Mindfulness of Physical Sensations

Feelings, whether compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized and treated on an absolutely equal basis because both are ourselves.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Moss and sapling

Years ago, during my school days, we had a daily ritual to observe silence for two minutes during the day. We use to call it ‘The Silence Period’. Every day as soon as the bell rang after the lunch break, the entire school would gather in the assembly ground for the silence period. We were all supposed to stand still and quiet for two minutes with our eyes closed. The period would start with a drum beat and end with another, the time between the two beats seemed like eternity. Within those two minutes every part of my body would itch or my leg would sleep, sometimes the hand too. This continued daily for years. I came to a conclusion that there is some problem with my body and I can’t stand still with my eyes closed.

Body is the solution… not a problem

It took another few years to realize that the problem was not my body. The problem was (and is) that we are taught to focus more on the head than body. For many people mindfulness is something meant for neck up only. Mindfulness is paying attention to the body as a whole, every part of it from head to toe. Mindfulness is not about the mind taking over body instead involves getting familiar with the body, becoming reacquainted with it, in fact accepting and loving it completely. With guidance and practice it becomes easier to get comfortable in one’s own skin. Once we are at home in our body, we feel at home in universe.

Listen… Our body speaks

When we are at home in our body, we can notice how it responds to our thoughts and emotions.

Ever noticed, how full of energy we are when happy or how tired we feel when sad! We may have a headache, feel nauseated, sweat excessively, have palpitations or throbbing heart or even an upset stomach when we are upset. When stressed we often feel tightness in our joints and shoulders.  These physical symptoms are the ways through which our body talks to us about emotions and thoughts. All we need is to listen to our body, observe and notice the emotion or thought that causes a particular symptom.

Why there is a need for mindfulness of physical sensation?

It is said that in a healthy body resides a healthy mind. And a healthy mind leads to a healthy life…

Let us look at some of the reasons why it is important to be mindful about our sensations.

  1. Showing gratitude to a wonderful thing- Our body.

From the moment we take our first breath till we breathe our last, our body does so many things for us. We see, speak, hear, feel, taste, carry things, move around and also create things. We tend to do everything often without appreciating this wonderful thing. We take our body for granted when things feel right with it and feel frustrated when something goes wrong. By practicing mindfulness we can appreciate this magical thing and show gratitude towards it.

  1. We can feel the joys of living.

When we practice mindfulness, we become aware of the experiences of being alive. Christopher McCandless says, “It is the experiences, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. God it’s great to be alive.”

  1. We are drawn towards present.

Someone rightly said, “Come back to your body. It exists right here, in the moment. Let it be your anchor.” The body is always in the present. We feel what is happening right now. We cannot feel yesterday or tomorrow.

  1. We can work with our body more efficiently.

Our body is alive with energy and is driven with feelings. Being mindful about our physical sensations can help us to understand our body better and work more efficiently with it.


How to develop mindfulness of physical sensations?

Here are some simple exercises that we can practice:

1. Sit quietly for five to ten minutes a day (morning or evening or both) and observe the physical sensations. As you notice them, label them e.g. throbbing, twisting, discomfort, squeezing etc.

2. Try to be aware of the physical sensation in the body that is present. Practice this during the day whenever you can.
3. Pause and pay attention to how you are feeling whenever an upsetting event arises.
4. Pause and pay attention to whenever a happy event arises.
5. When under stress bring your attention to the body part  where you are experiencing the physical stress or pain . Consciously bring your breath to that part. Imagine breathing in and out of that place until you feel relaxed.
6. Remind yourself to be mindful of the physical sensations in every moment.

“Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

Enjoy the moment.”