“Clouds Like Cotton Balls (Matmmatus Clouds)” Copyright 2009 by eviltomthai used under a Creative Commons Attribution license
Do you listen to your body? Do you notice hunger before you’re famished and cranky? Can you discern the difference between true hunger and the need for comfort or distraction? Do you respect your body’s need for rest or do you push on until exhaustion makes you sick and you’re forced to slow down?
If we ignore it, our body will get our attention.
“Feel,” or awakening to our body’s sensations and signals, is the next stage in developing a meditation practice. In Breath we observed our breathing. In Relax, we began to notice our body. With Feel, we take that exploration deeper.
Often people ask me, “Why Feel?” As it relates to meditation, breathing and relaxing are easy to understand. Feel is a little more elusive. Breathing is an automatic response. It happens without conscious thought. As a result it gets overlooked. And much like breathing, we often ignore the signals our bodies send.
Our body is always there. We don’t have to think about it unless it hurts, is hungry or tired.
As a result, we drift through life.
We throw ourselves into work, workouts, vacations, family events, meals…the list goes on. Yet we neglect the physical experiences of our actions. Over time, we lose the ability to recognize the signals our body sends us. It’s like putting a layer of cotton between our brain and our body.
Feel is an important practice to develop because it reconnects our mental awareness to the physical sensations of life. We clear the cotton from the pathways and in doing so learn to be present in our lives.
The following exercise begins to reconnect your mental awareness to your physical sensations. We accomplish this through simply, and without judgment, feeling what happens in the body.
Reconnect awareness to your physical sensations
Begin in a comfortable position. Either seated or lying down
To center yourself, practice the breath and relaxation exercises, take as much time as you need to feel settled, supported.
Start by focusing on your chest as you inhale. Don’t try to force any breathing type or breathe too deeply. Just focus on your chest around the lower part of the sternum (breast bone).
With each inhale feel that area of your body filling, expanding. And with each exhale, feel the natural, sinking of that same area of the chest as the air effortlessly leaves.
If possible, inhale and exhale through the nose only. If you suffer from a cold or allergies, breathe as you need (nose/mouth, mouth only if required). Ideally, if you are using the nose/mouth combination, inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
Stay with this breathing for several cycles. With each full cycle of your breath, notice if it becomes easier, more difficult or no change to stay mentally focused on the expansion and contraction of the lungs and chest.
Without judgment notice if there are thoughts that are intruding. If your mind does wander, do you bring it back quickly? Gently? Slowly? How long does it take (that is do you follow the thought for a longish period of time) before you realize and bring your mind back to your breathing and chest?
When you are ready to end, as before, take a few breaths, notice the impact of this exercise on your mind and body. Without assigning judgment, just notice. This takes time and effort for most people, so stick with it.
And that brings us to homework. Yes, you guessed it. Try this exercise (without judging the outcome) 3-5 times in the next week. If you’ve been journaling about your experiences, keep it up. If not, you may find this is an ideal time to begin. It is entirely up to you. Outside of your practice, see if you are naturally more aware of the signals your body sends.