What is embodied mindfulness? And how do I make it into a type of meditation? Those are great questions, thanks for asking.
At its core, embodied mindfulness incorporates a basic body scan meditation as an exercise in cultivating a sense of awareness of the various parts of our body. In the same way we focused on the breath as the object of awareness in the previous week’s mindfulness of breath meditation, in embodied mindfulness we focus on different arts of our bodies. You can think of it like yoga, but yoga without the movement. Mind yoga. Instead of mindfully moving the parts of your body as you would in yoga, instead you are just mindfully focusing on those parts of your body.
By becoming more aware of different parts of our body, and teaching ourselves how to focus awareness on certain body parts, we are better able to feel into our bodies. By “feeling into” our bodies, I mean noticing the sensations that may arise when an emotion or physical sensation takes place in the body. This ultimately makes us better listeners when our bodies are trying to tell us something, and we have a better capacity to feel into both the pleasure and pain in our body—when we know what feels right and what doesn’t, we feel good.
You can do a body scan meditation lying down or sitting up. The exercise begins with the basic mindfulness of breath meditation we did last week, and then moves to a second step once you feel settled into your breath and have reached a relaxed state. Then you proceed to place your attention on certain parts of your body, say you start with your right foot, then you would move up to your right ankle, and then your right shin, allowing your attention to drift to each part slowly—even staying with each body part for as long as 30 seconds!
What is an embodied mindfulness meditation?
So how do we do the thing? There are two primary ways of practicing embodied mindfulness. One is the simple body scan (which I do in the audio for this week). It involves focusing on a different part of our body for a few seconds each and taking deep breaths in as we focus. As you let your breath out, you can imagine that part of your body relaxing and the tension easing away. Traditionally, you can start at the top of your head or your feet, whichever feels right for you. Then gently work your way up, limb by limb, to the other end of your body. Keep breathing and relaxing the tension away as you go!
The second way of performing an embodied mindfulness meditation is in the context of emotions. When you feel an emotion arising, you can do the same thing and take a couple deep breaths and take a moment to notice where you the emotion feels most prevalent in your body. Is it your chest? Your stomach? Your head? Your little left toe? Wherever it is doesn’t matter, it just matters that you take a moment to acknowledge where its manifesting in the body. After you’ve noticed the emotion in your body, I invite you to simply breathe into it the same way you would in the body scan meditation, and slowly allow the feeling to dissipate. You can think of it like a masseuse rubbing out a tight muscle during a massage, the more they rub, the looser the muscle gets. That’s the way it works with our emotions when we do an embodied mindfulness meditation. By noticing the emotion and gently easing the tension, we are able to better control our reactions and enjoy positive interactions within our bodies too. Plus, embodied mindfulness actually helps with the pain, so it’s really is like our mind is massaging those points.
What is the science behind embodied mindfulness meditation?
Embodied mindfulness can actually help us with our emotional regulation patterns, meaning by learning how to understand how emotions present themselves in our bodies, we are better able to understand our bodies, and feel emotions as they begin to arise before we actually react. Say you’re having a bad day and someone does something extra annoying, instead of automatically reacting, you’ll actually be more tuned into feeling the anger arise in your body. By noticing the anger, you’re able to take a couple deep breaths and help decrease the likelihood of a reaction on your part, improving self-regulation of your own emotions.
By practicing embodiment in meditation we are strengthening the mind-body connection, which researchers have proved strengthens our ability to maneuver our emotional responses and even manage our pain levels.
The base of all of this is a term in psychology known as embodied cognition. Psychologists use this term to state the claim that our brain’s are not the only influencing factors when it comes to our emotions—our bodies also offer a whole lot of information and influence factors that relate to our emotions.
When is it helpful to do a embodied mindfulness meditation?
The next time you’re feeling happy, like really happy, try a quick body scan and notice where the happiness in your body seems the most prevalent. Try to do the same thing when you’re feeling sad, or stressed. All of these emotions manifest in each of our bodies in different ways. By listening to the body, and taking a couple deep breaths with our awareness on the feeling of sadness in our heart, or stress in the pit of our stomach, we are actually able to relax further into these emotions and calm the body naturally. The best part is we also become better at tapping into physical body sensations such as touch (and as a result pleasure).
If you’re feeling up to it, and wouldn’t mind intensifying your Dame experience, try to warm up to the activity with a relaxing embodied mindfulness body scan. Be careful, if you’re too good at it, you may drift off to sleep (and we all know a little extra sleep is never a bad thing). But if you don’t end up dozing off, be sure to enjoy those benefits of feeling more in tune with your body.