The body within the body’ is an originally Zen term that I use to refer to a particular technique that enables access to a deep state of formless meditation, using the body and the senses as a starting point. It’s a useful technique to know because as well as being very simple, if you get good at it combines:

  • A simple technique that you can use to calm and center yourself with in daily life
  • Enabling access to a deep and expanded state of awareness that is often only experienced after years of meditation practice

The technique: 

Begin with the body – Start by focusing your attention upon the sensation of your physical body. You can focus on the sensation of the body in general, or you can take one area of the body, such as the rising and falling of your belly as you breathe, or the weight of your body on the chair/cushion. Either way, use the sensory experience of the body as your object of focus.

Let the mind still – As you focus on the body in this way, you will find that naturally, over time your mind and thoughts start to slow down, resulting in greater and greater periods of time where your mind is merely an open spacious experience of awareness, with no thoughts in it. You keep your physical body as the anchor for your attention and let the mind still gradually in its own time. No need to push things.

Let the body dissolve – After a while you’ll find that your sense of your physical body will start to dissolve away, and you’ll be left with what feels like a huge ‘white’ open space, which appears more and more directly to your awareness. This is the ‘body within the body’, or the formless, timeless ‘body of consciousness’.

Rest in the ‘body within the body’ – This is your principle object of meditation and attention for the session. It’s quite a radically different experience from our normal everyday state of mind and is characterized by not just a mental experience of stillness, but also a sense of inhabiting a ‘body’ that is itself infinitely still, spacious and consisting of consciousness, rather than any kind of physical form.

Come back to your physical body – Finally, when you have finished the time you intended to spend meditating, really come back solidly to your physical body and awareness of your outer environment. Concretely ground yourself in your sense of physicality and everyday physical surroundings. This last stage is very important!

A personal story

This method can also be practiced using external objects of the senses as your point of focus. I had my first experience of this type of ‘body within the body’ meditation 100% by accident as a 12-13 year old. I was sitting underneath a row of polar trees at school, enjoying looking at them and the breeze running through the leaves. Relatively suddenly I had the sense of the trees and my own physical body ‘expanding’ to become as if infinitely large, and then dissolving away to leave an open empty space (the body of consciousness) that felt at the same time both infinitely large, and infinitely small. This stayed with me as ‘peak’ experience that I dipped in an out of for several weeks, before disappearing. Later when I took up meditation in my twenties I had similar experiences that I was then able to identify as useful and meaningful as a part of the meditation journey.

By Toby Ouvry,, Contributor of //LIVE SIMPLY//