Although practicing meditation can help us slow down and be in the moment, some techniques, like a body scan meditation, can be particularly helpful in learning to tune in with ourselves. A body scan is practiced by consciously observing each part of your physical being. “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 Body Scan Meditation?
Body scan meditation is a form of Vipassana meditation that is purported to help expand mind/body awareness, release tension and quiet the mind. Body scan meditation is a particularly effective meditation technique for strengthening concentration, focusing attention and relaxing the breath. It can be practiced as a guided meditation or performed solo once you have a solid understanding of body scan techniques.
Finally, a good excuse to simply lie down and do nothing! Apart from that, why you should try it?
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.
This mindfulness meditation exercise asks you to systematically focus your attention on different parts of your body, from your feet to the muscles in your face. It is designed to help you develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations, and to relieve tension wherever it is found. Research suggests that this body scan mindfulness practice can help reduce stress, improve well-being, and decrease aches and pains.
Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.
Some evidence that it works:
Carmody, J. & Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms, and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(1), 23-33.
Participants who attended eight weekly sessions of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) program showed increases in mindfulness and well-being at the end of the eight weeks and decreases in stress and symptoms of mental illness. Time spent engaging in the body scan meditation, in particular, was associated with greater levels of two components of mindfulness–observing thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, and non-reacting to stress–and with increased psychological well-being.
Here some inspiration from Osho, also known as Bhagwan Rajneesh: Mind-blowing Osho Quotes on Meditation, Happiness, Mind, Life and Love
But why it works?
The mindfulness meditation body scan provides an awesome opportunity for us to experience our body as it is, without judging or trying to change it. It may allow us to notice and release a source of tension we weren’t aware of before, such as a hunched back or clenched jaw muscles. Or it may draw our attention to a source of pain and discomfort. Our feelings of resistance and anger toward pain often only serve to increase that pain, and to increase the distress associated with it; according to research, by simply noticing the pain we’re experiencing, without trying to change it, we may actually feel some relief.
The mindfulness body scan is designed to counteract these negative feelings toward our bodies. This practice may also increase our general attunement to our physical needs and sensations, which can, in turn, help us take better care of our bodies and make healthier decisions about eating, sleep, and exercise.
A thorough body scan meditation takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes of uninterrupted relaxation and focus but you can start with 5 minutes guided body scan meditation to cultivate in your daily life.
TIME REQUIRED: 5-10 minutes, three to six days per week for four weeks. Research suggests that people who practice the body scan for longer reap more benefits from this practice.
How To Do Mindful Body Scan Meditation
A key pathway to full presence is awakening through the body. This meditation guides us through a body scan, relaxing and receiving the play of sensations. We then deepen attention to the breath, and rest with the rhythmic waves of breathing, experiencing the background of the whole domain of physical aliveness.
It is recommended you allow about 30 or 40 minutes to let yourself really investigate this practice. But if you don’t have that much time, utilize whatever time you have. Depending on what you have time for you can choose the 3-minute, 5-minute or 10-minute practice that are wonderful to reconnect us to our bodies and also train our brain in mindfulness. You can bring with you anywhere and anytime to begin training your mind to be more present to your life and recognize more clarity, opportunity, possibility and choice.
Body Scan Mindfulness
Closing your eyes can be helpful to allow you to focus or, if you’d rather, you can always lower and half-close your eyes.
Bring awareness to the body breathing in and out, noticing touch and pressure where it makes contact with the seat or floor. Throughout this practice, allow as much time as you need or want to experience and investigate each area of the body.
When you’re ready (no rush), intentionally breathe in, and move your attention to whatever part of the body you want to investigate. You might choose to do a systematic body scan beginning at the head or feet. Or, you might choose to explore sensations randomly. Enjoy!
Sensations might include buzzing, or tingling, pressure, tightness or temperature, or anything else you notice. What if you don’t notice any strong sensations or things feel neutral? You can simply notice that, too. There are no right answers. Just tune in to what’s present, as best you can, without judgement. You’ll notice judgement puts a different spin on things.
The main point is being curious and open to what you are noticing, investigating the sensations as fully as possible, and then intentionally releasing the focus of attention before shifting to the next area to explore.
At some point, you’ll notice Elvis and your attention have left the building. You’ll quickly discover that you can’t stop your attention from wandering. Sorry about that. But over time you can train it to stay for longer periods: train it, not force it, there’s a difference. Each time your attention wanders, simply notice that this is happening, then gently and kindly (it’s really important that you don’t try to force anything) direct your attention back to exploring sensations in the body. Rinse and repeat until you’ve finished your entire body exploration.
Neuroscience tells us that noticing drifting attention, and gently returning our focus to wherever we’ve placed it, over and over, is how we create new pathways in the brain.
At the end of this exploration of bodily sensations, spend a few moments to expand your attention to feeling your entire body breathing freely.
Open your eyes if they have been closed. Move mindfully into this moment.
Guided Body Scan Meditation
The body scan can be performed while lying down, sitting, or in other postures. The steps below are a guided meditation designed to be done while sitting.
Begin by bringing your attention into your body.
You can close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you.
You can notice your body seated wherever you’re seated, feeling the weight of your body on the chair, on the floor.
Take a few deep breaths.
And as you take a deep breath, bring in more oxygen enlivening the body. And as you exhale, have a sense of relaxing more deeply.
You can notice your feet on the floor, notice the sensations of your feet touching the floor. The weight and pressure, vibration, heat.
You can notice your legs against the chair, pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness.
Notice your back against the chair.
Bring your attention into your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften. Take a breath.
Notice your hands. Are your hands tense or tight. See if you can allow them to soften.
Notice your arms. Feel any sensation in your arms. Let your shoulders be soft.
Notice your neck and throat. Let them be soft. Relax.
Soften your jaw. Let your face and facial muscles be soft.
Then notice your whole body present. Take one more breath.
Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath. And then when you’re ready, you can open your eyes.
Also, you can check recommended reading on Easy Ways To Powerful Chakra Meditation: All Things Need-to-Know.
Benefits of Body Scan Meditation
Body scan 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
Practicing the body scan meditation on a regular basis has many benefits. It can:
- Help your mind become more focused
- Provide greater sensitivity and connection with your body
- Shift your attention away from your thoughts
- Indirectly help process latent emotions that may be trapped within your body
- Help you become more at ease and less driven by the thoughts, feelings, tensions that constantly arise within your body
- Move you from “doing" mode to “being" mode
- Relax the breath
- Reduce depression, anxiety and pain
- Change your brain, literally. The cells and neurons in the brain are constantly making new connections and disrupting old ones based on response to stimuli, a quality that researchers call experience-based neuroplasticity. This affects the neural circuits of the brain, which in turn affects how we respond to situations. It also affects the actual structure of our brains — thickening some areas and making others less dense.
- Reduce rumination, as well as greater self-compassion and well-being
- Train your mind to be able to move from detailed attention to a wider and more spacious awareness from one moment to the next
- Improve hypertension, heart disease and even type 2 diabetes
- Create more space between action and reaction in terms of behaviours and emotions, outside of the meditation
- Cultivate your ability to stay in your body, in the moment, exploring the experience with curiosity and openness, breathing into discomfort and examining it instead of running from it
- Increase the chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure
- Produce higher levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and growth hormone which repairs cells and tissue
- Slow heart rate and increase blood circulation so blood flows freely to the body’s tissues, feeding it with nutrients and oxygen
- Increase the sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation and decrease negative emotions
Since the body is a dynamic organism that’s always changing, no two body scans will ever be completely alike.
As you continue to practice, you’ll discover what Martha Graham sagely noted: “The body says what words cannot" (Hanna 2006, 33).
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.
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.
Through this deep investigation, the 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.
Also, you can check recommended reading on Visualization Meditation.
Free Guided Body Scan Meditation
All of the guided meditation exercises below are protected by a creative commons licence, meaning they are free to download and distribute non-commercially. Please credit the original sources when doing so and feel free to direct people here for more resources.
If you have experienced physical abuse or trauma in the past, it is not recommended to do this practice without a trained professional. Additionally, if you notice intense fear or other strong emotions related to a particular part of the body, please discontinue this practice.