The first step is to learn to accept things as they are especially the state of your body at any given point in time. For example, instead of saying 'I am fat', it is better to focus on the parts of the body where you feel fat. Then you remove the tension of that judgement from the whole body and yourself into an impersonal observation. Do you feel fat around your middle, thighs or double chin? Once you find that out, your mind will become free to address the problem and find out ways to work on it. The reason is that you have looked at and accepted your body state without reacting to it.
Step 2: Check Your Breathing
Observe your breath, is it shallow, deep, long, short, uneven, etc. Notice how it affects your whole body. If you are in the middle of a strong emotion focus on your breathing. If it is fast and shallow immediately take a few deep breaths. This is one way to be mindful of the message your body is trying to tell you.
Step 3: Make a Vow
Making a vow is a method advocated by most religious traditions. For example, take something you do without thinking such as drinking coffee during your breaks. Make a vow in the morning that you will not drink coffee that day but will substitute it with water. I have tried this and found that I am more aware of the body and its cravings, more mindful of the day and its happenings and on the whole alert and sensitive to life.
Step 4: Relax Your Body Often
Make it a point to relax your whole body during the day from the time you wake up. Paying attention to the tense muscles, back, around the eyes, jaw and consciously relaxing them often during the day will help in fostering mindfulness. Install break-reminder software on your machine if you work long hours on the computer.
Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn
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There are two simple methods of practicing mindfulness even if your life is extremely busy. They are:
- Observing Your Breath: Sit down in a comfortable position, close your eyes, relax the body from top to toe and observe your breath. You will notice that you step in and try to regulate the breath. Let go and step aside mentally. Breathe...
- Walking meditation: Choose a straight path – indoors or outdoors – around 15-20 steps long. Walk from one end of the path and turn around, and walk back. Pay attention to your feet and focus on the sensations there in. The posture must be upright, alert and relaxed. Remind yourself that there is no hurry to get anywhere. When the mind wanders from the feet, bring it back gently. Enjoy the simple joy of walking, in being in the present moment.
Both these methods can be done for 10 minutes a day to begin with and later increase it to 30 minutes. Both of them can also be a part of informal practice and can be done whenever you get the chance to do them. It is important to remember that it is regularity rather than duration which will help you succeed in practicing mindfulness.
Book: Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn's book Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness is an excellent resource for those who are planning to begin Mindfulness Meditation practice. He says in the Introduction:
The journey toward health and sanity is nothing less than an invitation to wake up to the fullness of our lives as if they actually mattered...
In this book he provides the definitive book for our time on the connection between mindfulness and our physical and spiritual well-being.