Writer: Erin Lee
I once thought that mindfulness meditation could only be practiced sitting down cross-legged on the floor.
And then I was introduced to this teaching:
That ideally, every moment in our waking hours should be spent with mindful awareness.
Regardless of where we are and what we are doing.
Because unless we pay attention to the present moment, the mind will almost always be on autopilot, stuck in the headspace of memories and fantasies, dwelling in thoughts of the past and the future.
This body that we inhabit offers an excellent anchor for us to stay in the know of what's happening right here, right now.
The mind can take us far, far away, but the moment we bring our attention to the body, we find ourselves right back in the present.
Paying attention to the body can be very simple: we just need to bring awareness to the four main postures of the body.
In Chinese, these four postures are known as 行 (xíng or walking), 住 (zhù or standing), 坐 (zuò or sitting), 卧 (wò or lying down).
As we go about our day-to-day life, whether in moments of movement or stillness, busyness or idleness, swiftness or leisureliness, we simply pay attention to our body in these four postures.
WALKING (行 xíng)
To be mindful is to know that you are walking as you are walking.
We can pay attention to the body while taking a stroll in the park, during a power walk workout, or when we are walking from one place to another.
Even a short walking distance from your workspace to the office pantry counts as an opportunity to practice body awareness.
When practicing mindful walking, walk as you normally would and bring awareness to the movements of the body.
Know that you are walking fast or walking slow.
If you are walking fast, investigate if there is really a need to go fast, or if this is the result of past conditioning. Slow down a little if it supports you in maintaining awareness of the body from moment to moment.
Get a sense of the body's balance and how the weight of the body shifts from one leg to the other.
Keep a check on how the body is navigating the space you are in. Maintain some awareness of your surroundings at the same time.
STANDING (住 zhù)
To be mindful is to know that you are standing as you are standing.
We can practice mindfulness whenever we are standing, such as when we are waiting in a queue, or when we are commuting and standing inside a train cabin.
There is a lot to observe even when the body is not moving.
You can pay attention to the body's posture - how straight the back is, the weight of the body resting on the legs, how the ground is supporting you from underneath the feet.
You can tune in the physical sensations that are present in the body, and notice how these sensations may be changing from moment to moment.
When you are waiting in line and the queue doesn't seem to be moving, is there impatience or restlessness arising, and does this show up in the body?
During your morning commute, you can check in on how the body sways along with the train's movements, and how it keeps itself balanced. Pay attention to the feet on the floor of the train, and the grip of your hand over the grab handle.
When other commuters are squished up against you in a crowded train, is there a trace of annoyance, and can you observe it in the body?
SITTING (坐 zuò)
To be mindful is to know that you are sitting as you are sitting.
During mindfulness meditation, we bring awareness to the body in the sitting posture. We practice maintaining awareness of the body in the present and notice what is happening and changing in the body as each moment unfolds.
And we can do the same even when we are not formally meditating.
You can bring awareness to the body while you are sitting at your desk at work, checking in from time to time on whether your posture is optimal, and if you have been sitting for too long and need to stand and stretch a little.
While you are sitting at the dining table waiting for your food to arrive, you can pay attention to the parts of the body that are in contact with the chair.
As you are sitting and speaking with someone, maintain some awareness of the body and notice any changes in the body that arise along with reactions to the conversation. This can be especially helpful in regulating any impulsive tendencies that come up during an interaction.
LYING DOWN (卧 wò)
To be mindful is to know that you are lying down as you are lying down.
When you turn in at night and you are lying in bed, there may be moments when the mind is still alert and busy processing thoughts and events from the day. You may feel restless and the tendency to toss and turn.
This would be one of the best times to bring mindful awareness to the body and gently rest with the physical sensations that are present.
Anchoring to the body this way allows your attention to shift away from the headspace and more easily settle into stillness.
And as you wake up in the morning, don't be in a hurry to jump out of bed. Instead, spend a few minutes to tune in to the body and just see what is here.
Notice the presence of any tiredness or tension in the body. Attend to how the body is gently breathing, transitioning to alertness, and welcoming a brand new day.
It is important to know that paying attention to the four postures of the body in daily life does not mean that we have to stop what we are doing in the moment.
Know that our attentional capacity is flexible, and it can encompass awareness of both our body and the activity we are engaging ourselves in.
There may be moments when we are so absorbed with what we are doing, that we lose complete awareness of the body. And that's okay.
We just need to constantly and gently remind ourselves to bring our attention back to the body.
And overtime, this awareness of the four postures will come naturally.