Updated: Oct 1, 2022
The other day I burned my dinner. I was thinking about something else. I was deep in the recesses of my mind, replaying an incident from earlier that day, caught in a thought loop without even realizing it. So deep was I in my mind that I did not hear the telling sizzle of a burner on too high or feel the intense heat of the cast iron pan or smell the strong fragrance of charcoal wafting through the kitchen.
Because in all honesty, most of the time I am not in my body. When I am working at my computer, I am mainly in my head, thinking intently on whatever it is I am reading or writing or researching. Even when I am creating digital art, I am mostly using my vision, my predominant sense. Driving in my car, I am listening to podcasts, but I am not aware of the smell of cinnamon emanating from the mouse deterrent beneath my seats or the feel of the seat belt across my chest. When I am reading or studying or watching television, I am in another world completely, one of the mind. Much of our modern world takes place in our mind and we are only using one or two senses at the most. Technology has helped us to make it even easier to live in our heads. In many ways, we have become disconnected from our bodies.
A couple days a week, I teach a yoga class called Mindful Mornings. The intention is to bring us into the present moment and quiet our minds. But the term mindful or mindfulness, which is a buzz word these days, is misleading. To be fully present, we need to bring our awareness into our entire body. Yes, there are forms of meditation that focus on removing sensory awareness and emptying our minds. For some people, this is very helpful. We can do this sometimes in yoga in the final resting pose of savasana or in the practice of yoga nidra. However, what about the rest of the day? I believe the greatest tool for presence is not mindfulness, but bodyfulness. Bodyfulness is whenever you feel connected to the intelligence of your own body.
In my yoga class, we focus on breathing or pranayama as an anchor to the present moment as you are always breathing. If you are alive, you are breathing. And therefore, breath is an ever-present gateway to being not only in the moment, but also in your body. Noticing the way our body expands with the inhale and contracts with the exhale is a simple form of bodyfulness. The practice of asanas or yoga poses are also a great way to be in your body. However, it is possible to just go through the motions of yoga and pranayama and still be in your head. Many times in my yoga classes, I remind people to listen to their bodies over their egos. So often our ego mind wants to achieve something or look a certain way and our detachment from how we feel might cause us to injure ourselves in the process. A student might overstretch to reach their toes when all their body was asking for was to touch their knees.
Bodyfulness challenges the dominant culture’s ideal of our sense of self being situated in the mind. Higher education earns you a better job and better pay because careers that require intellect pay more than vocations that emphasize muscle or empathy or intuition or creativity. The mainstream study of consciousness so far has been mainly in the study of how the brain reacts to stimuli without looking at the role of the body. In many modern religions, sexuality is seen as taboo and holy people, such as monks and priests, live as aesthetes avoiding pleasure because our bodies are considered a lower animal nature and shameful. We objectify the body, dismembering it into various parts and pieces that need to be fixed and beautified and perfected to fit an arbitrary trendy standard. Not to mention that some bodies such as white, thin, tall, able-bodied, male, cis-gendered or handsome give people privilege over others and cause separation and subjugation.
Bodyfulness as an experience is a means of validating your sovereignty. Being fully awake and alive in the sensory experience of your body without denigrating its absolute importance is a revolution. How can we return to our body’s own intelligence?
Often, we turn to our rational logical mind to find answers, but we are missing out on a big piece of being human. When your mind can quiet down, you many notice that your body has its own desires. What can your body tell you about the decision you’ve been struggling with recently if you learn to tune in and listen? What can your body tell you about whether you should go for a walk or take a bath? What can it tell you about how long to cook that bread loaf for? What can your body tell you about the new friend you just made when you share an experience with them as opposed to a conversation?
Being in direct contact with the natural world is one way to reconnect with our bodies. The wilderness is plush with sensory experiences. You don’t even have to be outside to experience the bodyfulness of the more-than-human world around you. Tuning into the sound of rain on your roof, the spikes of your succulent plant, the ray of light through your kitchen window, the smell of your geraniums and the taste of fresh fruit are all simple ways to return to your body’s power of deep knowing. The body has ancestral knowledge stored in your DNA passed down for generations.
Next time you sit down to write, notice if you are in your head or your body? Are you writing words induced by your rational mind. Are you analyzing sentence structure and trying to remember how to spell words? Is your breath held tight and shallow? If so, see if you can return to your body. Breathe deeply. Smell the air. Open your ears. Notice how language feels when it flows from your belly or sizzles off your skin or radiates from your chest.
How to achieve bodyfulness:
1. Breathe deeply
2. Close your eyes
3. Notice what you are hearing, smelling, feeling on your skin, tasting in your mouth
4. When you open your eyes, imagine you are seeing everything as if for the first time
5. Let your heart lead your movements
6. Stay present in the moment