In our second article on mindfulness, we focus this month on sensations and bring you two techniques for practicing mindfulness of sensations.
Mindfulness is non-judgemental observation of the present moment. As we noted in our first article, there are five elements that you can choose to focus on when practicing mindfulness:
- Breath (read the first article – mindfulness of breathing here).
- Emotions (read the third article – mindfulness of emotions here)
- Thoughts (read the fourth article – mindfulness of thoughts here)
- Space/ environment
How to practice mindfulness of sensations?
There are many ways to practice mindfulness of sensations. Here we give you two techniques.
Create a space for yourself, where you know you will not be disturbed for your chosen period of time – 12 minutes is a good length of time to start. Decide upon how long you are going to meditate for (before starting) and commit to this length of time for that day. Set your timer, so that you do not need to wonder how long you are meditating for. As the weeks and months progress, you can increase the length of time you meditate.
Many sensations might arise – tightness, relaxation, pain, throbbing, heat or coldness. The key is simply to watch, to be mindful, and not get caught up in the sensation.
So, make yourself comfortable – sit cross-legged, or sit on a chair that has a high back and keep your feet on the floor. Close your eyes.
Technique 1: Body scan – from toe to head
Take your awareness into your toes. Notice the sensations in each toe – are they warm or cold, can you feel the socks or blanket touching the skin? Can you feel the sensations where the toes are pressing into the floor? Spend a few seconds then move your awareness upwards, into the sole of your foot, then continue upwards through the body, through the top of the foot, ankles and lower legs, the knees and thighs. Spend a few seconds in each area – be aware of all the sensations: tightness, relaxation, heat, cold, tension, aching. As you move your awareness up through your whole body, you can breathe into any area where you experience pain or discomfort, then move on.
Simply observe the sensations without trying to change anything. Accept.
If (or when!) you notice that your mind wanders return your awareness back to your sensations. Let go of the thoughts or emotions that you may have about the sensation! Keep doing this. If you lose track of where you are scanning in your body, return to your toes and move upwards again.
Technique two: Centre awareness then move as sensations arise
An alternative approach to the body scan is to start with your awareness centred in one place in your body. Maybe you can focus on your nose or nostrils.
Bring your awareness to your nose. Be aware of the sensations in the nose or nostrils – is it warm or cold? Heavy or light?
As you notice a sensation arising in your body, you can move your awareness to that sensation. For example, you become aware that you have an ache in your right knee. Move your awareness to the sensations in the right knee. Notice if the knee is throbbing, is it hot or cold?
Then maybe that sensation starts to fade, and you notice another sensation, this time an itch on the ear. Maintain your stillness and be aware of the itch. As this passes, another sensation might arise. Remain observant of sensations.
Being mindful of the sensations can help you to become more connected to your body. You can start to differentiate between discomfort, and pain. It also helps with relaxing the body, as when you scan your body, you start to notice areas of tension and can start to allow yourself to relax.
When to practice mindfulness of sensations?
We suggest that you choose a time that you can commit to on a regular basis. First thing on a morning (after waking up) is an ideal time for many people. Meditating first thing on a morning can help to quieten and focus your mind, often leading to a calmer and more centred day! Last thing at night is also nice, although we often tend to be sleepy and it can be more difficult.
You can also practice mindfulness of sensations during your yoga practice. We love to do this in our Yin practice here at the retreat – watching sensations arising and passing.
Remember, be kind to yourself when you are learning or practicing mindfulness (click here to read the seven attitudes of mindfulness). Every day, indeed, every moment is different. Some days might be “easier” than others, no matter how many years you practice. The key is to start and to keep doing it.
We are currently offering daily meditation classes, plus extra evening meditation workshops and guided relaxation to help you enjoy a meditation retreat. Read more on our meditation page.
To your health and wellbeing.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).