There are times when life feels light and spacious, and times when life feels tight and full. Mindfulness practice is a way of life that can help us through all of these times – to savour peace and joy when it arises and to release pain and stress when it arises. Some of the best practices that I’ve found to help me when life gets too full have to do with the body. The Buddha gave us many practices under the title of “Mindfulness of the Body.”
Here are some ideas for how to apply them in daily life.
Whenever present-moment awareness arises after a time of distraction, the first thing I do is to check is my posture. My mind may be spinning and my emotions may be galloping away without a rider in sight, but I can always check my posture. It is a fairly easy way to bring back some balance right away. I take a few deep breaths, lift up and then drop my shoulders, let the back of my neck get longer and my head get lighter. Then I let the belly relax and continue to breathe fully. Once the body is more relaxed, it’s easier to breathe fully mindfully. Once it’s easier to breathe mindfully, the rest of the practice becomes easier too! Checking posture and relaxing the belly to breathe deeply can be applied in any position and in any activity, so that why it’s the first thing I go to when I find myself out of balance.
When I am walking, even if I am not walking slowly, I practice to relax that muscles in my legs and let my feet be heavy, as if each step would leave a mark on the earth. I don’t push but rather I let the earth hold my steps. Of course this is happening anyway, but the busier I become that more I notice that the body holds on to everything – even footsteps. Letting go with every step is a great blessing in times of busy-ness, to relax the body and to focus the mind gently.
When I am doing physical work, whether cutting vegetables, cleaning toilets, hanging up laundry or just making my bed, I try to apply all of this too. After checking my posture and breathing fully, I bring awareness to the sensations in the hands. Often I use too much energy and notice that my hand muscles are still tensed even when the task is done. So once mindfulness is present, I relax my arms and hands and explore how little energy is needed for the task required. It’s a very interesting exercise to try. Because of this practice, I can now say that I truly enjoy sweeping and washing the dishes, which never seemed very important in the past. But each moment of our lives are what make life. So why not enjoy it?
I’ve also noticed that when I am doing “mental work” – like organizing an event or planning a meeting. It’s perhaps the easiest time to lose all mindfulness. I am just starting to learn to practice in these times. When 5 people are asking me different questions and I have to finish 3 tasks in the next hour, stopping and doing everything slowly and really mindfully can feel impossible. But even here, coming back to the body always accessible. When there is too much thinking, the muscles in the temples and jaw and eyes often get tense. So once I notice that I’m lost in thinking, I release the muscles of the face and head and try to soften my gaze. Immediately, there is relief and more clarity. It doesn’t “solve” everything but it is extremely helpful and simple.
Then there are moments when even these simple exercises feel overwhelming and I don’t even want to practice. After a number of times of “trying” to be mindful have not brought about more calm or joy, I mindfully stop practicing mindfulness. If I see that my practice has become something that I am forcing myself to do, then I have to stop trying. Once the forcing has subsided a little time passes, I find myself wanting to practice again, no effort needed.
Which leads to a little conclusion. Practicing Mindfulness of the Body is not an exercise to learn for the sake of achieving something in the future. Practicing mindulness of the Body, and all the mindfulness practices, benefit us right away. Mindfulness practices lay the foundation for learning to take care of our minds and our emotions, for learning to enjoy each moment, for understanding ourselves and the world (which are not actually separate), and for true and lasting freedom from suffering for all beings. This is a vast and beautiful path!I don’t say this to make it daunting because it’s also nothing special. It’s just remembering. Which I still forget to do many times, each day. We all do. This is why we call it practice. All that matters is that when we remember, we start again. Just one breath. Just one step. Just one moment of peace. Over and over again.