The term ‘mindful’ may sound as if it is something that only happens in our heads. Whereas our actual experience is felt throughout the body. By connecting directly with all five senses (hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and seeing) and experiencing their connection with emotions and thoughts (which can be seen as a sixth sense) we can enter into the moment more fully. The body is traditionally seen as the first the foundation for mindfulness.
The human body is an incredible product of evolution. just by breathing, the body is replenishing itself with what is needed and releasing what is no longer required. By practising a curious and kindly attitude towards our body we can appreciate what we have, even when it is not entirely as we would wish.
The body is always in the present. When we take our attention to body sensations, we’re naturally drawn to the here and now.
Attending to the body has a steadying effect. When we bring awareness to the body, we’re getting closer to what supports us – the earth. The body offers counterbalance to the flighty mind that’s continually zooming off into ideas and ruminations.
The body provides us with feelings not words. When we describe them we use metaphors (e.g. ‘weight on my shoulders’, ‘butterflies in the tummy’) rather than precisely defined concepts. By becoming familiar with patterns of physical sensation, we can approach experience more directly. If our body is in pain and we try to ignore it, resist it, or ruminate on it, it may not help. The body is our home, even when we don’t like the state of it. If we open to the reality of body experience and explore how to be with it, rather than to control it, we may find that being at peace does not depend on things being pleasant.
You could, for example, try any of the following practices, each of which focuses on a different sense within our overall experience
Suggestions for playful practice – being skillful with our senses
Walking – an exercise in touching air and earth
When we walk we can focus on the feeling of the earth supporting us through the feet, the breeze on the skin, the air passing through our nose and mouth. Try timing the breath with the rhythm of the walking
Sight – looking anew
Sit or stand looking at something either indoors or outside – anything that attracts your attention. See it as if you were about to paint it rather than photograph it. What shapes/ colours/textures can you see? Gently letting go of the naming and classification of things as nice, nasty or neutral. See them as they are without judgement. If you notice a tendency to return to memories or comparisons let go of those for a moment and then include them if they re-emerge.
A tasty snack
Take the time to sit and have a drink or snack on your own. Reflect on how it was made, where it came from and how it reached you. Then involve all the senses (smell, touch, hearing, sight as well as taste and also the imagination) as you eat.
Allow the food and the experience to be absorbed before you move on.
Symphony in the city
At some point in the day sit and hear the sounds in the neighbourhood – letting go of the tendency to search for some other sound once one has been named and classified and recognised.
Receive the sounds as if each was a musical instrument in an exotic and experimental orchestra. Listen to them all equally and then all together.
Resonating with reading
Read a short piece, perhaps a page in a novel, a magazine article, a poem. Choose a phrase which stands out for you? Repeat it to yourself. Just sit with it. What does it evoke? Notice what images or ideas or memories arise. Do any of the words have meaning beyond the obvious? Hold the phrase in your mind, giving it time to suggest more to you. Now reread the full piece. Does it read differently? Do you feel differently in mind or body?
Playing games – come up with your own ways of using the six senses (all the above plus imagination) to find the ‘extra’ in the ordinary!