Your body is amazing and is always seeking balance and health. When we get out of balance our body starts to let us know that something needs to change; this may be slight niggles, a cold or general discomfort. If these smaller symptoms are ignored, we can develop more serious disease. By taking focused time you can start to become aware of what is going on in your body. By listening you can soon identify when you are out of balance and take steps to remedy this. Here we give you five easy ways to increase your body awareness.
Focus on your breathing. Anytime you have five minutes to spare, maybe when you are stood in a queue, waiting for the train to arrive or before going out to collect the children, stop and watch your breath. Focus on your breath coming in and out of your nostrils. Each time the mind wanders, as soon as you notice, wandered, simply drop the thought and return to your breath. When you first start watching your breath, you might notice that your breath is short and shallow. As you continue watching your breath, it will likely start to increase in length and depth, as you (and your mind) become more and more calm. The breath is often an indicator of how stressed or relaxed you are in any given moment.
2. Awareness of thoughts and emotions
When you have longer time available (maybe 20 minutes), sit in a place (inside or outside it does not matter) then start to observe what is going on around you. After a few minutes gradually turn your attention inside, becoming aware of your bottom against the seat, the feeling of your feet on the floor, and maybe your back resting against the chair. Then go deeper inside and start to observe your emotions and thoughts that arise. Make a conscious effort to let the thoughts go, like dropping a feather from the hand and allowing it to blow away in the wind. Learn to be the observer of your thoughts and emotions. Notice how your body reacts to something that you “like”. And also notice how it also reacts to something that is not so pleasant, that you do not “like”. Continue for up to 15 minutes, longer if you want, watching your emotions and thoughts and letting them go.
In every moment of the day, thoughts and emotions arise, like waves on the sea shore. Sometimes we are conscious of them and sometimes we are not, even though often they can trigger a response in our body. By learning to watch and then release our thoughts and emotions we become more aware of our body in any given moment. We are more able to choose to let go of things that make us angry or sad.
3. Eat mindfully
At each mealtime, focus all of your attention on your experience of eating your food. Sit at a table, with no distractions (switch off the TV and phone, put down the book or newspaper, switch off the radio) and focus all of your attention on what you are doing. Pay full attention to how the food smells, what it looks like on the plate, holding the cutlery to cut the food, putting it onto your fork or spoon, then putting it into your mouth. Chew mindfully – taste the food on your tongue. And then when you are ready swallow. Then start again, look, cut and so on. By focusing inside, you will also start to recognise the feeling when you are full.
After eating your meal, notice how you feel inside. Is your stomach comfortable or is it gurgling? Have your cheeks flushed? Do you feel light and satisfied or heavy and sluggish? Maybe you can feel that you have a quick burst in energy after eating a sugary snack, with continued body-observation you will also be able to identify the following dip.
Eating mindfully will not only increase your enjoyment of food, you will probably also eat less; great for weight-loss.
Take up regular yoga! Yoga encourages you to tune into your body – into how the body feels when you start a class, when you are holding a pose, moving between asanas or at the end of the class during relaxation. Notice at the end of the class, if you have done many hip opening exercises, whether any emotions have been released. Maybe the body feels more open at the end of the class and the breath moves more easily around the body.
5. Body scan
A body scan is a great way to start or end your day. We gave a detailed script in our December newsletter (body scan). Find a comfortable position, maybe lying down. Then bring your attention inside. Start with your toes, focusing your attention on how the toes feel. Then gradually move your attention upwards. Check in with your tummy – notice whether it feels relaxed or tight? You can then breathe into any areas of tightness, and as you exhale, imagine letting go, allowing each part of the body to relax in turn.
As you regularly practice these techniques, you will learn to notice and then listen to the messages that your body is sending, whether these messages are loud or quiet. Your self-awareness will increase. Maybe you will identify more easily when you need to rest, and rather than forcing yourself to keep going, you will stop, sit down and rest for 30 minutes, recharging more quickly. You might pick up on a food intolerance and, by making a slight change to your diet, notice that your level of pain has decreased. So, make a start now! How are you breathing in this moment right now?
To your health and wellbeing.