In the previous post we talked about combining mindfulness with simple activities that we enjoy to help improve our mood when we are particularly distressed.
Now we will go deeper into this technique and learn how to start with a small pleasure and make it grow by noticing the body sensations associated with it. The idea is based on the fact that our emotions are rooted in body sensations. By being mindful of your body sensations you can tap into the source of the emotion.
The emotion we will mainly work with is joy. Joy is felt generally in the front of the body and in the chest area and it is has qualities of spaciousness, expansiveness, glowing, bubbling and being giggly inside (Hendricks & Hendricks,1993).
Noticing these sensations trigger the generation of pleasant feelings, which in turn trigger more body sensations and so on creating a positive feedback loop. It is a powerful technique and can be very useful in disorders such as depression where one might feel joyless.
Start by doing something that you enjoy. It can be something as small as having a cup of tea or going into the sunshine. If you are particularly distressed, make a formal resolution such as “There is a lot on my mind right now but I’m going to enjoy this!”
Suppose you decided to have a cup of tea. Pay attention to the smell, taste, and the warmth of the tea. Notice them and simply allow yourself to enjoy them. As you do it keep your attention on your emotional state and look for any pleasant feelings. Once you notice even the smallest bit of pleasure or enjoyment, direct your attention to your body.
What’s happening? Try to find the pleasantness in your body. Where is it located? What does it feel like? Once you notice these pleasant sensations, stay with them, give them space and importantly allow yourself to enjoy them. This will trigger more pleasant feelings, which in turn trigger more body sensations and so on.
An important point is to keep paying attention to both your emotional state and body sensations as you apply this technique. Also keep the negative emotions in check that might arise. Notice them and make the decision to redirect your attention to the pleasant ones.
As well as improving your mood in the short term, this technique has the long term benefit of improving your overall ability to feel pleasure and joy by training your nervous system.
Finally, a similar approach can be extended to other emotions since they are all rooted in body sensations and it is no less than hacking into your mind-body.
G. Hendricks, Ph.D. & K. Hendricks Ph.D., Centering And The Art Of Intimacy Handbook, Fireside, NY, 1993.