With mindfulness we purposefully observe our experience as it takes place, including any discomfort or pain that may be present.

The mind naturally tends to see discomfort or pain as being a “thing,” and to give it a degree of solidity, permanence, and coherence that it doesn’t in fact have.

In mindfulness we train ourselves to see the many different sensations that actually make it up. We may even gently make mental notes of the most prominent sensations that we notice. For example we may note the presence of “tingling,” “pulsing,” “throbbing,” “heat,” “cold,” “aching,” or “tightness.” We can notice these sensations without judging them as “bad” or trying to push them away.

When we let go of the rather crude label “discomfort” or “pain” in this way, and instead note what is actually present, we can find that each individual sensation is easier to bear.

Mindfulness of physical discomfort mp3


Bring your awareness and attention to your breath. Just notice your breathing with a gentle curiosity about the physical sensation of taking air into your body and breathing it out again.

After a couple of minutes, bring your awareness to your physical sensations. Notice what is happening in your body. What feels comfortable and what feels a little bit uncomfortable?

Bring your awareness specifically to some part of your body where you are aware that you have an itch, or a slight discomfort. It might be a sense that you want to shift weight, to scratch or rub, to wriggle into a more comfortable position. Just allow your awareness to sit with that sensation – don’t act on it.

Notice the thoughts that occur in your mind – notice them simply as thoughts. You can choose to act or not act on these thoughts. The thought might be: “I have to scratch this itch,” or “I need to shift my weight.” Just let the thought occur without acting upon it.

Notice the thoughts and notice the feelings and sensations in your body. Notice how the sensations shift and change; they might become more intense or they may diminish.

After focussing on one part of your body that has some discomfort just allow your attention to drift around your body until it discovers another place of mild discomfort. Repeat the exercise with your awareness of this new discomfort. Allow your awareness to sit with this discomfort, without needing to do anything about it. You can continue with other areas of your physical sensations.

Finally, bring your awareness and attention back to your breath. Notice your breathing, notice each breath as you inhale and each breath as you exhale. Simply sit with the awareness of your body breathing

Please feel free to download the MP3 for your own personal use.

Exercise 13: Mindfulness of physical discomfort


Other mindfulness exercises


Get the mobile version

The mindfulness exercises are one of the features available in the free Living Well App for iPhone and Android. Be mindful anywhere, anytime.



  1. Comment by Anonymous

    Anonymous Reply June 20, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    I am trying to download the mp3 files for one of our providers. when i click on download mp3 I am redirected to a page that only plays the mp3. This page does not give you the option to download the file. Please email me back so I can get these downloaded.


    • Comment by Jess [Living Well Staff]

      Jess [Living Well Staff] Reply June 20, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      As with downloading from any link, simply right click on the link to the mp3 and select “Save As.” Apologies for the confusion.

  2. Comment by David

    David Reply March 15, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    The tape talks about noticing an itch and then moving onto other itches without scratching the first itch. This seems counter intuitive to me. Why not scratch the first itch before moving onto the next itch?

    • Comment by Jess [Living Well Staff]

      Jess [Living Well Staff] Reply February 21, 2018 at 2:02 pm

      This is a good question: If there is a problem (itch) why not solve it (scratch) before moving onto the next? This question neatly highlights the metaphor between itches and unpleasant emotion.

      Humans are great problem-solvers. Don’t like being eaten by wild animals? Build a wall. If we don’t like being too hot or cool, we invent air conditioners. And if we don’t like an itch? We can get rid of it by scratching it.

      The common factor here is the idea of controlling or avoiding unpleasant experiences. Where we can get unstuck is when we extend this logic to difficult or uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anxiety or shame. Sometimes attempts to avoid or control those emotions result in actually being worse off. An example is when someone uses alcohol or other drugs to avoid anxiety, rather than dealing with the underlying causes directly.

      The assumption is that these uncomfortable emotions are a problem, just like being eaten, being hot or being itchy. People have myriad ways to control or avoid feeling emotions: alcohol and other drugs, exercising too much, eating too much, working too much, avoiding confrontation, or otherwise avoiding situations that give rise to these unpleasant emotions. This isn’t a problem if it’s occasional, but often these strategies result in ill health, poorer relationships, and decreased mental health. The reason for this is emotions are not problems to be solved, but rather information to be taken into consideration when making decisions about the way you live your life.

      From this perspective, if you are trying to solve the emotion, you aren’t solving the issues in your life that actually give rise to the emotion.

      Without going into too many branching topics, emotions function to directly show you what is important to you. If you experience anxiety around failing at school, this tells you that academic success and learning are important to you. If you feel lonely, you can become aware that intimacy is important to you. Ashamed? There is something about what happened that you want to change if it were to happen again.

      In this mindfulness exercise, the idea of noticing an itch is practise for noticing other bodily sensations, like tightness or heaviness in the chest, butterflies in the stomach, and other sensations associated with emotion. When you consciously do not scratch an itch, this brings up mind chatter and bodily reactions. To gain insight into these is to gain insight into broader behavioural patterns in your life, regarding your relationship with your emotions.

      Furthermore, if you can train yourself to not ‘mindlessly’ react to unpleasant bodily sensations, then there is space for you relate more flexibly (and ‘mindfully’) to unpleasant feelings.

      For example: If the thought of going to a party on the weekend causes anxiety, instead of avoiding the party you can decide to not ‘scratch the itch’ of wanting to get rid of the anxiety. If you give yourself the time to notice and consider the urge, then you are no longer are locked into that automatic response. You might then make the decision to go to the party even though you are anxious. Further, you may gain insight into the anxiety and realise you are feeling the anxiety because being accepted by others is important to you, and by not going to the party you would be creating more distance from those who like you.

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