2021-06-21 Mindfulness of the Body (1 of 4) Posture
7:49PM Jun 21, 2021
This week I would like to talk about mindfulness of the body. This will be the theme of the talk, and maybe it can be your theme as you go through the week.
Mindfulness of the body is one of the foundational, basic practices of mindfulness. It is the first exercise in the discourse on the four foundations of mindfulness [the Satipaṭṭhāna-sutta] – the most basic teachings from the Buddha on mindfulness practice. In that discourse there are six exercises associated with mindfulness of the body. Here in these 7 am sittings, we have done the first exercise [mindfulness of breathing] in the first tetrad of ānāpānasati – in January. I will not do it again this week. We will do the remaining five.
The remaining five exercises are built on the foundation of the first exercise – the first of the four tetrads of mindfulness of breathing. We have focused so much on mindfulness of breathing in these 7 am sittings. So, we will take that as already established and go on to the other exercises.
Mindfulness of the body is such a wonderful practice. It provides so much. One of the important things that it does – that I will emphasize today – it is a protection. It is a way of being protected as you go through your life. When you are grounded in your body, you are much more able to pick up a wider range of what is happening around you.
The body is like an antenna that picks up the different forms of perception that the body is capable of. This includes the inward perception of our emotional reactions and responses. We are able to pick up on what is going on, and how we are responding. We can perceive when we feel there is danger or when we feel that there is something to be concerned about.
Not only externally, but also internally. We pick up on when we are in danger of losing our ethics, or when we are in danger of losing our peace. We pick up on when we are in danger of acting on something that we will later regret such as acting on greed, hatred or delusion.
The body is a repository of evidence of what is shifting and changing in us. It gives us an early warning sign. Sometimes it is the body that gives us an indication of what is going on before the mind knows. The body is more attuned to our subconscious. The mind is not as attuned to it, because we are preoccupied with other things, rushing ahead.
So many times in my life – because I have a habit of checking in with my body – I will notice that I am rushing, or notice that I am tense, or pulling back, holding myself back from a situation.
I do not notice that in the mind, because I am thinking about things, or I want things to be a certain way. I am reacting and living in the reactivity. Because of the habit of connecting more to my body, I feel and sense what is going on better in the subconscious, or the early beginnings of things. It keeps me safe. It keeps me from getting lost into that world of things. The body is a great protector for us – mindfulness of the body is – if we stay connected.
The second exercise of mindfulness of the body, in the four foundations of mindfulness, is mindfulness of posture. It does not take refined attention to the body to be aware of posture. There are many people who are not so connected to their body. There are a lot of reasons for that and maybe we will talk more about that as we go along. At least we can recognize the posture that we are in.
The bar for this posture mindfulness is pretty low. I will read to you this passage so you can believe me about how low the bar is. The Buddha says, "When walking, a practitioner knows, 'I am walking.' When standing, one knows, 'I am standing.' When sitting, one knows, 'I am sitting.' When lying down, one knows, 'I am lying down.'" That seems like a pretty low bar. It is pretty obvious, I hope, that when we are standing, walking, sitting or lying down, we know that we are doing that.
Do not underestimate the tremendous value of knowing this – really knowing it. It is not just knowing it casually, in passing. We really recognize it. We have a clear recognition, "I am standing now. I am sitting now. I am walking or lying down." It begins to create space in the mind for more present moment awareness.
It interrupts the mind stream when we are on automatic pilot – thinking and wanting. It interrupts the preoccupation with emotions – rumination that is emotionally based – that we get lost in. It is like taking a sacred pause, "Oh, this is what I'm doing."
Then take time to feel this. "I'm standing. Here I am." It is a chance for the body to regroup, reorganize, connect, and get grounded. "Here, I'm sitting." Before I start speaking right away, let me get grounded in my seat. If you are about to speak at a meeting or someplace, take a moment to feel yourself – "here, sitting" – in preparation so you are not so completely caught in what has to be said. You are more receptive to your environment as well. The more we are grounded here in our body, the more body awareness is available for what is going on around us.
Certainly mindfulness of posture can be more refined. When we are standing, are we leaning forward? Are we pulled back? Are we collapsed in some way? When we are sitting, the same thing. Are we sagging into the back of the couch, removing ourselves from the conversation we are having with someone? Or are we sitting upright, so we are available and present? So there is more of us able to meet the person we are talking to or to be present for the act of speaking or whatever we are doing.
If we are too collapsed in a chair, it might feel relaxing. But there is sometimes a loss of attentiveness, presence, and involvement with what we are doing. If we can sit or stand in a posture that is balanced and upright, then we are available to more information on what is happening to us.
There is a greater range. We notice if we are leaning forward. We notice if we are pulling back. We notice if we are collapsing. If we are always collapsed, there is less variation that is possible. If we are in the midpoint, we feel the pendulum moving this way and that way. But if we are stuck at one end of the pendulum, we do not have that refined sensitivity to what is going on.
When we are walking, how are we walking? What does it say about our mood, our emotional state? In all these different places, what is happening? When we are sitting, walking, standing – are we doing so in a way that is physically healthy for us? Is it the way that puts the body most at ease? Is this the least amount of tension to hold the posture?
It is a fascinating world – this emphasis on posture. The Buddha emphasized it. You can keep it at a very low bar – just to know your posture as you go through the day. You can be more refined about it and notice the details of your posture. Maybe you have lost a balanced posture. What does that tell you about yourself? How is it that coming back into a balanced posture protects you, and keeps you more balanced so you can do what you need to do in a better way?
The virtue of this exercise is how incredibly simple it is. When walking, know you are walking. When standing, know you are standing. When sitting, know you are sitting. And when you are lying down, know you are lying down.
This knowing is to really know it. See what space is created – what clarity arises. What information becomes available to you. Do not just know it in passing. In a sense, stop and really know it –
over and over again through the day.
If you are inclined, for these next 24 hours, try to make a practice of mindfulness of posture –
a study of it. Study yourself through your posture. Study mindfulness that arises with posture and how different postures support greater presence and greater mindfulness – or less of it. Just make a study.
If you have the occasion, you might talk to other people about what their experience of posture and mindful awareness of posture is in their lives. You might have some fascinating conversations. There are certain professions where posture is a key to how they manage well.
May this day be a wonderful day of discovery and appreciation of this body of ours. Thank you.