Body mindfulness involves focusing intentionally in the moment with the addition of body awareness to anchor and enhance the benefits for brain and body. Benefits include rewiring the brain towards more optimal functioning, increasing access to feel-good hormones towards building emotional strength and potentially shifting or healing age-old emotional patterns.
The following are two personal body mindfulness practices that I love, both of which can rewire your brain and revitalize your body. Experiment with them to find out how they might work for you.
Attachment Theory expert, Dr Diane Poole Heller, refers to “kind eyes” as an exercise to counteract a sense of being looked at perhaps with judgment or criticism by significant others. According to Attachment Theory, the foundation for adult emotional health is established in the first year or so of life. This is based on the quality of the relationship between caregivers and baby. One of the ingredients for emotional health is a regular, loving gaze from caregiver to baby. Dr Diane Poole Heller refers to this as a ‘beam gleam’ or ‘I’m special to you’ gaze. If this was missing in your experience, you could carry with you a core belief that people are not genuinely accepting of you or even frightening in some way. Fortunately it is possible to recreate a sense of being seen with kindness and loving acceptance, which can feed it into a more positive sense of self, at any stage of life.
Your current relationships might offer moments of loving eye gaze that can help to repair old wounds. You can also use your imagination to help you here. To do so, imagine ‘kind eyes’ looking at you. This can be imagined as the loving gaze of a parent, or a friend who really loves you, or of a loving grandparent. Or you can picture the eyes of someone in your community who exudes kindness, or a spiritual leader who is truly compassionate and kind. For some, ‘kind eyes’ might be most easily imagined coming from a pet or an image of an animal. With the image of your choice, imagine that these ‘kind eyes’ are looking at you. For those who are more auditory than visual, you can instead imagine hearing the voice of a loving, kind person speaking to you. Practice softening to take the feeling of this kindness into your body and being,
‘Kind eyes’ grows your ability to come from a softer, heart-felt space in relationships and life. Take a few moments to notice how your body responds to ‘kind eyes’. You might notice your eyes feeling softer and that you gain a fuller, warmer sense of your body. You might feel your breathing become fuller too. There could also be a softening in your throat and belly as you take kindness in. Follow how your body responds for a few moments to really take in how you respond to this experience. Then see if you can look out into your day with even just a little more kindness in your eyes.
Next time you plan to speak with someone after an argument or perhaps when someone in your life is having a hard time, imagine ‘kind eyes’ before you go to them. Notice the effect on yourself and perhaps on the other person too, and notice how the conversation transpires. Sometimes without noticing it our body language, eyes and tone of voice can convey anxiety, tension or even subtle aggression. ‘Kind eyes’ can turn this around quickly and change how others experience us. Be kind to yourself in the process, too. It takes practice to sustain kindness. Even if you can achieve a few more seconds of coming from this kind place, it can make a big difference.
Core beliefs can show up in the kinds of thoughts and conversations we carry in our minds. You may have come to believe you are good, wanted, worthy, competent and loveable, leading you to feel good in your body and your life. This can give you a sense that relationships can be nourishing and that life is worth living. Or you may have come to believe that you are bad, unwanted, worthless, helpless or unlovable, leading you to feel uncomfortable in your body and unsettled in life. This can give you a sense that relationships are problematic and life is hard and burdensome.
As you become skilled at catching your self-talk, you can practice turning an inner critic into an inner supporter. If you notice yourself thinking, I don’t deserve this, or, I am ugly, notice how your body feels in response to these criticisms and then choose another thought that is positive, even if you cannot connect with it yet. Maybe you can frame the thought as a question to help you, such as, ‘What if I am worthy?’, or, ‘What if I really am beautiful, especially to those who love me?’ Then feel into how your body responds, and encourage these kinds of positive messages to stay with you for as long as you can. You might explore new possibilities such as being lovable, capable, or anything you like, and breathe your desired quality through you, to help you stand into it and become it more fully. You can also catch your body’s reaction, first, and then notice the message relating to that reaction. So you might notice, ‘Oh, I am standing like this and breathing like this and I feel tense or out of balance in this part of my body.’ You can also notice the outlook that goes with the reaction and then choose a new way that you’d prefer to stand, look and breathe to seek an attitude adjustment.
Treat this as a reminder of your ability to change your body in order to change your mind, or to change your mind in order to change your body. In doing so you can free even deep-seated beliefs, self- talk and postural habits to be more supportive and empowering.
This is an edited extract from chapter 8 (Healing old patterns, enhancing vitality) of The Mindful Body, by Noa Belling, Rockpool Publishing, 2018.
Noa Belling is a psychotherapist and bestselling author. Her previous books include the international bestseller, The Yoga Handbook, Yoga: A Union of Mind and Body, and Yoga for Ideal Weight and Shape. Noa holds a master’s degree in Somatic Psychology, which is a field that incorporates body awareness and physical movement in the psycho-therapeutic process. Her latest book, The Mindful Body, offers practical strategies for building emotional strength and managing stress through body mindfulness.