The Physicality of Mentality

IMG_0834As you might have noticed I’ve been absent for quite a while, travelling, finishing a book and dealing with life things. Added to which, I felt as if most of the questions I’ve received have already been serviced in one way or the other by the hundred or so posts already here on this blog.

Then just this week a question came in and it occurred to me it needed a response I haven’t given before, so here goes.

“Hi Roger, I began meditating to help with some mental issues I’ve been suffering from, namely anxiety and depression. I’ve been meditating for a year or two now, using your audio course, with mixed results, but it’s generally enjoyable.

But recently I noticed something that’s made me change what I’m doing (for the better). I noticed that the more depressed I am, the more tense my body is, and the same with anxiety.

So now, instead of focusing my attention on the breath as I usually was, I spend the entire meditation relaxing my body, and it is proving very effective (I think anyway). I’ve found that the more relaxed my body becomes, the less frantic are the depressed or anxious thoughts. But I’m wondering, is this good meditation practice, to just spend the entire meditation on relaxing the body. so I thought I’d check with you.”

Absolutely it’s good meditation – the body is a wonderful object for meditation, and mindfully relaxing the layers of tension and physical anxiety in the body goes a long way to accessing the stillness we seek with meditation.

So if your body is calling for you to pay attention, then don’t worry about paying attention to the breath. After all, the breath is just a place to default to – a resting place for your attention when there’s nothing else that needs doing.

But if the body is calling for you to pay attention as you meditate, then by all means, go there. Deal with it.

And as you do this, remember also, it’s the quality of your attention that is important. Keep it steady, light, contemplative, compassionate and fascinated with whatever sensations you find, whether they’re painful or pleasant. The less reaction you have to a sensation, the easier it is to maintain the detachment you need to be still.


It’s interesting – people assume that meditation is specifically a mental skill, but actually, it’s as physical as it is mental. Very physical in fact – because mind and body are in constant relationship with one another, each creating reactions in the other and back again.

An anxious mind creates an anxious body, and vice versa – a tense body creates a tense and anxious mind.  Conversely, a calm mind creates a relaxed body and so on.

So in that context, let’s look at depression.

As with any reaction, the initial cause of a depressive episode can come from either the mind or the body, each influencing the other, creating a reactive cycle which, as it spins, intensifies the depressive condition.

For example, let’s say the initial cause is a life event that’s drawn up traumatic memories from the past. This event, energized by the emotions it has caused, becomes a kind of magnet in the mind, attracting other memories and thoughts, becoming a storm which emotionally charged as it is, creates hormonal changes and patterns of tension in the body.

Those patterns of tension are recognized from previous painful experiences – you think ‘Oh no, I’m depressed’, and that begs an obvious question – ‘why am I depressed?’. You begin struggling to not feel what you feel, because it’s so painful, and ironically that only energizes the depression even more. The patterns of tension in the body tighten even further – which inflames the thoughts even more – and so on. You get the idea.

So how do you slow this cycle of reactions down and stop it?

Well, you can’t argue with the thoughts. Mind creates its own internal reality, whatever mood it’s in. Happy mind creates happy world, sad mind creates sad world, and depressed mind creates depressed world. Like different colored lenses creating different realities, that’s what the mind does. It’s a spokesman – a propagandist for whatever we feel.

So which ever mood your mind is in, it’s fruitless to deny what it perceives. No matter how many positive thoughts you might pose to a depressed mind, it will always throw a more compelling argument back, to prove that it’s depressed. 

But the body is not so eloquent. It’s very direct. It simple feels bad, or good, depending on your mood. And, unlike the complex and convoluted thought storms in the depressed mind, our body keeps it simple – what we feel is simply different patterns of sensations in the body – patterns of muscle tension in response to what’s happening in the mind.

And that simplicity is the key to unwinding a depressive episode. We let go of the mentality of what’s happening and go to the physicality. Because, where mind is argumentative and deluded, in the body, as I said, things are simple – sensations are either on, or off. Pleasure is either there or it’s not. Pain is there or it’s not. Patterns of tension are there, or they are not. No argument – things are immediately felt, or they don’t exist.

And most importantly, the body responds to your attention.

That is to say, if you feel tension in a part of the body, you can take practical steps to let that tension go. If you contemplate the sensations long enough, with a steady, gentle and persuasive attention, tense muscles will relax.

And the more tense muscles you can relax, the more it influences whatever mood you’re in.

Because as I said – calm body leads to calm mind. Anxious body leads to anxious mind.

So in the case of depression, if, during meditation, you can pay attention to all the ways the mood has tied your body in knots, and mindfully relax the tensions you find, this will naturally have an influence on the mentality of the depression – take the edge off it, so to speak.

So good work in finding this out for yourself. Go for it.


‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.


BEING STILL’ is available on Amazon as a paperback……. AUD $26.40 (incl. GST)

‘BEING STILL’ is also available as a Kindle ebook …………………………………..AUD $11.99

‘BEING STILL’ the audiobook (including all exercises) …………………………. AUD $25.00

(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)