Body Awareness: Everyday Practices

Incorporating mindfulness into everyday life

In order to increase our body awareness, we need to get into the habit of noticing our bodies and how thoughts and feelings manifest in our bodies.

Here we’ll go over two ways to help develop this sense and insight into our body’s signals.

1. Notice Feel-Good Moments

It’s a common habit to dwell on the negative, whether it’s unpleasant body sensations or critical thoughts. This is often called “negativity bias.” While this can help us to identify threats and issues to be addressed, it can also skew our perspective. 

With issues like anxiety or depression, it can also contribute to us giving more importance to the negative aspects of our days, while minimizing or discounting any positive or pleasant aspects.

To help cultivate a more balanced perspective, we can deliberately bring attention to the good or pleasant moments in our lives. As you start, you may notice a natural tendency to cling to these moments and not want them to pass. Alternatively, you may not trust these feelings and find it hard to fully engage with them. Either way, that’s okay. With time, we can learn to fully experience and appreciate these moments, then allow them to pass – recognizing that every experience, both pleasant and unpleasant, will eventually pass, allowing the next experience to take its place. 

I once made a friend who would always stop and say ‘this is cool’ whenever we were out doing something interesting. We’d visit a restaurant or go to a park or some local event and she would look around, kind of smile and say ‘this is cool’. At first, I thought it was kind of funny, but looking back I realized what she was doing. While I was thinking about things to do or worrying about something, she was really there, wherever we were, experiencing the moment and acknowledging it.” – Luka, 33

In this practice, we’re simply going to try and bring our attention to one pleasant experience each day. It might be as small as noticing the play of sunlight through tree leaves, your team winning a game, your dog warmly resting on your lap, listening to a song you like, or crossing an item off your checklist – whatever feels good to you.

When you recognize a pleasant experience:

  1. Take a moment to pause and do a “mini body scan”, observing any sensations through your entire body. 
  2. Notice if/where the pleasant feeling is making itself known in your body. Maybe it’s at the chest or belly with sensations of openness, relaxation, warmth. Or maybe at the face with an expression around your eyes or lips.
  3. Notice what happens when you invite your full attention to these pleasant moments. Are you able to savor the feeling while it’s here? What thoughts, emotions, or impulses emerge when you do this?

It’s easy for life to pass us by and not acknowledge the simple pleasures. Taking a moment’s pause while we’re having a pleasant experience helps us slow down and really sense what that feels like within our bodies, gives us a better appreciation that good moments come and go (like bad ones), and hopefully a greater awareness of the things in our lives that bring us joy. 

2. Mindful Walking

Cultivating body awareness through mindful walking not only enhances our mind-body awareness, but also helps us connect with our bodies in a more active way. This practice allows us to observe sensations in our bodies while in motion, and can be worked into our regular routines. 

Guided Practice

Before you start

When first learning this skill, you might choose a quiet space where you can walk without distractions or interruptions. You can start with a five-minute walk. 

Step 1. Walk at a comfortable pace
  • Begin walking at a comfortable pace, focusing on the sensations in the soles of your feet as they make contact with the ground. 
Step 2. Notice sensations
  • Notice the shift of pressure with each step, sensations of warmth or coolness, and any other feelings that arise. Follow along with the sensations from heel to toe as you take each step. 
  • If needed, slow down your walking pace, to better notice each sensation fully.
Step 3. Notice when your attention has wandered
  • When you notice that your attention has wandered – maybe drawn toward a sound, or caught in thinking – simply acknowledge this, and guide your attention back to the soles of your feet.

You can also expand the focus of your attention to your entire body as you walk. Noticing the feel of fabric or air against you, the sounds and smells of your environment, or the colours you see. (This practice can be especially helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress – it can be helpful to hold a wide, spacious awareness for the breadth of experience, which may include neutral and pleasant sensations in addition to the stressful ones). 

Besides helping to build your body awareness to anchor yourself and gain insight into how thoughts and emotions manifest in your body, being able to notice more subtle signals can help us prevent physical injuries. For example, noticing that your muscles are tense and tight when starting up on a jog can clue you in to needing more dynamic stretching to warm up and lessen the chance of injury.

As you continue to practice, you’ll develop a greater capacity to notice your body’s signals and from that a greater ability to manage your emotional experiences.

Let’s recap Lesson 2. Body Awareness.