Body Awareness

“You are not the body, you are only wearing your body; you are that which activates the body.”

How odd it would be to live in a house, but not know what it looks like inside. Yet, we live in our bodies and may have a very limited sense of what lies beneath the skin. It’s safe to say that most people don’t like their bodies much. They think they are too fat or too thin or not attractive enough. So they don’t think about their bodies in much detail, except in their self-criticism. They don’t appreciate the wonder of its growing, moving, digesting, feeling, thinking, and healing. Bodies become a vehicle for carrying around the perceptual apparatus and not much more. Let’s see if we can change that. Your body will be with you all your life. Wouldn’t it be wise to establish more than a nodding acquaintance with it?

Give this a try. Focus attention on each part of you body and deepen your awareness of the parts and the way they work together as a whole.

Start with your head. The old noggin has been bouncing along there behind your eyes all your life. Have you ever really seen it, felt it, gotten a sense of it in its three dimensions? Look in the mirror if that’s convenient. There’s your face. Look past your face. See your head as a whole. Touch it with your hands. Sense it as a part of your body, just as your foot and your elbow are. Go ahead and caress your head. Feel the hardness of your skull. Touch your ears. Put a finger in each ear and get a feel for the distance between them. Touch your eyes, nose and mouth as if you were a blind person wanting to know what you look like.

Run your hands down your neck to your shoulders and then run them all over the surface of your body. Feel where there is hardness and softness. Notice if there are tender spots or knots in your muscles. Give yourself a little massage there. Invite in relaxation. Kindle awareness in those areas, but keep your main focus on expanding awareness of your physical self.

Notice any emotions that come up as you touch your body. Notice them, but for now see if you can let them go and just stay with your body awareness. Notice also any evaluation thoughts that come up. You may find self-criticism coming up. Make note of that. You might want to work on it later, but for now, just stay with your observation of your body.

Once you have shone your awareness on each area of the surface of your body, go back to your head. Look inside. Well protected inside that skull is your brain. Highly complex, moist and containing a billion brain cells, give or take a few, this amazing piece of biological property thinks, remembers, creates perception and awareness, reacts, and monitors and controls what’s happening in the rest of your body. Take a few moments to ponder the amazing complexity and power of this brain. It is all yours. No other species has one like it. It is your most valued asset. Give it the attention that is its due.

At the back of your brain is your spinal cord. This original information superhighway connects with nearly 45 miles of nerves that reach every part of your body. Put your awareness in your nervous system. Your nerve cells pass electrical charges to communicate with each other. You are a being of pulsing energy. Think about that energy flow. Sense it. Can you feel it? Can you see it in your mind? Can you feel the vibration?

Your spinal cord is so important that it is surrounded by the protective bones of your spine. Turn your attention to this central structure of your body. Feel how it holds up your head and how your shoulders hang off to the sides. Sense how your spine holds you up. Is it loose and relaxed, or do you require a great deal of muscle tension to hold your head and shoulders up? Move your spine around a little. Sense how it moves. Or doesn’t.

Observe how your ribs branch off from your spinal column and curve around to protect your heart, lungs and other organs. Notice the expansion and contraction of your ribcage and lungs. Attend to the flow of air in and out of your lungs. Imagine the oxygen in your breath flowing into red blood cells and being pumped by your heart all through your body.

Like your nervous system, your vascular system goes to nearly every cell in our body. Carrying oxygen, moisture and warmth, it feeds you. It facilitates healing, and it helps keep your insides clean. Imagine this red juice pulsing in you. As you sit quietly still, your body is full of movement—like a river flowing. If you sit very quietly, perhaps you can feel it. Maybe you can hear it.

Look with your mind into each of your organs: stomach, liver, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, gall bladder, adrenal glands, and large and small intestines. Each has its functions. See them, however, as a system. Each organ intelligently does its part in the complex job of keeping you alive. Each connects with the spinal cord and the brain. Each supports the others. Thank them for doing their jobs with so little of your conscious direction. While you are at it, thank your immune system for protecting you and your lymphatic system for keeping everything flowing. Try to see all this activity together—blood pumping, lymph flowing, organs secreting, nerves firing electrical pulses. At the same time you are digesting and building new cells as old ones die. Your white blood cells take away foreign bodies, and your digestive system gets rid of the gunk. Just imagine the whole thing.

Some people focus all too much attention on their sexual/reproductive system, and some try to ignore it completely. Let’s invite your sexual and reproductive organs to take their proper place in your consciousness. Neither the most important organs, nor unimportant, allow your awareness to settle into the nether regions. Are you inclined to block awareness and sensation there? Does your mind leap immediately into craving? Either way, it may be in your best interests to spend time just sitting with the glow of awareness in your genital area. Awareness need not lead to any action. It need not lead to fantasy. Awareness just is.

What is your body awareness now? Can you feel all of your body? Are some parts still in the dark? Does your appreciation of the magnificent form that is your body make you want to do anything differently? Does it make you want to dance? When you really get to know your physical self, do you see that you are more than just that?

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© 2002 Tom Barrett