We often think of mindfulness as something that only happens in our heads. It’s about learning to pay attention to the here and now.
Mindfulness is being able to truly be present in the moment. Being mindful is letting go of passing thoughts and not burdening ourselves with the nagging pursuit of “what’s next?”
Although all of this is true, mindfulness is also about listening to your body.
When we learn how to tune in and pay attention to our bodies, we learn how to give our bodies what it needs.
When we respond to the subtle cues our bodies communicate to us throughout our daily lives we come ever closer to treating our bodies like the temples they are meant to be.
8 Ways To Be More Mindful Of Your Body
As with all things mindful, body mindfulness is a practice. It is not a destination, but a journey.
When we make a habit of listening to our bodies we tap into a limitless wellspring of experience that makes life more vivid, purposeful, conscientious, and charitable to ourselves and the world around us.
In short, we are more alive.
There are many avenues a person can take to tune in, ground down, and center themselves within their bodies. By incorporating some or all of these practices into your daily life you can become a student of your body with infinite lessons to be learned.
The word meditation conjures images of a person sitting cross-legged with eyes closed in a perfectly still state for an extended period of time. That image is valid and a common way to meditate but it’s not the only way, by far.
We can meditate while moving and achieve a greater sense of bodily awareness in the process.
Yoga, discussed later, is arguably the most popular form of moving meditation but there are others.
The practice of Tai Chi originated in China between 1500-700 years ago. Like yoga, it offers practitioners the opportunity to combine movement and breath in a variety of poses.
Rather than holding poses in a static way, Tai Chi is fluid. Aimed at moving energy, Tai Chi is a non combative martial art that builds strength, balance and coordination.
If you want to practice Tai Chi, look for a group in your area or seek out an online video to practice at home.
Dance is another form of moving meditation that can release tension and make you feel joyous and free.
One practice, called Ecstatic Dance gives people of all abilities a space to move freely, express themselves, and connect to their bodies in a safe way. Ground rules include no talking, drinking, or drugs.
Given the proliferation of yoga studios and online yoga classes available, yoga has ascended to the top spot when it comes to moving meditation in our culture.
Yoga is centered around a focus on your prana or breath. The slow inhalations and exhalations are where you focus your attention and the breath gives you the energy and power to access the physical postures.
From Ashtanga to Vinyasa, there are at least 10 different types of yoga to explore depending on what kind of experience you hope to have.
Some are strength building while others seek only to restore but all are moving meditations that will, over time, develop bodily awareness.
(Check out MyYogaWorks for a large variety of online yoga classes. Their current special is 3 months for $1/mo.)
As you learn to pay closer attention to your body you will become more compassionate towards yourself. You will come to see that your body is different each day.
One day you may be able to easily touch your toes in a forward bend while the next day it may strain your lower back to do so. This is normal and should be honored.
With bodily mindfulness we learn to make modifications for our bodies from day to day, activity to activity. Rather than pushing ourselves to achieve, we allow ourselves to back off for the betterment of our body.
This allowance of modifications is critical to any physical practice so that we stay healthy and injury-free.
As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, much of mindfulness for the body incorporates a focus on our breathing.
This is because the quality of our breath is one way our body communicates with us.
When our breath is shallow and quick, we may be tense, stressed, or in pain. When it is slow and deep, we might be in a state of relaxation or attentive concentration.
When we are stunned, angry, or full of fear we may hold our breath and literally have to remind ourselves to breathe.
By engaging in breathing exercises you can train yourself to be more aware of the quality of your breath so that you can receive the messages being sent to you and act upon them in a constructive way.
There are limitless iterations of breathing exercises you can practice anywhere and anytime.
Practicing mindful breathing doesn’t require equipment, a special location, or an instructor. All you need is your breath.
Taking time to stretch and lengthen our muscles is not only a technique for improving our bodily awareness, it also feels incredibly good!
As you slowly extend your reach towards your toes, the sky, or your side, you have the gift of time to tune into sensation.
Where are you tight? Where are you open? Can you find more space and length? Can you let go of some tension?
There are no set rules or routines when it comes to stretching but do be cautious of over extension.
Stretching is good for you anytime of the day but research has shown that stretching after exercise helps with inflammation, circulation, and range of motion in your joints.
If you prefer to move through a sequence, FitBit recommends a daily sequence that moves through all of the major muscle groups in just 10 minutes.
Pilates, named after its creator Joseph Pilates, has been around since the 1920’s.
Focused on proper alignment, posture, and your core, pilates sequences improve strength, flexibility, balance, and muscle endurance. Although it is sometimes practiced on a machine called a Reformer, there are a multitude of pilates postures that can be done with only a mat.
Pilates requires total attention to the moment due to the intricacies of the movements involved, making it a mindful practice.
Mindful Cardiovascular Exercise
When talking about bodily mindfulness as it relates to cardiovascular exercise, the area of focus is on obtaining the desired increase in heart rate without compromising the health of the body.
This requires focus, self-compassion, and a positive viewpoint on the exercise at hand.
For example, someone who has endured a trauma to their knees should opt for an elliptical machine over a treadmill or track running. When on that elliptical machine, she should use that time to pay attention to what is happening in her body instead of watching TV. If her knee is feeling particularly iffy on any given day, she should excuse herself from anything high impact.
Rest and Recovery
The American Sleep Association reports that over 35% of adults get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. Insufficient sleep leads to a host of emotional and physical problems that negatively impact our personal and professional lives.
One of the most powerful ways we can be mindful of our bodies is to prioritize rest and recovery, both on a daily basis and in times of healing.
Having healthy sleep hygiene helps us get the 7-9 hours of sleep that adults require.
Establishing and sticking to a set waking and bedtime, keeping electronics out of the bedroom, and giving yourself plenty of time to relax prior to sleep are all well-documented aids for night time sleep.
There are times when our bodies require more rest than usual and we sometimes fail to listen to that need due to the pressures of work, school, or family life.
This is to the detriment of our physical and emotional well being. If your body is sending you irrefutable signals that it requires rest, do what you can to accommodate.
You will find yourself ill less frequently, more level on an emotional basis, and more capable of meeting your obligations as a result.
Most people view a massage as an indulgence, only to be gratified on special and rare occasions.
The reality is that massage is a form of physical therapy that should be employed between you and a loving partner or with a professional as often as can be afforded.
Knots and tension do not magically disappear on their own. If left unaddressed these problems can be debilitating.
Massage therapy breaks up this tension and leaves you loose and relaxed.
While receiving a massage you are fully engrossed in the sensation from moment to moment. You feel the difference between your physical self before and after receiving a massage.
That is bodily mindfulness at its best.
Our lives are brimming with opportunities to tune in, tune out, and expand our experience. By choosing to pay close attention to the messages, needs, and sensations in our bodies we learn to not only listen, but to also act in a healthy, positive way.