The purpose of the body scan meditation practice is to simply notice what you’re experiencing in the current moment.
Body scan meditation is a good way to release the tension you might not even realize you’re experiencing. Body scanning involves paying attention to parts of the body and bodily sensations in a gradual sequence from feet to head.
Now that you have some experience of how it feels to focus your attention on a single object, such as a raisin, you can begin to expand your sensitivity to rest your awareness on your body.
The Body scan meditation
Allow yourself to become fully immersed in the body scan meditation and notice any physical sensations you experience. In the body scan meditation practice,
you systematically direct your attention to different parts of your anatomy – sometimes to a small, precise point, for example, your little toe and, at others, to a larger, generalized area, perhaps one that includes your pelvis and the whole of your legs.
You could think of the body scan as a way to start training your mind to adjust its focus at will, all the while staying in the present moment.
One thing that’s important to remember is that, although you may feel more relaxed afterward, this is not a relaxation exercise.
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The Benefits of the Body Scan meditation exercise:
The body scan meditation is a very useful and effective meditation that can help you to return to and maintain a relaxed state when you become too tense.
- Enhances your ability to bring your full attention to real-time experiences happening in the present moment helpful when emotions or thoughts feel wild.
- Trains to explore and be with pleasant and unpleasant sensations, learning to notice what happens when we simply hang in there and feel what’s going on in “body-land” without trying to fix or change anything.
- A body scan meditation can help to sync our mind and body, pulling us away from the noise in our mind and into the present.
- Regular practice can help us approach these situations with gentleness and acceptance; eventually, we learn how to approach situations in our everyday life with the same compassion.
mindfulness body scan meditation exercise
Focus on individual parts of your body to bring your attention In the body scan meditation practice to the here and now.
Feel your body in scan meditation
Allow yourself to become fully immersed in the exercise and notice any physical sensations you experience, such as heat or cold, tightness or relaxation, tingling, pulsing or numbness, and be aware of the difference between the sensations on your skin surface and those deep within your body.
- You may find you experience quite intense feelings in some places, while other sensations may be so subtle you can hardly feel them.
- You may also become aware of emotional responses associated with different parts of your body, or perhaps a memory will appear or you’ll notice that a particular thought is connected to a specific body part.
- This is quite normal. Our relationship with our body is often a complex one, fuelled in part by cultural expectations, the media, and past experiences.
- In this practice, rather than losing yourself in any thoughts or emotions, you experience, or perhaps trying to reject or change them, simply have the intention to stay as present as you can in the current felt moment, letting thoughts, feelings and even the physical sensations themselves, arise and fade like images on a screen.
- And, finally, don’t worry about whether or not you are ‘doing it right’ – there is nothing to get right or wrong – you are just bringing your conscious attention to what is, right here, right now.
- As with the raisin exercise, if your mind starts to wander – and it probably will – gently bring it back to your breath, and the sensations you’re feeling in your body.
- And if you fall asleep – again, which you may – simply continue the sequence when you wake up.
The body scan exercise technique
Chose a time and place where you won’t be interrupted – you’ll need about 30 minutes – and lie on your back on a soft surface with your arms by your sides, palms facing upwards, and your feet falling out to the sides.
If this isn’t possible, simply lie in a way that is comfortable for you. What is most important is that you come to practice with an open, enquiring mind.
The important point, the body scan as an ‘opportunity to fall awake’, alert to this present moment, so stay as close to your experience as you can, and with kind, non-judgemental attention.
1. Gently close your eyes and for a few moments, simply allow your body and mind to become quiet. Let your thoughts begin to settle and your heart slows down.
When you feel ready, bring your attention to your breath, and, without trying to change anything, simply notice how your body is responding right now.
Perhaps your lower belly is rising on the in-breath and gently falling on the out-breath, or maybe you feel your chest expanding and contracting.
You may be aware of the back of your ribs compressing against the floor or mat as you inhale, or perhaps you feel a cool sensation in your nostrils as the air passes through them on the way to your lungs.
There’s nothing to change, just observe what is happening to your body as a whole as you breathe, moment by moment.
Notice if thoughts start to overtake experience, and gently bring your attention back to your body.
2. When the moment feels right, softly transfer your attention to the toes of your left foot, perhaps identifying your big toe, and then your little toe, Notice if you can distinguish the three middle toes as well.
- What sensations do you feel here?
- Can you feel your toes touching?
- Are they warm? Do you feel any moisture?
- Are the sensations pleasant to you or unpleasant?
Perhaps you don’t feel anything at all. Simply give your undivided attention to your toes and notice what is there.
Maybe some thoughts will arise – perhaps you don’t like the look of your feet, or maybe they remind you you’re due for a pedicure! You might start to feel bored, impatient or sad. Gently let go of any thoughts or feelings and let yourself sink back into the sensations of the present moment.
Use your breath as a guide and point of focus, by imagining your in-breath traveling from your nose to your torso and down your left leg to the tips of your toes, and your out-breath traveling back up your legs to your lungs and out through your nostrils.
After a few moments, take a deep inhale, then as you exhale, let go of the connection to your toes, and allow your attention to rest on the sole of your left foot.
Become acutely aware of any and every sensation you feel here, then gradually turn your attention to the top of your foot, then your ankle. As with your toes, take your breath right down to your foot on the inhale and back up on the exhale.
3. After deep inhales, exhale as you let go of your focus on your foot and shift your attention onto your left cal sensing not just the muscles and skin surface, but deep into your bones.
Continue moving in this way to incorporate more and more of your body, traveling next to your left knee, thigh, and hip, all the time allowing yourself to rest in the present moment, content to just be with whatever is.
After pausing for a moment at your left hip, take your attention to your right toes, and repeat the process with your right leg.
4. Coming from your right hip, let your attention nestle into your pelvis.
Feeling the sensation of weight as your sacrum rests on the mat, breath fully into your pelvis, allowing your awareness to expand into the area as you deeply inhale, softening and releasing on the exhale.
Then spend a few moments experiencing both your legs and your pelvis at the same time.
Feel the expanse of your thighs, the areas of pressure where your body is touching the mat, your heels sinking into the floor.
After a few moments, bring your attention to your lower back, feeling exactly what is here, right now.
Breathe into the area and let yourself experience what it feels like to simply be, before letting go on an exhale and moving onto your abdomen.
5. Using this pattern of breathing in and out from the body area you’re focusing on, move next to your chest, and then the fingertips of your left hand, traveling up to your left shoulder.
Repeat the pattern with the fingertips of your right hand to your right shoulder, then feel your chest and arms as a whole. Keep breathing into your body and feeling what is here for you right now
6. Gently take your attention to your neck and throat, then your face, tuning in to the minute sensations of your lips and mouth, eyes, and eyelids.
Soften your forehead and your temples, becoming aware of your ears. Breathe into each area, experiencing what is present for you.
7. Next, give your attention to your body as an entity, breathing into your whole body. Feel it open and expand, soften, and release. Experience your body just as it is. Feel present and fully awake at this moment.
8. When you feel ready to come out of the body scan meditation, very gently take a few deep breaths and become aware of the ground beneath you.
Gently wriggle your fingers and toes, and stretch your body in a way that feels right for you, before slowly opening your eyes and coming back to sitting.
You may find it helpful to make a note of some of your experiences in a journal, so you can see how they develop and change over the repeated practice.
Deepen the benefits with this second, more advanced body scan meditation exercise.
While you can work very deeply with the body scan meditation technique – monks and nuns at the UK’s Amravati Buddhist Monastery will spend an entire day doing the practice – another way to develop the exercise is to take a more anatomical approach.
You can do the following practice either lying on the floor or sitting on a straight-backed chair. If you haven’t done anything like this before, simply be open to your experience – it can sometimes take time to develop this kind of sensitivity.
Order of Travel a body scan meditation
Time Spend around 30 minutes with this practice.
1. Muscles- Gently close your eyes and begin by centering yourself. Take a few deep breaths into your belly, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through an open mouth on an audible sigh, ‘ahhh’.
As you breathe out, feel your muscles releasing and your weight sinking downwards. Then allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm and rest for a couple of minutes as your heart rate begins to settle.
2. Skin- When you feel ready to begin, bring your awareness to your skin surface, seeing if you can sense the skin on the whole of your body, from your toes to the crown of your head.
- Where can you feel your skin?
- Are there any areas that you cannot sense?
- Is there heat?
- Can you feel a draught on your skin?
3. Muscles- After about five minutes, let go of the connection to your skin and take your attention to your muscles.
- Can you feel the expanse of your calves?
- The bulk of your quads?
Focus first on large muscle groups or areas of tension, as they will be easiest to locate, then notice if you sense any of the smaller muscles. Can you feel the muscles around your eyes or your lips?
4. Organs-Now move to your organs. This practice needs a little more sensitivity. Perhaps starting with your heart, take your attention to the center of your chest.
- Do you feel anything here?
- Can you sense the space that your heart is occupying?
After a few moments, travel with awareness to your right side torso. Attune your sensitivity to the large area where your liver is situated. It’s fine if you don’t sense anything, simply allow your attention to rest in the relevant areas.
5. Skeleton- Next, take your attention to your skeleton.
- Can you feel the bones in your legs?
- Your fingers?
With gentle focus and concentration, allow your awareness to rest on your bones and notice anything that comes forwards such as a sense of their contours, density or any painful areas.
6. Outside body- When you feel ready, return to your skin surface, reconnect with it, then allow your awareness to expand into the area surrounding your body. You might like to stay close to your skin surface or explore areas further away from your body.
Don’t worry if it feels strange to you – the simplest way to describe the process is like tuning a radio, you’re moving around in an area to see what is present. For now, simply notice how it feels to sense the space around you.
7. skin- Finally, return once more to your skin surface, allow the feeling to register, then release it. Spend a few moments quietly with yourself then gently open your eyes.
Practice this body scan meditation anytime you feel stress or several times throughout the day as a regular practice.
If you don’t have a lot of time, you can do an abbreviated version of this body scan meditation by just sitting and noticing any place in your body that you’re carrying tension, rather than moving from part to part.
This will become easier the more you practice the body scan meditation.
The body scan meditation can promote body awareness, stress awareness, and relaxation.
That is for now…
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