Embodied Practice: Which Body in Mind?

Mindfulness starts with the body, both ancient and modern traditions agree.

But which body in mind are we talking about? In our work at the Mindfulness Centre of Excellence we ground our exploration of mindfulness of the body in secular ways using neuroscience research as a guide.

We respect the breadth of knowledge and experience from ancient contemplative traditions (moving and static), as well as the incredible work of body psychotherapists, somatic educators and performance and dance practitioners. All of these inform our work bringing mindful movement, dance, and play to audiences of all ages.

How can the neuroscience help?

But what can the neuroscience help us with? The work of Longo et al. has been particularly influential in the creation of a mindfulness training based on movement called Body in Mind Training (BMT).

Developed for those experiencing acute psychiatric crisis at the Maudsley Hospital, filtered through the wonderful patrons and volunteers at The Dragon Cafe London, and with significant development in the “real world” settings of healthcare and communities in the UK and Brazil, this program holds body in mind in it’s design and delivery.

Longo’s work points to the different “bodies in brain” that we might attend to as part of our mindfulness training and practice. There are regions that code for the sensations of the body, the preparation of movement of the body, the timing and co-ordination of body movements, as well as the sensations of emotions in the body.

  • Somatosensation – the “raw” sensations of the body
  • Somatoperception – the process of perceiving the body itself, and particularly of ensuring somatic perceptual constancy.
  • Somatorepresentation – the cognitive process constructing semantic knowledge and attitudes about the body (From Longo et al., 2010).

Refining our instructions

We are interested in all of these different types of “body” sensations. In the BMT approach, “mindfulness of the body” is an instruction or exploration informed by the neuroscience. The benefit of this, is that it allows a targeted approach when delivering mindfulness training to those who may have challenges engaging with the body (e.g. traumatized individuals, those with dissociation, psychosis, body and eating issues). When we include the cognitive neuroscience insights, we can accommodate variety in body awareness and engagement. This makes our mindfulness accessible and trauma informed. We can also get creative in more precise ways to support a gentle re-entry into the body, no matter the starting point.

We love creativity and interdisciplinary work at MCoE. This is why we work with dancers, performers, clowning, as well as technology to figure out the best (and most psychologically safe) ways to share mindfulness more widely.

Clinical Applications

We believe science can help us innovate in wise and careful ways. BMT informed practice and training has been used with those with eating disorders (with Brazilian collaborators Katya Stubing and Daniela Araujo), those with dissociation (a collaboration with Dr. Elaine Hunter at the Maudsley Hospital Depersonalization and Dissociation service) and those with psychosis (working with Dr. Silvia Arcuri in Brazil and Anthony Fidler in the UK Weathering Storms project). We can find ways to support everyone to access the benefits of mindfulness.

Dr. Tamara Russell and Daniela Arauja (Director of the Centre for Mindful Eating, Brazil) offering neuroscience based mindfulness training (Tools to Transform Health Eating) in Brazil in 2019.

Our cultural body

As we know our sense of body is highly culturally determined. This is why we love to work cross-culturally. The Body in Mind Training team in Brazil, is led by Dr. Tiago Tatton who is supported by experts in theater arts and somatic education (Matheus Rhomero) and dance (Clarissa Alminhana). This mindfulness teacher training program promotes learning with, through and in the body, considering all the “bodies” in the mind.

Further Resources:

A highly recommended book The Body and the Self brings together this topic across various disciplines.

Mindfulness in Motion by Tamara Russell forms the basis of the BMT Training.

A forthcoming AMAZING Embodiment Conference (Oct 2020).