Breathworks teacher and Marketing Coordinator Ollie Bray explores what makes mindfulness of the body such an essential foundation for practice.

All secular mindfulness programmes today trace back to practices from Buddhism. 

However, despite mindfulness being so central to Buddhist teachings, there are surprisingly few explicit instructions on mindfulness practice in the enormous 'Pali Canon' - the original recorded teachings of the historical Buddha, from approximately 2,500 years ago. 

The main source is a text called the Satipatthana Sutta - literally "the text on the Foundations of Mindfulness".

The text details four foundations - four objects that the aspiring meditator should develop mindfulness of for a complete practice. The first of these is mindfulness of the body - and this is a perfect foundational object for mindfulness practice, for a number of reasons.


Grounding our awareness in our bodies is a great aid to concentration in meditation. When we are anchored in our bodies, we don’t get so carried away by fantasies, thoughts, and abstractions. We are also less prone to losing clarity and wakefulness, becoming dull or falling asleep. We are grounded in the vibrant reality of experience.


When we are mindful of the body for any length of time, we are confronted with a simple but profound fact - our minds are embodied.

Emotions affect the body enormously; when we say that we feel "heavy-hearted", we have "butterflies in our stomach", or that we’re "pumped up", there are analogies which point to the deeply bodily nature of emotion.

When our minds are not at peace, our body tenses up, and when we relax our bodies, our minds also relax. There is a close connection between resistance to experience in the mind, and tension in the body.

Take a moment to breathe deeply, and see whether you can relax your whole body - from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice how that changes how you feel - sometimes this simple moment of bodily awareness is enough to change the course of your whole day.


The Troublesome Body

It’s hard to deny that our bodies cause us a lot of trouble. They are imperfect, they get injured, they cause us pain, they get sick, they age - and then after all this, one day they die on us completely. 

For many people, the body is an arena of great struggle and suffering. Training in mindfulness helps us to embrace our bodies, imperfections and all, with acceptance. The more we can relate to the inevitable difficulties and changes in our bodies with mindful acceptance and grace, rather than worried grasping, the happier we will be.

The body is the first foundation of mindfulness in the Satipatthana Sutra. If you’d like to learn about the other three, consider joining our online retreat on the topic, led by Breathworks founders Vidyamala Burch and Sona Fricker. The retreat starts on Friday 3rd December, and is available to join for just the weekend, or for the whole week. Find out more and book your place below:

Weekend Retreat

Full Week Retreat

All these reasons are also part of why mindful movement - a beautiful way of meditating with the body - is a central component of all Breathworks' courses. You can find out about our mindful movement courses here. They are usually part of our Mindfulness Teacher Training Programme, but you can attend them without training as a teacher.