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Bearing Witness to the Body: Mindfulness of Body and Breath

We create the world with our thoughts, the Buddha taught, but we experience it with our bodies. That's one of those fun conundrums of Buddhism.

It's an issue I work with a lot, particularly since my practice now involves visualizations. How do I keep from becoming a brain on a stick, a mind that observes sensations without feeling them? Where is my body if my mind is projecting the consciousness elsewhere?

Ruth Denison, a Buddhist teacher who expanded the teachings on mindfulness of the body, describes its value like this:

It is tangible right away, it makes sense, it is giving a bridge to modern physics, to modern science, and it gives you a personal touch with yourself. It is all spiritual and enlightenment. So it was not something to believe in or to bow to,you didn't need to pray to it. It brought me into daily life, where I know that everything is having this impermanence.

Denison, who studied body awareness before coming to Buddhist teacher U Ba Khin, describes the process with exquisite awareness, in her biography, Dancing in the Dharma:

When I breathe in and feel a deeper breath and allow that, then I feel a relationship between the breath energy and the body energy. The breath moves into the body and changes the sensations, that aliveness, and it is recharged with the in breath. Then it goes out and comes in again. I also discovered that when I am allowing more deeply the breathing that I have deeper access to the body sensations, because I can witness or feel that every part of the body is in my attention, like it is enlivened with the breath. It is always so, but now because of my attention I could experience that directly. So it was not anymore anything I have to worship or ask how to understand. I just thought, 'Aha, this is this.'

Denison's witness is embodied, engaged, embedded in her being. It's not sitting by, watching the breath flow by -- it is feeling it, down to the exchange of oxygen between the breath and blood. And in that observation of the smallest details, the whole of the universe is revealed.

To read more about Ruth Denison: http://theidproject.org/blog/nancy-thompson/2015/03/07/ruth-denison-brought-dharma-dance

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