Meditation: The Body Scan

Spring Wine and Body Scan-2.jpg

**Last month in our mindful living post, we took a deep dive into meditation and mindfulness. We examined how the two relate, are different, and where to begin. Before starting this month’s mindfulness practice, I suggest returning to the previous article as we will be building off of the concepts mentioned there in today’s post. To review, click here.

//Meditation: a formal, scientific practice of turning your attention inward, away from external distractions, toward a concentrated focus on a single point of reference, such as the breath. Utilized to increase self-awareness, enhance presence in daily living, promote relaxation, and understand the most basic essence of peace and bliss.

//Body Scan: a meditation practice designed to develop awareness of the body through attention to and experience of each individual body part and its sensations.

My body is ever changing.  Each day when my eyes awaken to the new light and my ears attune to the sounds around me, I bring my mind to my body. For me, it is a similar sensation to meeting an old, dear friend where so many years have come in between. It is familiar and comfortable in the deepest sense, yet changed.  In the friendship, the years magnify the new and create a whole new territory to explore and know. I would suggest that with any relationship, especially the relationship with our body and mind, that these changes are, in a small way, happening on a daily basis. If we let too much time pass, ignoring the change around and within us, instead of attending to and sitting with them, we may one day wake up and hardly recognize ourselves. With a little attention and care, we can tap into and acknowledge both the constants, (the heartbeat, the breath, the thinking of the mind) and the changes that occur in our body, deepening the relationship that we have with ourselves.

As we check in with our bodies each day, we may find things that we like and things that we don’t like. In this month’s meditation and mindfulness technique, the body scan, we work to develop a sense of observation of our bodies, rather than that of judgement.  In doing so, we are able to notice the feelings associated with what our body is experiencing without having to over-identify with them or attach to them, and in turn, we can let them go. This is key to developing a loving relationship with ourselves, our body, and, in my opinion, the rest of the world. In simply sitting with the fluctuations of our mind and body, we can change the way we interact with feelings we don’t like and the discomfort.  In releasing attachment to what we find, we can return to the now, to what we are presently experiencing, in its fullness without dwelling or worrying.  Our bodies can be a great teacher to riding the wave of life, in its highs and in its lows, all will pass, and we always return to the present.

Awareness is a powerful tool for change.  In this gentle integration of the body back with the mind and spirit we can instill tremendous effects in our lives.  In developing a sense of listening to our body, we can begin to make daily decisions based on our observations we find. An example for me would be that when I eat sugar in the morning with little protein element, I get hungry very quickly after and often feel very shaky and ungrounded.  As opposed to when I have a good breakfast with some protein, I feel alert and nourished. This information provides me with data as to how to make choices in my daily living that will support my body and nourish my mind. Think of a moment when you have made that correlation in your body and how it has changed your daily living.

Below you will find a written guide to a body scan meditation.  This is an excellent place to start. If you have any questions about how to begin, feel free to leave a comment below.

Body Scan Meditation

Ideally, set aside 30-40 minutes to practice this meditation.  This allows for enough time to begin to relax and be with your body.  If you do not have that amount of time, just use the time that you have available.  Even the shortest practice will still have its benefits.

  • Prepare the space: If you are a beginner, find a quiet space, free from distraction.  Turn off any music, television, or cell phone.  Place your phone out of the room so that you are not tempted to look at it. As you advance in your meditation practice, the body scan can be done in any environment, as you will be better trained to staying present and avoiding distractions.
  • Prepare your body: Take a moment to position your body.  You can be fully reclined or sitt in a chair. Just make sure that you are comfortable.  You can have your eyes open or closed, but it does help to have them closed, especially if you are new to this practice to limit distractions.
  • Set an intention: Before fully entering into the practice make one or several agreements with yourself.  An example could be to let go of the past and future, or to offer yourself kindness and friendliness as you become aware of what you body is experiencing.
  • Notice your body: Become aware of where your body is touching the floor or the chair.  Also, note where your body is touching your clothes and where your body is touching the air.  
  • Focus on the breath: Now, begin to find your breath. Observe how it is moving in and out of your body.  Feel your inhale moving in through your nose, down your neck, and into your lungs.  Now experience how your breath moves out of your body, note how your body pushes the air out and how the air feels leaving your nostrils. Acknowledge where you are breathing in your body.  Do you breath in your stomach, or in your chest?  Are there any specific sensations that you are feeling in your body as you breath?
  • Scan your body: At this point, you have two options, to do a systematic body scan, or to do more of a free flowing scan. In a systematic scan you would sequentially move from one body part to the next.  Starting from your head to your toes, or your toes to your head.  If you are doing a free flowing scan, you allow your mind to move to any portion of your body where you are experiencing a sensation.  Remember this is your practice so do what feels good to you, there is no right or wrong experience. Whatever you choose, make sure that you are experiencing each area.  Refrain from trying to visualize or move that body part.  Just be in that body part.  You may be asking yourself what that means, to just be. Just begin to bring awareness to any sensations that may be occurring in that area.  Does it feel a certain temperature, cold, hot, or neutral? Is there any pressure occurring, or tightness? Is there even a sensation at all, or is it just neutral?  When you are ready to move on to the next area of your body, deliberately release awareness from the current body part and move on to the next.
  • Return to the body: During this meditation, your mind is going to wander, this is its nature, and an expected occurrence in the practice. When your mind moves away from experiencing the sensations in your body, first notice, then congratulate yourself for noticing, and gently guide your mind back to the task at hand. Be sure to continue to offer yourself kindness, do not force your mind to return, but simply acknowledge that you have drifted and allow your mind to return on its own with a little nudge. Noticing and returning may be one of the most essential parts of the body scan or really any meditation. Each time we do this we are building and reinforcing a new pathways in our brain changing our being and thinking patterns.  With practice, the space between leaving and returning shortens and we are better able to be present for longer periods of time.  
  • Experience wholeness: When you have finished the scan over your body, take a moment to connect the whole body together. You can scan back over your body and create awareness around how each body part is connected to one another.  You can also bring awareness to the fact the your skin is covering your whole body. Allow yourself to rest in this sense of wholeness, that you are here and whole, without judgement. Refrain from any qualifying statements, like good or bad, in reference to your being and your body.
  • Return and offer gratitude: As your body scan wraps up, come back to your breath.  Notice your breath moving in and moving out. Gently allow your eyes to open up, and bring your awareness to this moment and offer a sense of gratitude for your practice today.