Practicing awareness of sensations

White hands covered with soap suds

For a long time, I found it really difficult to identify feelings in my body. If I looked for emotions I would find a tight ball at the top of my diaphragm, but giving it a label was impossible. I could be happy, scared, angry, excited, anxious or embarrassed and the same ball sat in the same place. It took me a long time and a lot of therapy to recognise that I found it really hard to tolerate sensations in my body. One of the results of this was that I fell over a lot, I knocked myself on things and often got random cuts and scratches that I noticed hours after they happened. It also meant that I often reacted to situations without recognising my own emotions, and even if other people pointed to them I found them hard to relate to or acknowledge. This led to me discounting emotion a lot of the time, and treating my (emotionally fueled) beliefs about a situation as facts. This meant I wasn’t able to connect emotionally with other people, or myself, and limited my ability to feel all the awesome feelings in my body as well as the more difficult ones.  I spent a few years trying to find ways to be more attentive to the sensations in my body. I went to meditation retreats, yoga workshops and to therapy. But I found those practices to be far outside my day to day life. Sure, meditation helped me some of the time, but the practice of actually paying attention to sensations in my body in more daily activities was much more helpful to me.

Like me, many people find it really hard to feel physical sensations in their body. This might be because they spend a lot of time caught up in their head with anxiety, or that they pay more attention to their thoughts than their embodied experience. Getting tuned in to your body is a particular kind of mindfulness that teaches you to notice and welcome the awareness of physical sensations. It can help you to get more comfortable with feeling neutral, positive and negative emotions in your body – or even conflicting and complicated ones. This comfort can translate to being more able to accept that you are having physiological or emotional experiences without suppressing, externalising or avoiding them – all of which often make emotions bigger rather than smaller.

So, how do we pay attention to sensations in our bodies? Fortunately there many many ways! Or perhaps, there is a single way that you can practice during many activities. That way is this: you focus on the thing you are doing, and specifically on the physical sensations of it. When your mind wanders away to something else, you bring it back to the sensations in your body.  It is that simple. You can do that while you are:

  • brushing your teeth
  • Washing your face
  • taking a shower
  • using moisturiser
  • Cuddling your pets
  • Going for a walk
  • Eating
  • Cooking
  • Stretching
  • Cleaning the house
  • Making tea
  • Washing dishes
  • Dancing
  • People watching
  • Watching the weather
  • Listening to the world around you
  • Listening to a music track
  • Breathing (and yes, there are many meditations focused on this)
  • Stroking a part of your body
  • Masturbating
  • Gardening
  • Typing

Of course, there are many more. If, like me, you have a hard time with sensations this exercise can help you to practice in everyday situations. The best part of it is that you don’t have to make any extra time, you can just be more present with your body in the things you already do.


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