Mindfulness means more than controlling your breath or your thoughts. If you’ve practiced a breathing meditation a few times and you’d like something a bit more physical than just focusing on the breath, a body scan meditation is a great way help yourself be grounded in the here and now. It is an easy to learn meditation and can help you reduce stress and become more aware of what’s going on in your body.
What is a body scan meditation?
A body scan meditation is exactly what it sounds like. The meditation helps you bring awareness to every single part of your body. The more specific you can get, the more you can learn about different body parts.
Beginners will often start by focusing on larger areas of their body. You’ll typically start at your feet or your head and progress up or down through your feet, legs, pelvis, back, stomach, arms, shoulders, neck, and head, taking careful note of the sensations you are feeling everywhere in your body.
If you’ve been doing body scans for a while, they can get more detailed. Instead of just focusing on your legs, you might hone in on how your left calf feels. Or when you get to your head, you would check to see if you are holding any tension in your jaw.
Body scan meditations will ask you to pay attention to what you are feeling in different parts of your body. By putting yourself in a calm and quiet environment, you’ll be able to notice what you’re feeling and how it’s influencing your mood. Maybe your muscles are tense, which is making you emotionally tense. Maybe you feel a dull ache in an area that you didn’t notice before and it has you irritable. Maybe the area you’re focusing on feels good and relaxed, and you’re feeling good.
The key feature of body scan meditations is the way you observe what is going on in your body. Instead of identifying something as good or bad, you see it as pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. This takes any value judgement out of what you are experiencing, changing how you relate to it. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Each person’s body is different, and what you are feeling is the only thing you should think about.
Those who have never done body scan meditations before often report feeling antsy, or feeling like they should move around. In our day to day lives, we have a number of responsibilities that require us to be in constant motion, continually working on or getting ready for the next thing. When you take a moment to stop and take stock of your body, it can leave you feeling restless. It’s different from what you’re used to, and your brain is suddenly noticing the change in routine. This is normal, and even means that you’re doing the scan correctly. You are noticing that your body wants to move.
How can it help?
Being aware of what’s going on in your body can help you in many ways. Knowing where any pain or tension is coming from will help you determine what treatment methods will help you alleviate your pain.
Become Aware of What’s Going on in Your Body
Body scans are a great way to bring attention to issues you need to address. If you have pains or aches you’ve been ignoring, becoming more aware of them will help you see how bad they are, and how much you need treatment. This often results in seeking treatment earlier than you otherwise would, and makes it easy to address a problem before it becomes too severe.
Regularly checking in with your body is also a great way to see if there are any emotions connected to the pain you are feeling. Emotional and physical pain activate similar regions in the brain, and can easily be mistaken for one another. Ever gotten pain in your chest after a particularly bad break up, or felt nauseous when your anxiety spikes? That’s an example of your emotions taking effect on your body.
Remove Judgment From Your Practice
Removing judgment from your meditation practice is also a great way to practice acceptance of what is going on. As a society, we’ve been programmed to prioritize “good” things and stay away from “bad” things. However, when it comes to what is going on in your body, what might feel bad in the moment could be something your body needs.
Switching from making a value judgment to just observing what is happening makes it easier to accept things as they are. You won’t feel like you need to change or avoid anything, you’re simply there to observe what is. Becoming aware of your problems before you try to change them is a great way to know what will help you instead of jumping to conclusions.
Any kind of meditation will help reduce the levels of stress in your body. Body scan meditations help promote stress reduction.
Meditation helps reduce the worries that can lead to high levels of stress, and often prevent sleep. Being mindful and more present in the now reduces the likelihood of your nervous system overreacting to the things that are going on in your life.
Step by Step Guide to Performing a Body Scan Meditation
Body scan meditations are fairly simple.
If you’re worried about doing it wrong, there are plenty of resources available to guide you through it your first few times.
- Before you begin, make sure you have the time and space to do a body scan. You’ll want to be in an environment free from distractions and disturbances. Right when you wake up, or right when you go to sleep can be a good time, since other members of your household will likely be busy with other things. You’ll also want to set aside 15-30 minutes to make sure you have enough time to scan your entire body.
- When you know you have the time and space to do a body scan, you’ll want to set an intention for your practice. Since you’ll be exploring your body, it can be helpful to keep that meditation to your physical self.
If you’re having a hard time deciding on an intention, you can try any of the following:
Sit up straighter, slow your breath, identify where any pain is coming from, and be present in the moment, not getting caught up in the past or the future.
- Find a nice, comfortable place to lay down. You’ll want to lie on your back, your heels on the floor and your arms at your sides.
- Next, get grounded. Notice what is touching your head or your hips. Feel the mat or the floor underneath you. Release the tension in the areas you can feel connecting to the floor.
- Now you are ready to begin the body scan. If you’re having a hard time, imagine you’re taking a tour of your body. You’re not trying to change anything you find, you are simply observing and taking note.
- Start by paying attention to your feet. Feel how your heels connect to the floor. Notice any sensation in your toes. Are your feet cold? Take note of anything that comes up without deeming it good or bad.
- Once you scan your feet, let them slip out of awareness before observing the next part of your body. Think of each body part like an exhibit. You will have to go through some empty hall space before you can get to the next exhibit.
- Repeat this practice for your lower legs, upper legs, the bottom of your torso, your stomach, back, arms, hands, shoulders, neck, and head.
- Once you’ve scanned through different parts of your body, you’ll want to pay attention to how your body as a whole feels. It can help to connect to the skin on all parts of your body.
If you feel like you can’t do a body scan on your own, there are plenty of resources you can take advantage of that will guide you through the process. Find one that works for you, and use it once a week for the best results!