Body Awareness

Our bodies are a valuable source of information that often goes unheard

Now that we’ve completed Lesson 1. Anchoring our Attention, we can continue to develop and add to our repertoire of mindfulness skills.

Body awareness, more formally known as interoceptive awareness, is the ability to feel physical sensations in the body .

While this may sound simple, many of us live at a distance from our bodies, noticing them from time to time – perhaps the signals of hunger or pain – but mostly living in our “heads.” Immersed in thinking, we may feel out of touch with our bodies, out of sync with ourselves, or disconnected from the world around us. We may feel ungrounded or adrift. We may feel stuck inside our thoughts.

Low body awareness has been linked to higher emotional reactivity as well as increased rates of anxiety and depression.[1] When dealing with depression, it’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts and emotions, losing touch with present-moment sensations in the body.

When we do pay attention to the body, we may find ourselves reactive to what we find; we may judge or avoid uncomfortable sensations, and find it hard to let go of pleasant sensations when they pass. Instead of being present to the body sensations themselves, we may get lost in our reactions to the body sensations.

Part of developing the skill of body awareness, then, is learning to turn toward body sensations with less reactivity.


What happens when you stub your toe on a chair? Before you know it, you may be raising your fist in anger, as if the chair were your enemy. It can take a moment to realize that no one is at fault. Even then, a sense of anger or frustration may linger – looking for a place to put those feelings, you might even start blaming yourself.

This is how reactivity can snowball. So let’s peel back the layers. What happened here?

  1. The sensations were unpleasant
  2. Naturally, we didn’t like it
  3. We reacted. Aversion – a reaction to what we dislike – took the driver seat and drove us into anger and self-blame

Both research and ancient wisdom have shown that all experience can be felt as unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral. This associated “tone” or “valence” is often under the radar, but it’s the key ingredient in how we react.

  • Typically, we take action to decrease the unpleasant and increase the pleasant, while the neutral can lead us to seek out something more entertaining or stimulating.
  • These reactions are natural and automatic, but not always skillful or in our best interests.

When we pay attention to body sensations, we have a direct path to observe this “feeling tone.” When reactions to pleasant and unpleasant show up, we can recognize them as natural, and step in before they snowball.

The idea is not to get rid of our reactions, but to recognize them sooner so we don’t get carried away by them. 

Getting in sync with your body

Mindfulness practices that are focused on body cues and sensations have been shown to help increase both mind-body awareness and emotional awareness. [2, 3]

Sometimes our bodies react to things before we are fully aware of them. For example:

Body cues, signals, or sensations
Emotions these may indicate

Smile or relaxed brow

Happiness or contentment

Clenched fists, or a tightness in the chest

Anger or frustration

Fidgety hands, quick breathing, or flashes of hot or cold

Anxiety or excitement

Tears, heavy limbs, or sharp sensations in the chest

Sadness or grief

Some of these reactions and associated emotions may resonate with you more than others, as everyone’s emotions can manifest in different ways.

By paying attention to body cues and sensations, we can gain insight into our current state of mind, including feeling stressed or experiencing low mood (providing us with an ‘early alert system’ for anxious or depressed thoughts).

Through greater awareness of the subtle signals in our body, we can be better in tune with how we are really feeling. For example, noticing that our stomach often ties into knots when going into new social situations can signal that we are feeling anxious, and help remind us to stop and step back, perhaps grounding ourselves with our anchor to give ourselves space to more clearly observe our experience and decide how to proceed. 

We’ll work on developing this skill through our guided practice on how to do a body scan.


  1. Eggart M, Lange A, Binser MJ, Queri S, Müller-Oerlinghausen B. (2019). Major Depressive Disorder Is Associated with Impaired Interoceptive Accuracy: A Systematic Review. Brain Sci. 9(6):131. doi: 10.3390/brainsci9060131.
  2. Füstös J, Gramann K, Herbert BM, Pollatos O. (2013) On the embodiment of emotion regulation: interoceptive awareness facilitates reappraisal. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 8(8):911-7. doi: 10.1093/scan/nss089.
  3. Gibson J. (2019) Mindfulness, interoception, and the body: A contemporary perspective. Front. Psychol. 10, 2012.