Calming the mind calms the body

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 3, Part 2 of 13 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: Okay. Good. What else is happening with people?

Student: I think I found my mind wandering more; and I think part of that is because of lack of predictability compared to the breath meditation, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next, you know, after it comes out and that sort of thing. But with being more open to whatever the body sensations were, there are no time constraints around it. So letting your mind jump from here to here to here, for me, I think made it easier to jump elsewhere.

CTT: Yeah. The breath is a pretty strong sensation as sensations go, and that’s why it’s typically chosen as the focus of concentrative meditation. You’ve got something very concrete to focus on. You can’t get off easily on imaginary breaths. By and large, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between thinking about the breath or imagining the breath versus actually sensing the breathing sensation.

Now Vipassana, as I showed it to you last week, is similar to that in looking for the most prominent body sensation. Most of the time a body sensation is pretty clearly different than imagination or thinking about something, but it’s often not quite as solidly different as the breath is. As you say, it’s unpredictable. So you’re not being anchored in the present quite as thoroughly as you are with the breath. That’s why some variations of Vipassana will tell you to keep part of your attention on the breath even while you follow some other aspect of body sensation, to again just give you a little anchoring presence.

The breath is always now. The breath is always here. Eventually, of course, you’ll want to be able to follow your thoughts with clarity and equanimity, and that is much tougher than something solid like a body sensation, because a thought could be a thought about a thought about a thought about a thought about a thought. 😉


You get lost in a hall of mirrors and you just end up doing ordinary daydreaming. That’s a good observation.

Any particular difficulties people have been having?

Student: Well, a couple of things actually. First, it’s really difficult in the beginning for me. The only thing I can liken it to is a contraction, like my muscles when I contract them. All my mental muscles want to contract and start to cognate and jump on the train of thoughts. That’s my initial response.

I’m even convinced my heart rate goes up and stuff. It’s kind of reactionary, like “What are you trying to do to me right now?”


And then after, the psychology is that I’m relaxed. My heart has gone down. So there’s this initial contraction and then there’s a relaxed state.

CTT: Right. Before we leave the body reaction, I want to say something to that. Any of you ever find that as you go to sleep at night, sometimes as you’re falling asleep you kind of twitch? Now why would you twitch? I mean obviously there’s some tension there, right? How long has that tension been there?

My experience is that we build up, literally build up muscle tensions of one sort or another during the day. And we can hold them for hours or all day long. We don’t know it, but by the end of the day we’re walking around really stiff and tense because we never take time to relax those accumulated tensions. Now the body doesn’t like that. You know bodies prefer to relax. But we get so used to being tense, and our minds are so distracted with the distractions we put in them, thoughts and stuff, that we don’t notice how tense we are.

When you start to do meditation and you bring your attention back to the body, you begin to notice things like that. And so, most of the time, you’ll probably notice that even though you may not be making a deliberate effort to relax, just the fact that you’re paying open-minded attention to your body sensations, relaxation just happens.

You know, it’s very hard to hold a useless muscle tension if you’re aware that you’re doing it. It’s easy to do it if you’re distracted. So that’s one of the reasons you feel relaxed toward the end of things.

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