Mental tattoos: using your body as a mental palace

Your body can be your mental palace. This is easy to say, but what does it mean? I did not even think this can be done until I saw my wife demonstrating it on national TV. Now I will explain “body as a mental palace” to you.


My wife was working on something new to say on national TV. How can you teach mental palace in less than 3 minutes? Even learning the “magnetic square”  takes hours. So she went for the simplest trick she could find: placing visualizations on one’s face.  This way as we go through the hair (1), the eyebrows (2), the ears (2), the nose (1), the mouth (1), and the chin (1) with one wavy motion, you get reminded of 8 different visualizations. No need to remember houses and itineraries.

The demonstration was very fast and successful, but was the trick useful? Let us think about it.

A mental palace is not a house

It is very common to think that a mental palace is a well-known house where we place our visualizations. But this is not really so. We modify the house to suit our needs. We remove all the furniture that confuses us. The itinerary is closely watched so it is as straightforward as possible. If needed we add or remove entries to facilitate navigation. There are no marks on the walls and on the floor unless we need these marks to remember something. Even if we use a house it is an abstraction.

In my advanced course, I teach memory landscapes: cities and forests. I was definitely not the first person to use landscapes for memory palaces. Ancient orators used landscapes as often as they used buildings since they spent a large part of their lives outdoors. So what makes for a great memory palace?

The memory palace construction rules

There is no official book of rules, so I will present some rules that I find fit at the moment.

  • We should know the memory palace intimately well.
  • Traveling the mental palace should be simple and never ambiguous.
  • The mental palace should be perfectly adapted for placing complex visualizations.
  • We should enjoy revisiting the visualizations within the mental palace.
  • It should be easy to combine several mental palaces for complex visualizations.
  • There should be no confusing or defocusing details.

Now, the building kind of mental palaces is perfectly adapted for placing PAO sort of visualisations. These visualizations would look ridiculous on human bodies. So instead I suggest drawing tattoos.

Painted skin

I have two small tattoos on my body (arm and leg back side), which are easy to hide and easy to show. Both are my design, one with a mystical symbol and the other with tribal imagery.  When I was designing my tattoos I tried to follow simple guidelines:

  • Simple stylistic lines. Up to 5 objects per image, up to 2 details per object. No fancy shading. With time the lines may move or diffuse, so even then they should be meaningful.
  • All objects within one tattoo must physically interact with each other to generate a compact composition.
  • Each tattoo as a composition must have a simple theme.
  • Use primary colors, and use them sparingly, so that the tatoo will not defocus from the body itself.
  • The size of the tattoo should not be too large so that the tattoo will not draw too much focus, but not too small for the details to start disappearing.

Brands, symbols, tribal imagery, words in some font, even formulas are perfectly fine tattoos.

As we add mental tattoos and can build as many as we like, I add some further limitations:

  • We should be able to pass from one tattoo to another, scanning all the tattoos in some sort of predefined motion. We can use mindful meditation order, reflexological points, dance motions – whatever we are familiar with.
  • It should be possible to further continue the tattoos to other people, assuming some physical connection.
  • Some tattoos will move slightly as we flex muscles showing them to tell some story.


First, we need to place the anchor visualization. For example, some sort of pose will remind us of the first visualization in the row. Like putting the right hand of the forehead will activate the visualization of the first tattoo on the forehead.

Each joint can have 2 visualizations: for the front and the backside. E.g. 2 hands (excluding palms) with 2 joints and two sides each allow at least 8 visualizations. Add 8 visualizations for legs excluding feet, and 2 visualization for the neck. Palms and feet add 8 places. Also, we can add visualizations on the forehead, chin, and cheeks.  Say 3 visualizations on each side of the torso.  All in all 8×3+4×3+3×2=42 complex visualizations.

If we add fingers we can add 5 visualizations per digit, but it is best to use very simple visualizations on words each. This means at least 50 simple visualizations in addition to the complex visualizations.

Our body offers a lot of real estates. If you need more, you may imagine yourself as an Indian deity. For my own uses, I identify with Lord Shiva. The extra hands are very handy and I can reuse well-known symbolism.


This method has some cool benefits.

  • It allows placing complex visualizations. Each visualization can encode up to 15 words (5 interconnected objects, with 2 details each).
  • A lot of placement real estates.
  • There is no need to learn the mental palace. We already know our own bodies and the bodies of our loved ones.
  • We will be reminded of the visualization by touching our own body through the anchor visualization.
  • The itinerary is simple and intuitive. Several possible itineraries can be supported for one mental palace.
  • The structure is relatively flexible, and we can modify the visualizations.
  • It is hard to think about anything more intimate and emotional than our own body.
  • The process of visualization mimics the process of placing tattoos and thus is pretty intuitive.

Try it

I know that all of the readers want to ask me for a demonstration. Once given a demonstration, you will all ask me to explain how the same ideas can be applied in your particular case. Then you will further ask to check your progress. Since I have a lot of students, I cannot always help, but I can try. Here is my offer: contact me [email protected] and we will see what I can do for you.

The image below is not me and not something I use. It is under a creative commons license and corresponds to the subject.

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