Is it okay to leave body scans out of my practice?? Below is a transcript of the conversation presented by Brighton Mindfulness Centre, where Jon Wilde and Andy Darling are interviewed by Gerard Evans and discuss the question “Is it okay to leave body scans out of my mindfulness practice?”. The full one hour video can be accessed by clicking here for our main Mindfulness FAQ page. Other Mindfulness questions are answered in this and other videos on this site.
(This question is a follow on from the previous discussion about meditation and mindfulness)
Gerard: This next question comes from Matt in London and it’s to do with body scans and if you aren’t aware body scans are part of the mindfulness course where you take your awareness through the parts of your body. So Matt asks, I enjoy sitting meditations but I find body scans very boring to do. Is it okay to leave body scans out of my practice?
Jon: I’ll put my hand up here and confess. When I first did the 8 week course in 2012 with a teacher called Nick Diggins I didn’t enjoy “the body scans” on the course. And after the course had finished, I continued with my meditation practice but exclusively I would do sitting meditation. And this went on for about a year and a half and I never thought about body scans. I did give body scans a single thought. is only when I really when I started to gear up to train to be a teacher, a mindfulness teacher that really started to look at body scans again and realized that I was missing out on a huge part of this whole thing. Which is awareness of body.
I had somehow bought into the idea possibly because you know the word mindfulness which many teachers have said to me it’s kind of far from the ideal word describe what we’re actually doing here because this is really not about stopping thoughts. It’s confused with stopping thoughts. But it’s not just about the mind it’s as much to do with the body as the mind. So there’s a very good reason why good mindfulness courses pretty much begin with a body scan. Because it’s saying let’s turn towards this body which chances are the person attending that course has given very very little thought about it.
Andy: Because they’ve split it. This is the Cartesian notion of split mind and body that’s what’s happened in the West. I go much much much further with this. Reginald Ray for instance long long long term teacher and practitioner in the States, does it’s all rooted in the body. He goes as far as to say and in the east it’s said a lot and increasingly in the west. The body is the conscious. You talked about awareness of the body. I would actually slightly turn to body awareness.
Our bodies know everything trauma and so on. Is all carried in the body and is expressed in the body. We’re not trying to block thoughts off you know unpleasant thoughts in our heads. Our body doesn’t block them off, it can’t. Doesn’t it. It’s wanting to tell us. It’s wanting to correspond with the mind. It wants that union. Yoga obviously means union of mind and body. And I really think meditation has to mean that too. Body scans, what’s the body saying. Even in the conceptual sense what’s the weather like in this body? What’s going on? What’s the vibration of it? So much is expressed. In my therapeutic work it’s all in the body. There’s all sorts of cellular contractions and so forth going on. And I think it’s a verge of discovering.
Jon: Someone said to me and people have said to me in course; I find the body scan extremely boring. What I would say to them is excellent. This is splendid news and they probably gave me a funny look and said what’s he on about? I have just told him it’s boring. Well they are telling me that we now got something that we can work with. Boredom. Why is it boring? I’m not saying let’s go into this on an intellectual analytical level but during a body scan we literally begin by the way for anyone who’s never done a body scan. We literally begin a body scan by bringing our attention to the big toe on one or both of our feet. The big toe. And what we do is we simply notice any sensations in that part of the body. So this is a long way from a James Bond movie. This is simply bringing our attention to any sensations being felt right now in our present moment experience in the big toe.
Andy: Yeah no judgmentally. And anyone who says they feel nothing, there will be something vibrational.
Gerard: So if you can feel it that that’s okay too. On non judgmental.
Jon: Yes because when people begin to do this. And I speak as one. I speak as somebody who’s been that person. Bringing attention to the big toe, the first thing is why would I want to be doing this? What’s interesting about the big toe? That will be the first thing. And the second thing is I’m so attached with my body that I’m very very unlikely to notice anything is going on there because my life is being lived entirely inside my mind or through my mind.
Gerard: And these are the people who benefit most from mindfulness. So what do you say then to somebody who finds it boring?
Jon: Work with it.
Gerard: Work with the boredom.
Jon: Yeah. On a course if anyone ever said to me, I’m finding this unbearably painful or I simply can’t take anymore. There’s no way I would encourage somebody to stick with that. If somebody needs to leave the room or they need to stop a certain practice that’s absolutely fine but the boredom isn’t going to kill anyone.
Jon: Yeah. Because in that point let’s not forget that the body is an arena of shame for a lot of people because that’s where abuse has been inflicted, shame around desire because the body is stuck with desires. The body reacts and so on. We got to trade carefully sometimes. People might over react as he said rather than saying, I’m bored, I’m not feeling anything and so on. But really important at least start addressing that, feeling that. Otherwise we will split off. We are not of ourselves anymore.
Jon: Amongst mindful teachers I think this is a really intriguing area. So when you are doing a body scan. I think this sort of exemplifies really what Andy is talking about in terms of how we feel about our bodies. There are certain mindfulness teachers who go into the growing.
Andy: Yes. They don’t literally go into the growing.
Jon: I think we should make this perfectly clear. We don’t literally go into the growing. Just that we invite that person to bring their attention to the big toe some teachers.
Andy: They miss the growing.
Jon: Yes some miss the growing and some stick with the growing. Personally I miss the growing out. I haven’t stopped to wonder too much why but I will say this strictly if I’m teaching a mixed group or if I’m teaching a woman. I’d rather feel I’m kind of taking a little bit of a risk in terms of inviting somebody for a start what are you going to call the bits. I’m getting down to real basics here. What names are you going to give to the genitals? Some teachers are going into that and some teachers who don’t. I just think it’s an interesting area just in terms of reminding us just how certain parts of our body are the source of shame, discomfort, mystery and sometimes it’s easier just to go you know what I’m not even going to go there. I’m not even going to risk an adverse reaction here.
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