I have found in meditation teachings that the body scan meditation is often overlooked or ignored as a method of deep relaxation. So, here’s some information on how this process can assist you in your practice.
What is a body scan meditation? A Mindfulness body scan meditation is one type of mindfulness meditation which promotes greater awareness of the physical body. It uses the physical sensations of the body and visualization as an anchor to fix the mind in the physical body and more importantly, in the present moment.
Some teachers have described the mindfulness body scan as a powerful and simple way to connect with the physical body as a quick relaxation technique. This has the immediate effect of helping to draw attention to and then release any areas of tension or resistance within the body before your meditation session. There are some concerns as well…
You should not be overly concerned with these aspects of a body scan. However, the body scan meditation is primarily a relaxing practice, although other more uncomfortable sensations, such as tingling, burning or numbness may also arise.
Body scan meditation has been researched very well and found to be effective for improving well-being, decreasing physical discomfort and pain, and reducing stress levels. Anything in life that you put your focus on will be amplified to some degree, so just be aware that any discomfort, in the beginning, will ultimately benefit your meditation practice.
What are some of the body scan meditation benefits for stress and anxiety
Bringing mindfulness to the body before you meditate, can help you learn and understand what your body may and may not need in order to perform at peak performance. As odd as it may sound, body scanning can also reveal a great deal about your outer world and your inner life.
As you learn and begin to experience the effects of practicing the body scan, you can start to understand how stress and anxiety affect you at a deeper level. You will discover more and more how you can live a better life even with everyday physical pain and illness.
Body scan mindfulness meditation benefits include:
Exploring how to work with physical pain
Finding links between emotions and physical sensations
Showing how you can use physical sensations as a key to your emotional state
Helping you open the door to greater mindfulness of the body using a time-honored practice: the body scan
The body scan meditation is a deep immersion into the moment-to-moment experiences of the body and mind
By bringing awareness and acknowledgment to whatever you feel or sense in the body, the body scan can be very helpful in working with stress, anxiety, and physical pain.
While you may have heard about meditations that create out-of-body experiences, the object of the body scan is to have an “in-the-body” experience.
In the body scan, you methodically bring attention to the body, beginning with the left foot and ending at the top of the head.
You may notice a wide range of distinct physical feelings:
- warmth & cold
- as well as neutrality
Some of these sensations may be accompanied by thoughts or emotions. As you practice the body scan, this multitude of sensations and internal experiences can be boiled down to three basic feelings:
Since the body is a dynamic organism that’s always changing, no two body scan meditations will ever be completely alike in it’s physical and mental dimensions as each session is unique to itself. This is part of the meditation journey you will be on hopefully for the rest of your life.
As you continue to practice, you’ll discover what Martha Graham sagely noted: “The body says what words cannot” .
The body has its own wisdom, and if you listen, it can communicate where physical tension, thoughts, and emotions lie within your body. This investigation into physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions is sometimes called the triangle of awareness since it’s a journey into the totality of our human experience. Sorry, went off on the deep end for a moment, but, you get my point. 😉
When you practice the body scan, first simply become aware of physical sensations by exploring their felt sense. This is distinct from thinking about your body. There’s no need to analyze or manipulate your body in any way; just feel and acknowledge whatever sensations are present.
Throughout this deep investigation, your body may begin to reveal a whole range of feelings. In this way, the body scan can bring you in touch with many aspects of your life, both physical and mental.
You can ask yourself, “Body, what is it that needs attention in my life right now”
A 5-Minute Mindfulness Body Scan Meditation Script
Here’s a very good body scan meditation script in addition to the mp3 file above that you could record in your own voice and create a very effective meditation session for yourself. Yes, the awareness of your own voice however good or bad is a revealing mindfulness exercise in itself.
Begin by making yourself comfortable. Sit in a chair and allow your back to be straight, but not stiff, with your feet on the ground. You could also do this practice standing or if you prefer, you can lie down and have your head supported. Your hands could be resting gently in your lap or at your side. Allow your eyes to close, or to remain open with a soft gaze.
Take several long, slow, deep breaths. Breathing in fully and exhaling slowly. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth. Feel your stomach expand on an inhale and relax and let go as you exhale.
Begin to let go of noises around you. Begin to shift your attention from outside to inside yourself. If you are distracted by sounds in the room, simply notice this and bring your focus back to your breathing.
Now slowly bring your attention down to your feet. Begin observing sensations in your feet. You might want to wiggle your toes a little, feeling your toes against your socks or shoes. Just notice, without judgment. You might imagine sending your breath down to your feet as if the breath is traveling through the nose to the lungs and through the abdomen all the way down to your feet. And then back up again out through your nose and lungs. Perhaps you don’t feel anything at all. That is fine, too. Just allow yourself to feel the sensation of not feeling anything.
When you are ready, allow your feet to dissolve in your mind’s eye and move your attention up to your ankles, calves, knees, and thighs. Observe the sensations you are experiencing throughout your legs. Breathe into and breathe out of the legs. If your mind begins to wander during this exercise, gently notice this without judgment and bring your mind back to noticing the sensations in your legs.
If you notice any discomfort, pain or stiffness, don’t judge this. Just simply notice it. Observe how all sensations rise and fall, shift and change moment to moment. Notice how no sensation is permanent. Just observe and allow the sensations to be in the moment, just as they are. Breathe into and out from the legs.
Then on the next out-breath, allow the legs to dissolve in your mind. And move to the sensations in your lower back and pelvis. Softening and releasing as you breathe in and out. Slowly move your attention up to your mid back and upper back. Become curious about the sensations here. You may become aware of sensations in the muscle, temperature or points of contact with furniture or the bed.
With each out-breath, you may let go of tension you are carrying. And then very gently shift your focus to your stomach and all the internal organs here. Perhaps you notice the feeling of clothing, the process of digestion or the belly rising or falling with each breath. If you notice opinions arising about these areas, gently let these go and return to noticing sensations.
As you continue to breathe, bring your awareness to the chest and heart region and just notice your heartbeat. Observe how the chest rises during the inhale and how the chest falls during the exhale. Let go of any judgments that may arise. On the next out-breath, shift the focus to your hands and fingertips. See if you can channel your breathing into and out of this area as if you are breathing into and out from your hands. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the sensations in your hands.
And then, on the next out-breath, shift the focus and bring your awareness up into your arms. Observe the sensations or lack of sensations that may be occurring there. You might notice some difference between the left arm and the right arm – no need to judge this. As you exhale, you may experience the arm soften and release tensions.
Continue to breathe and shift focus to the neck, shoulder and throat region. This is an area where we often have tension. Be with the sensations here. It could be tightness, rigidity or holding. You may notice the shoulders moving along with the breath. Let go of any thoughts or stories you are telling about this area. As you breathe, you may feel tension rolling off your shoulders.
On the next out-breath, shift your focus and direct your attention to the scalp, head, and face. Observe all of the sensations occurring there. Notice the movement of the air as you breathe into or out of the nostrils or mouth. As you exhale, you might notice the softening of any tension you may be holding.
And now, let your attention to expand out to include the entire body as a whole. Bring into your awareness the top of your head down to the bottom of your toes. Feel the gentle rhythm of the breath as it moves through the body.
As you come to the end of this practice, take a full, deep breath, taking in all the energy of this practice. Exhale fully. And when you are ready, open your eyes and return your attention to the present moment. As you become fully alert and awake, consider setting the intention that this practice of building awareness will benefit everyone you come in contact with today.
The script was written by Shilagh Mirgain, Ph.D., for UW Cultivating Well-Being: A Neuroscientific Approach
Although, it would be misleading to say that the mindful body scan practice is simply about relaxation and sleep. Rather, the goal is to be aware of the different regions of your body, and allow yourself to experience how each part feels, without trying to change anything. Just being with what is there.
“We’re constantly moving and doing, and we forget to listen to our bodies,” says Julie Haber, senior spiritual wellness provider at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “Paying attention to our physical selves is a spiritual practice that allows us to care and attend to ourselves at the most basic of levels.”
What is the purpose of a mindfulness body scan meditation? The body scan meditation can promote body awareness, stress awareness, and relaxation. Practice it often. You can also try progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, or visualization exercises for releasing stress and tension in your body.
What is a body scan in mindfulness? The purpose of a body scan mindfulness exercise is simply to notice your body. It is not necessarily about relaxing your body, however, this may occur as a nice side effect. It is simply about being focused and aware of your body, in this present moment.
What is the purpose of mindfulness meditation? Mindfulness as a practice is described as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Another way to look at this is by bringing your complete attention to the present experience of your body and/or mind on a moment-to-moment basis.