We live in an era in which we see the contents of the mind as more important than the state of the body. For that reason we can over-emphasise the “mind” in “mindfulness” by paying too much attention to our thoughts and to how we relate to them.

For instance, we often view habitual reactions as events in the mind, in other words as thoughts that we think over and over again. This is often true but another kind of habitual reaction happens without words. This is a purely physical response and these responses are happening all the time below our awareness.

Maybe you see an old neighbour who reprimanded you as a child and you tense up without realising it. Or you huddle up physically walking along the street in a light rain as if you were in a sandstorm in the Sahara, but you don’t notice you’re doing it. Or you lean physically away from your partner because you’re annoyed with her but you’re the last person to realise you are doing this.

A rich source of information

This is why mindfulness of your physical self, for instance of your posture, can be such a rich source of information about what’s going on in your life. Of course it can also help you to drop responses that used to make sense but don’t any longer.

Mindfulness of the body is the first of the mindfulness practices recommended in The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, a set of instructions dating back about 2,000 years. That, I think, underlines the importance of the body as a focus of mindfulness.

How to do it

How to practise mindfulness of the body? Mindfulness of breathing is the most popular way but you can also be mindful of the feeling of your feet against the soles of your shoes, of your posture, of walking, or of the sense of energy in your entire body. You may find that some of these work better, especially if you’re agitated, than mindfulness of breathing and it’s well worth the effort to find out what’s best for you.