Body Awareness

Body Awareness

•Goal: Body awareness is very important if we are to understand our current physical and emotional states and our current stress level.  When we are busy we tend to get caught up in thoughts and pay little attention to what is going on below our heads.  Yet our bodies give us many signals that are important to pay attention to if we are to deal with stress more effectively. First, there are the simple physiologic signals, like hunger, pain, fatigue and the need to go to the bathroom.  If we ignore these, we decrease our resilience and ability to deal with stress.  Second, it is the sensations in our bodies that give us the primary indications of how we are feeling.  If we are getting angry, there will be associated physical sensations like chest or throat tightness that let us know this. If we ignore them, the emotion may build until we literally explode or alternatively, just shut down.  The former is called ‘flooding” and occurs when there is a sudden sympathetic response and we find we cannot control our reactions. The latter is called “freezing’.  Both are potentially very disruptive as either can impede our effectiveness and decrease the ability of others to fulfill their roles. 

•Technique: A simple way to increase body awareness is to practice a type of meditation called the body scan.  This is a technique of intentionally paying attention to different parts of the body in sequence, and to really focus on the sensations that are present without judging them.

     Body Scan:     body-scan.mp3

•Present the evidence: Training in body awareness has been shown to be associated with improved awareness of both physical and emotional states (Emotion 2010; 10: 803–814).

•Suggestions for use: Throughout the day, pause for a few moments to check to see what sensations are present in the body, and to then acknowledge them and perhaps even act in response to them if we feel hungry or the need to go to the bathroom.
•Barriers and how to overcome them: Finding time can be a barrier to practicing the body scan.  It is possible to start with short periods of doing this, perhaps doing a full body scan in 10 to 15 minutes, or only focusing on certain areas of the body and practicing this for just a few minutes. A guided body scan is available on the UVa Mindfulness Center website