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The body contains resources for pleasure, pain-relief, clarity, and connection, and we can access these resources by connecting with ourselves through open, compassionate awareness.
Body presence--the art and practice of being broadly aware of what you feel. The awareness you engage in body presence is very open--it won't only be restricted to the regions of the body that are most talkative. Further, this awareness is non-judgmental. Abiding in body presence is synonymous with accepting what you feel--not trying to deny or push away any uncomfortable feelings.
For some people, body presence comes more naturally than for others. For everybody, body presence can be practiced and developed as a skill over time. I don't think it's quite right for anyone to declare that they are not "physically inclined" and therefore it's not worth trying.
Body presence is not an abandonment of "mind." First of all, features of your body constitute your mind. Your brain and nervous system are your body, of course. Second of all, body presence is a specific, purposeful application of conscious attention to what is physically taking place--the beating heart, the pace and depth of the breath, the circulation of blood, muscle engagement and relaxation, and so on. So the mind is indeed engaged during body presence.
What happens when you practice body presence?
1. Deepened body awareness
Regularly bringing attention to what you can feel opens you to the body's messages. At first, you may sense that the body is expressing something but can't quite understand the meaning. Over time, with consistent practice, these expressions will start to make sense, but not necessarily in a verbal way. You will start to grow into the body's language just like you would grow into a foreign language if you immersed in a foreign country. You can't not learn when you immerse--you're bound to pick up on expressions and their meanings. When body awareness deepens, you become more skilled at reading and responding to (or not responding to, depending on what's appropriate) the body's signals.
2. Decreased anxiety
Body presence is a very simple, accessible, and powerful remedy for anxiety caused by overthinking. We can get very wrapped up in thoughts, including fears, what-if scenarios, and other endless cycles that don't actually lead to any kind of constructive action. The tricky thing here is that racing thoughts can convince you that they are VERY IMPORTANT and must be paid attention to. But you'll know for sure if you are in a situation where you need to make an immediate decision, and these scenarios are usually very rare. When there is no real action to be taken at the moment, and you identify that thoughts are causing distress, that's the perfect time to move awareness into body presence. Soften the grip on the mind, realize these thoughts are not so urgent or important, and focus on what you feel. The body provides a sanctuary for thought-induced anxiety because it is devoid of words. It speaks a wordless language, one that won't trap you in unhelpful and stressful cycles.
3. Increased pleasure and pain relief
Did you know the body has its own resources for feeling good? In this day and age we are encouraged to seek external fixes for mental or physical discomfort. Now, I'm not discounting all external remedies, painkillers, and therapies, but I do want to emphasize the power of your body's own chemistry. Those external resources should come as a supplement if needed when the body's own resources don't feel like enough.
Just as body awareness can be practiced and developed, you can take steps to encourage the body to utilize its own resources. There are many ways to do this, including practicing meditation, yoga, dance, or virtually any exercise, as long as practiced with an open mind and compassionate attitude (focusing on performance, achievement, and goals can take you in a different direction, and is not as conducive for experiencing deeper pleasure in the body.)
If you continue to abide in body presence, as urgency dissolves and awareness merges into the body, confusions and problems disappear. A sense of clarity comes through, even if it doesn't seem to be about anything in particular. Occasional insightful thoughts may roll by, but there is no need to do anything with them at this time. The details of the place you are in spring into awareness, and there is this sense of coherence and rightness. The moment carries itself easily, coming to closure when the time is right.
Body presence can be applied in any situation. I find it helpful for social anxiety--relax the shoulders, feel the buzz of the body. You can abide in body presence while listening to somebody speak. You can abide in body presence while working, playing, driving, and even while thinking. Body presence allows consciousness to relax, which conduces creativity and fresh insight.
6. Mental breakthrough
I find that abiding in body presence over a longer period of time in solitude fills me up so much that I am able to let go of negative feelings towards others. Sometimes we let ourselves get bent out of shape because of other's words or actions. But when you get to bathe in the renewing energy of body presence, there is such a sense of completeness that it's easy to soften and embrace a more understanding stance regarding conflict. (This is one reason I strongly encourage people not to avoid/reject happiness because it isn't "deserved" or any other fabricated excuse--your own happiness and well-being will serve the people around you.)
7. Spiritual connection
Body presence gives rise to connectivity within the self and therefore connection with what there is. I'm hesitant to say much more about it, as words are flimsy and it makes more sense to simply experience for yourself. Everything stated above is included in spiritual connection.
A few notes about body presence
Body presence can help you even (especially) in times of great stress
It is possible to experience powerful body presence even in times of incredible stress. I have actually had my most powerful experiences of this following very stressful events and during times of burnout and frustration. These sessions provide a welcome respite from the bombardments and demands of non-ideal circumstances.
A departure from substances
The more of these experiences I have, the less interest I have in society's pleasure staples. I have little patience for television, I tend not to finish my drink if I go out with friends, and my need for flavor boosts is diminished. I'm not saying it's bad to indulge in these pleasures, though of course in excess they may distract you from your own resources and can be detrimental to your health. I do want to take this opportunity to make the observation that as the body begins to provide more and more of a pleasurable chemistry, interests and sensitivities are liable to change. The nice thing about body presence is it won't lead you into a hangover or a sugar/caffeine crash. It's your choice how you respond to your body, and if you choose substances that is entirely up to you--but if you don't even know that you have resources within you, I consider that a failure of society and an ethical problem. It is important that this knowledge is carefully passed along; it is a basic human right to know how the body can provide pleasure and pain-relief in healthy ways, and there are implications for suffering and violence in society.
How to practice body presence
You can do it right here and right now. Notice your body from head to toe, even as you read these words. What's your temperature? What's the texture of your clothes like? The surface you are on? The idea is to non-judgmentally be aware of what you feel, which allows you to respond intelligently to what you find. Noticing the breath and encouraging steadiness there can be helpful. Find out what works for you.
I find meditation to be excellent for integrating body presence into everyday life, and the beauty of meditation is that it is immediately available to you! "Body Connect," the 14-day online meditation program I've designed, is a great starting point if you're not sure where to begin.
One of my personal all-time favorite ways to open the floodgates of pleasure and connection through body presence is rolling around on the floor exploring gentle, diverse movements and stretches in solitude. I love doing this in the sun, listening to music, and in beautiful places. It's so simple, so soul-filling, and so grounding. The lungs open, the muscles feel spacious, and digestion feels much better. Everything falls into place, and nothing is amiss, no matter what's going on in the world or my life. These sessions require very little energy or preparation and help me feel the love of the world. Afterward, I am revitalized and better prepared to address the challenges before me.
I have an outstanding question for body presence, and that is--does it make us more sensitive to disturbing stimuli? My whole life I have felt extremely sensitive to noises like forks on plates, leaf blowers, obtrusive odors, temperature, the physical jostlings of crowded places, and so on. I can't say my tolerance for these things has increased since practicing body presence, but I'm also not sure that it has gotten any worse. I think the primary change for me has been becoming more aware when my body is uncomfortable or needs something. I would expect a change in sensory stimulation though, so this remains a question mark for me. Please comment below if you have reflections on this or any aspect of body presence!
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