Physical mindfulness provides us with an opportunity to check in with our bodies on a regular basis. In doing so, we might notice where we are carrying tension, how we physically process our emotions, how we need to move our bodies to relieve tension and emotions, how our bodies can be a signal to our mental state and how our mental state greatly impacts the health of our bodies.
This acknowledgement moves us from a place of separation in these areas to one where we view ourselves as a unified whole. We realize the intimate connection of each part of ourselves. We develop the capacity to utilize our minds to benefit our bodies and our bodies to benefit our minds—rather than fighting our way out of the negative effects when the two are working against each other.
Here are the two major ways that mindfulness of our bodies can greatly serve us.
1. Using our minds to promote a healthier body
Stress. Enough said. This is a perfect example of how something that begins in our thoughts makes its way into our bodies and manifests itself in different forms. We can experience an increased heart rate, stomach issues, body tension—the list goes on. This only gets worse if we are ignoring our stress. Why? Because we are not allowing ourselves to deal with it, rid our minds of it, and therefore rid our bodies of its effects. Stress is the product of letting our thoughts run away from us. But, when we are practicing mindfulness, we have the opportunity to let go of these thoughts and to shed the attachment we feel to them.
First, though, we have to recognize they are there. When we slow down our busy routines enough to sit in stillness during our mindfulness practice—we give ourselves the space to notice how much stress might be in our thoughts. Once we notice it, we have the power to let it go. We can focus our attention on our breathing. We can visualize a peaceful place and keep coming back to it when our mind wanders. We can utilize a guided meditation. Whatever the method—taking the time to let those thoughts float away allows us to free our bodies as well. We might notice our heart rate coming back down with a few deep, intentional breaths. We might find that our stomach feels less jittery after a few moments letting go of our stressful thoughts. The long term impacts of this practice are transformational for our overall health.
2. Using our bodies as a tool to clear our minds
The flip-side of this is that we can also use our bodies as a tool to clear our minds. Yoga is a perfect example of how we can do this. Another method is to practice a body scan or a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. In any of these examples, we are using our bodies as the avenue to take a break from our thoughts. In a yoga practice, we are focusing on our breathing, we are paying attention to the different muscle groups we should be working in every pose, we are trying to keep our balance and we are working to do each pose correctly.
In order to do all of this effectively, we need to come away from our steady stream of thoughts for a while. If we don’t, our practice suffers and we notice immediately. We might fall out of a pose, engage the wrong part of the body and feel the pose differently, etc. This practice allows us a physical way to approach mindfulness. We have to embrace the present moment more fully because it is the moment in which we are moving and engaging with our body. This same concept applies to body scans and progressive muscle relaxation. In both of these practices, we are shedding our attachment to our thoughts in an effort to tune into the body more fully. In body scans, we focus all of our attention on different parts of the body as we move through our scan. We send our mental energy into those body parts—maybe we visualize the energy in those parts or notice where we feel tight or loose. In progressive muscle relaxation, we move through each body part and consciously contract and release the muscles within. By doing so, we focus on each body part—one at a time—which allows us less mental space to overthink and become lost in our thoughts. Using the body as a tool to gain control of our minds might be the most tangible way to practice mindfulness for some.
All in all, the mind and body are incredibly linked in a mindfulness practice—focusing on one will ultimately benefit the other. Think about which approach feels like a more appropriate place to start for you. In a short while, you might see that choosing either approach brings you inner peace and relief from the effects of negative thoughts and emotions.