Body Scan

The Body Scan is another great way to increase your awareness of your body and promote physical relaxation. During the scan, you’ll be bringing your attention, in a very systematic way, to the sensations that appear in your body. Let’s get right to it and do a Body-Scan exercise right now.  This practice can be done lying down or sitting, whatever you prefer. It’s probably wise not to do this in bed as you might fall asleep.

It’s best to practice with an empty stomach. Remove your glasses if you wear them and take off your shoes. Make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothing. Choose a place that’s quiet, where you don’t have too many distractions.

If you choose to practice lying down, put a pillow under your knees and you’ll be more comfortable.

If you sit in a chair to practice, sit toward the edge. Your back doesn’t need to touch the chair back. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and your hands are relaxed in your lap.

In the Body Scan you’ll deliberately bring your attention to each part of your body one at a time. You’ll focus on the physical sensations that you’re feeling in each body part before moving on to the next.

Be curious. What does each sensation actually feel like? You’re interested in experiencing any sensation in its pure form, as it really is. Don’t focus on the story you have about how much a sensation hurts, or how you want to get rid of it, or how unfair it is. You’ll also see how those sensations tend to change as you observe them and mindfully breathe.

The breath is a key component of this practice. As you discovered in the previous section, breathing has a tremendous ability to promote mental and physical relaxation. By bringing the breath to any place where you’re feeling physical tension, you’ll gradually release this tension. The physical release of tension then promotes a state of mental peace.

Breathe into the area that you’re focusing on. Stay at each body site for two complete breaths. Breathe in a controlled, even, smooth, deep and quiet manner. Breathe in and out as if the breath is coming from that designated site. A complete cycle of inhalation and exhalation counts as one breath.

Read through the following instructions. Then try to scan your body just as you’ve read. You can come back to this exercise and read through the instructions each time you do it, but I think you’ll really get the hang of it quite quickly.

  • Bring your attention to your body as a whole. Be generally aware of any sensations. Is there any discomfort, or pressure anywhere? Do you feel relaxed or tense?
  • Imagine, as you breathe in, that you’re breathing from your toes all the way to the top of your head. When you breathe out, imagine the process in reverse, breathing from the top of your head to your toes. Do this for two complete breaths.
  • Next bring your attention to the top of your head, forehead and eyes. As you focus on this area, breathe in for two controlled breaths. Make sure your breathing is smooth, quiet, even, long and deep. Notice whatever you’re physically feeling. Is the physical sensation hot, cold, tight, loose, vibrating, calm, or itchy? Notice how your body responds. If you notice tension in an area after two breaths, just continue to breathe deeply into that area until it relaxes.
  • Next think about your face… your mouth… your tongue… your jaw. Be open to receiving whatever you’re experiencing. Don’t criticize or judge what you’re feeling. It is what it is, neither good nor bad. Can you be with the pure physical sensation without adding a story to it?
  • Focus on your shoulders and neck. Just breathe. Do the sensations seem to change as you bring your attention to that area?
  • Next concentrate on the feeling in your upper arms… your forearms… your hands.
  • Switch your focus to your upper chest… your upper back areas. Feel if there’s any tension there. Imagine your breath going into those areas and relaxing them. Breathe out any tension when you exhale. If a thought or emotion arises that distracts you from focusing on your body, that’s okay. Recognize the distracting thought, then bring your attention right back to your body and your breath. Let the thought go without attaching to it or dwelling on it. If you seem to be falling asleep and you’re doing this exercise lying on the floor, shift to a sitting position, or open your eyes.
  • Bring your awareness to your abdominal area… and your lower back next. If there’s a lot of pain that keeps drawing your attention to any one region, I want you to really focus on that area. Just experience the sensation in that spot for a while. Observe it. See how it changes. Continue to imagine bringing your breath into that spot.
  • Bring your attention to your pelvic region … your buttocks… your thighs… the back of your legs… your calves, your shins. Remember; don’t judge yourself as a failure if you lose your concentration. It’s perfectly normal for this to happen. Simply bring your attention back to your body, to the area of interest.
  • Focus on your ankles, the tops of your feet… the bottoms of your feet… breathing all the way into your toes.
  • Finally, scan your body again from your toes to the top of your head. Breathe in completely for one inhalation as you scan. See if there are any areas of tension or discomfort remaining. Focus your attention on those areas as best you can. Imagine your breath going into those areas and completely relaxing them; then scan from the top of your head to your toes again. Do this finishing scan for two complete breaths.
  • To conclude the exercise, I want you to bring yourself out of it gradually and gently. Slowly wiggle your fingers and toes… then your hands and feet. Shrug or roll your shoulders, and finally open your eyes. If you’re lying down, roll onto your right side for a moment before sitting up. Slowly push yourself up to a sitting position. Feel your energy returning. Stay still for a few moments before slowly standing.

Your body is alive with sensations. Become familiar with them. The following is a series of formal practice suggestions that will help you develop the technique of the Body Scan even further.

  1. Practice ten to fifteen minutes of the Body Scan in the morning and/or in the evening. If you’re practicing for ten to fifteen minutes you can use a timer with an alarm to let you know when your time is up. Another option is to do one, two, three or as many body scans as you want to do in a session depending on the time you want to set aside to do this.
  2. Just as you’ve done with your previous practice exercises, use normal daily activities or times to remind you to bring your awareness to your body. Simply scan your body from your toes to your head, and back down from your head to your toes. Wherever there is a dominant physical sensation stay at that spot and become familiar with it. It’s all up to you to think of what times of day, or cues, that you can use to remind yourself to spend a few moments with the sensations in your body. Make a plan and write it down, then stick to it.
  3. You can use your Post-it notes again as reminders. This time write “body,” as a reminder to yourself to do a quick scan of your body when you see the note.
  4. Use your phone alarm to remind you to take a Body Scan break every two to three hours.
  5. Breathe for a minimum of five breath-cycles whenever you bring your awareness to your body during the day.