Follow by Email

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Embodied meditation

Before I started meditating I took yoga classes for several years. I was no poster girl for yoga, but I did develop a familiarity with my body's mechanics.  So I was pretty smug when I was introduced to mindfulness of body. I knew my body.
Thing is, I knew how my body worked (or didn't). I knew how it looked. I didn't know how it felt. 
Like James Joyce's Mr Duffy, I lived a short distance from my body. Growing up, I never had a sense of my body as a comfortable place to be. It was to be covered up or flaunted, depending on the situation, and I was most familiar with it from others' reactions to it.

It took a lot of tries to become aware of how it felt to be in my body. I was helped by a teacher who prodded me to identify where I feel emotions. Now I often notice the body sensation before the emotion: gritted teeth = stress; tightness in the throat accompanies sadness; panic is in the chest, in my heart and lunds; tiredness is behind my eyes. And noticing the body sensations I can head off the thoughts.
Buddhist teacher Reginald A. Ray says that the full benefits of meditation cannot be experienced or enjoyed when we are not grounded in our bodies.
"The phrase 'touching enlightenment with the body'... doesn't just imply that we are able to touch enlightenment with our bodies; beyond that it suggests that -- except in and through our bodies -- there actually is not other way to do so."
Maybe I'm getting ahead of the game in talking about enlightenment; the topic is body scans. Which simply means placing your attention on your body. Start at the top and let your attention slide down, like honey dripping along your body, slowly, deliberately. Notice the energetic quality -- is it tense, relaxed, at ease, knotted -- and notice your reaction. Does a sensation in your knee lead to panicky thoughts like "I can't stand this" or "oh, no, what if I need a knee replacement?"
The practice is about staying with sensation, not telling yourself a story about where the sensation came from or what might happen. Just stay -- until you move to the next body part. Don't skip any parts, don't get stuck on any parts, don't judge parts, don't worry about parts. Just gently feel.
It's so simple -- and so complex. It develops awareness, observation, openness, lovingkindness, compassion, resting in the present moment.

Click here for directions and audio for a body scan mediation by a teacher of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

And here are some downloads from the University of California at San Diego Center for Mindfulness