Elements of Embodiment, Part 2: Learning to Pay Attention to Body Sensations

Portrait of black femme presenting person with their hands over their heart, green shirt, yellow background

I spent a long time ignoring my body. I ignored my body because I didn’t like my body – it didn’t feel like it was “me” – and especially after puberty, I lived entirely in my head. When I absolutely had to pay attention to my body, because I was sick or injured, I resented my body, and resented that I had to pay attention to it, and resented the unpleasant sensations of sickness or injury.

The slow process of learning to be willing to be a compassionate observer of my body, and notice the sensations of my body, opened up a new world to me: the world of pleasure. If we are ignoring our body’s sensations, of course, we suppress the unpleasant, which can be useful, but we also suppress the pleasant – and there is so much pleasant possible.

I have been introduced to a practice called “Waking the hands,” which I have come to really love as a practice. It’s amazing how much we can learn from mindful attention to body sensations – in this case, it’s just sensations of the hands.

The most important element of learning to pay attention to your body sensations is self-compassion – because not all body sensations are pleasant. There is pain, dysphoria, stiffness, itchiness… all forms of unpleasant sensation in our bodies. As we can approach those sensations with self-compassion, we open ourselves up to the experience of a wide variety of body sensations – and this opens the door to the embodied experiences of pleasure and joy.

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