Guided Meditation: Bodily Sensation
The best method for increasing our mindfulness is meditation, so I invite you now to join me as we learn to bring our attention and focus on this present moment. Sit comfortably straight, not rigid, to allow air to flow freely through your body. If you are sitting in a chair, move forward so that you are not relying on the back of the chair for support. If you sit on the floor, use a cushion or folded blanket so that your knees are slightly lower than your hips.
I suggest you breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, but if you can’t, it’s fine. Just breathe in whatever way is most comfortable for you. As you begin to relax, note that you may experience bodily sensations while meditating. Salivation. Grumbling stomach. Itching. It’s just your prefrontal cortex waking up so it’s not a problem. If during meditation you experience too much discomfort, physically or emotionally, simply stop and take a couple of deep breaths. Perhaps drink a little water. You can return to the meditation if you like or you can simply stop and try again later.
Give yourself permission to take this break away from your tasks and responsibilities. Close your eyes or soften your gaze and look at the floor a few feet in front of you. We’re now ready to meditate together.
Sit comfortably on the floor with your legs crossed and your back straight, or lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Your eyes may be open or closed.
Begin with hearing: Be aware of any sounds that reach you. Let them come and go; you don’t have to do anything about them.
Now bring the same relaxed and open awareness to your breath, at the nostrils, the chest or the abdomen, wherever you detect it most clearly. Breathing in, breathing out.
The breath is the primary object of awareness here until a physical sensation is strong enough to take your attention away. If that happens, rather than struggle against it, let go of the awareness of breath and let your attention settle fully on the bodily sensation that has distracted you. Let it become the new object of your meditation.
If it’s helpful to you, make a quick, quiet mental note of whatever you’re feeling, whether it’s painful or pleasing. Warmth, coolness, fluttering, itching, ease. No need to find the exact right words – noting just helps bring your mind into more direct contact with the actual experience. You’re not trying to control what you feel in your body, nor are you trying to change it. You’re simply allowing sensations to come and go, and labeling them, if that’s helpful to you.
If the sensation that has claimed your attention is pleasant – a delicious sense of looseness in your legs, say, respite from a chronic ache, or a calm, floaty lightness – you may have the urge to grab onto it and make it last. If that starts to happen, relax, open up, and see if you can experience the pleasure without the clinging. Observe the sensation, and allow it to leave when it leaves.
If the sensation arising in your body is unpleasant or painful, you may feel a reflexive urge to push it away. You may feel annoyed by it, or afraid of it. You may feel anxious, or tense. Again, note any of these reactions and see if you can come back to your direct experience. What’s the actual sensation, separate from your response to it?
If what you sense is a pain, observe it closely. Where do you feel it? In more than one place? How would you describe it? Although at first, pain seems to be monolithic and solid, as we look at it carefully we see that it’s not just one thing. Maybe it’s actually moments of twisting, moments of burning, moments of pressure, moments of stabbing. Does the pain grow stronger or weaker as you observe it? Does it break apart, disappear, return intermittently? What happens between twists or stabs?
If we’re able to detect these separate components of the pain, then we see that it’s not permanent and impenetrably solid, but ever-changing. There are spaces of respite between bursts of discomfort.
See if you can zero in on one small detail of it. Rather than take in every sensation that’s happening in your back, for example, look at the most intense point of pain. Observe it. See if it changes as you watch it. If it’s helpful to you, quietly name those changes. What’s actually happening in this moment?
Can you see the difference between the painful sensation, and any conditioned responses you’re adding to it, such as fighting it, fearfully anticipating future pain, or criticizing yourself for having pain?
If a troubling thought distracts you, let it go. If it’s an emotion, focus your attention and interest on its physical properties instead of interpreting or judging it. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? How does it affect or change your body? Whether the physical sensation is pleasurable or painful, continue to observe it directly. Don’t try to stay with painful sensations uninterruptedly for too long. Keep bringing your attention back to your breath. Remember that if something is very challenging, the breath is a place to find relief, like returning to home base.
Allow your attention to move among hearing, following the breath, and the sensations in your body. Mindfulness remains open, relaxed, spacious and free, no matter what it’s looking at. If you feel a physical sensation especially strongly, briefly scan the rest of your body. Are you contracting the muscles around the painful sensation? Are you trying to hold on to a pleasant sensation, bracing your body against its departure? In either case, take a deep breath and relax your body and mind.
Pain is tough, but it’s going to leave us. Pleasure is wonderful, but it’s going to leave us. You can’t hang on to pleasure. You can’t stop pain from coming. But you can be aware. When we practice mindfulness, we don’t have to take what’s happening and make it better, or try to trade it in for another experience. We just allow the mind to rest on whatever is capturing our attention.
Gently end your meditation.