“To come to our senses, both literally and metaphorically, on the big scale as a species and on the smaller scale as a single human being, we first need to return to the body, the locus within which the biological senses and what we call the mind arise.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
A mindful stance towards life involves welcoming experience and accepting reality just as it is, not as we would like it to be. Once we let go of our attachment to needing or wanting things to be different, we ease a great deal of suffering. Many people experience extreme discomfort and disconnection from their physical selves. This sense of disconnection can lead to self-loathing, dissociative experiences, and experiential unawareness.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy & Bodily Sensations
According to “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy,” every thought, feeling, and physical sensation that we experience is accompanied by underlying felt meanings. These felt meanings are expressed and experienced through bodily sensations. When we choose to be distanced or disconnected from our physical experience, we miss out on the ability to tap into this intuitive sense.
In order to re-learn the natural ability to feel our experience, we must practice perceiving the world through our senses: hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, seeing, and the kinesthetic sense of knowing in your body. When we learn how to tap into our senses and become mindfully attuned to bodily sensations, our ability to intuitively know how we are feeling is enriched.
Many people have a pattern of retreating from their felt experience. There many be an underlying belief that it is somehow “safer” to think about emotions rather than experience them in the body. If this sounds like you, the first step towards reconnecting with your natural felt experience is to use the technique of a body scan to mindfully notice what places in your body are particularly tense or holding onto painful emotions.
Becoming Fully Present in Your Body
The body can be thought of as a “window into the mind.” When we are open to being fully present in our bodies, we are willing to allow our bodies to assist us in healing emotional processes. If this sounds far-fetched to you, ask yourself where your resistance towards being physically present and connected to yourself comes from. Many people go through the motions of the day and steadily move towards their chosen goals, but are more than willing to do all of this without “checking in” with their physical selves. What do you imagine the long-term toll of this disconnection between body and soul is?
Some people feel resistant to the idea of “checking in” and reconnecting with their physical selves out of fear. This a natural experience that you don’t need to push away or deny – let it be. If mindfully connecting with your physical self feels threatening or uncomfortable, this is often an important signal that it is especially important for you to do this. We often resist the things that could be most healing and beneficial to us.
Bodily Sensations & Depression
Crane (2009) discusses the way in which the body is “part of the feedback loop that maintains depression.” Some of the physical sensations that often accompany depression (fatigue, heaviness, muscle tightness) often serve to perpetuate the psychological experience of depression. You can choose to use your body as an ally. Change your physical posture to an upright and dignified position. Practice moving your body into a grounded, open, and relaxed position.
These ideas of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy are reminiscent of aspects of dialectical behavior therapy, which encourage the use of opposite action to change emotional states. The idea is that if you are feeling depressed, you are likely acting depressed and thinking like a depressed person. If you truly want to feel differently, you must begin to act and think differently. Our emotional states will follow changes in thinking and behavior.
What ways of mindfully noticing and reconnecting with your physical self can you identify? Do you have a tendency to “feel present” in your body most of the time, or do you notice a pattern of denying or numbing your felt experience? Your body is your ally if you will allow it to be.
If you are feeling anxious, depressed, angry, or fearful and you do not want to feel this way, then by all means, stop acting like an anxious, depressed, angry, or fearful person. This is not invalidating your emotion experience – a mindful stance involves fully accepting whatever emotions you are experiencing as valid. The idea is that if you want to change your emotions, you must change your behaviors. Act differently, think differently, and you will feel differently. It is surprisingly simple.
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Crane, R. (2009). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. New York, NY: Routledge.
Featured image: Practice Yoga, Be Healthy! by VinothChandar / CC BY 2.0