The Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Contemplation of the Body

Most current definitions of mindfulness refer to, “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgement,” or “the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”  However, when we take a closer look at the cultural and historical roots of mindfulness, we find a rich and nuanced teaching outlined in The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness or The Satipatthana Sutta.

Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha was both an investigator of the mind and a teacher. In many ways, he was the first psychologist. The majority of his teachings are instructions based on his own experiences as he left his life as a sheltered prince in search for an end to suffering. Today, the teachings are all around us as modern psychology meets with ancient wisdom. This is most apparent in the extensive interest and research supporting mindfulness-based psychological interventions. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and several core components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are just two examples. Likewise, the Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness has been incorporated into several research based-interventions and training programs, such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction created by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness is an essential practice in the Buddhist tradition. In fact, it is viewed a necessary condition on the path to awakening, without which awakening or enlightenment is not possible. The discourse includes four elements of practice focused on the body, feeling states, consciousness, and mental objects, including the most basic teachings of the Buddha. 

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  1. Contemplation of the Body – Being mindful of the body
  2. Contemplation of Feeling – Being mindful of feeling states
  3. Contemplation of Consciousness – Being mindful of thoughts
  4. Contemplation of Mental Objects – Being mindful of the present quality of mind

The first foundation is an excellent place to start expanding your understanding and practice of mindfulness.

Foundation One: Contemplation of the Body

  • Become aware of your body and each posture as you rise from bed. 
  • Be mindful of walking and standing.
  • Be mindful of sitting and laying down.
  • When bending or reaching, be fully mindful.
  • When eating, drinking, or savoring food, be fully mindful.
  • When talking or silent, be fully mindful.
  • Pause and take a mindful breath to reconnect with your body before you begin to write or speak.
  • In any function, be mindful and practice repeating the phrase “there is a body.”

Mindfulness of the body offers a key benefit by providing a type of anchoring that supports the continuity of mindfulness without requiring a narrow focus. Because it does not require a narrow focus, such as the breath, whole-body awareness allows for us to avoid being caught up in a single object of attention and provides the opportunity to maintain awareness of our overall experience. This aspect of mindfulness of the body serves an essential role in broadening our practice into our daily lived experience.

Mindfulness of our body is available at any moment and helps us to bridge the gap from our meditation or yoga practice into our everyday experience. As we establish a foundation of mindfulness, it can become easier to return to mindfulness throughout the day.

The mind can become so active and involved in our activities, as a mind does. Yet, it requires only a moment of turning inward and becoming aware of our body to ground ourselves once again. Carrying this fullness of being and sense of embodiment into our daily life has considerable potential to help us become more alive as we learn to cultivate the joy of being in the present moment.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Published by tlindquistpsyd

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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