Promoting our body awareness, stress awareness, and overall relaxation
Body scan meditation is just one type of mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness meditation, we often use the breath as an anchor for our distracted, wandering mind. But we can also use sensation in the body (or lack thereof) to keep us connected to the present moment. The instructions are simple; observe the body and when you notice the mind has wandered, return your attention to the body.
Mindfulness of the body is deeply connected with the Buddhist teachings. In his famous discourse on mindfulness meditation, the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha instructs us to “contemplate the body in the body.” However, most of us wouldn’t recognize the 32-part meditation on pus, blood and sweat that follows.
The body scan meditation as we know it today has largely been popularized by the secular Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) developed by mindfulness researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn. In this body scan, we begin by directing attention to the feet, then slowly scan through each part of the body, up towards the head. Along the way, we notice if we feel sensation (or not) and explore what that sensation is like. The goal is not to rid ourselves of sensation, but to observe it and accept its presence. In the process, our relationship to sensation in the body changes, as does our perception of stress.
Body Scan Meditation Benefits
The primary benefit of the body scan meditation is that it improves interoception, our awareness of what’s going on inside the body. By scanning for the felt presence of physical sensation or energy, we learn more about our internal physiology, but also our mental and emotional state. We see that sensations in the body are impermanent, and although they are part of us, we are not defined by them. In fact, we get to choose how we label and react to sensation.
Through the practice of body scan meditation, we become better partners for our bodies. We learn to mindfully listen to what the body needs and wants, and we can make better decisions as to how we should respond. The benefits of body scan meditation can help us address specific issues, such as sleeplessness, chronic pain, emotional reactivity and stress.
Body Scan Meditation for Sleep
Body scan meditation is commonly practiced lying down, which makes it an excellent tool for promoting relaxation and guiding ourselves, or someone else, to sleep. As we scan through the body, we may recognize areas in which we’re holding tension. Simply acknowledging this tension often gives it permission to dissipate. This helps us to relax, reduces inflammation, and improves our sleep.
Body Scan Meditation for Pain
Body scan meditation is recommended for the management of chronic pain. When doing a body scan for pain, the goal is not to stop pain, but to alter our experience of it. By turning towards our pain and exploring it with a kind curiosity, we may come to find out that our pain is not as solid as we once thought. It is changing, moving and it comes and goes. In the process, pain becomes less frightening, and even its physical qualities can soften.
Body Scan Meditation for Emotional Awareness
Research shows the body expresses our emotions before the cognitive mind becomes aware of what we’re feeling. For example, our hands may begin to sweat before we realize that we’re nervous. By paying attention to what happens in the body when certain emotions arise, we can deepen our mindfulness of – and our relationship to – our emotions. The body scan meditation is a valuable partner in emotional self-regulation.
Body Scan Meditation for Steadiness of Mind
The distracted mind is the source of our suffering. Mindfulness meditation helps us to stabilize and quiet the mind, by teaching us to focus on just one thing. The body is one of several anchors we might choose to steady the wandering mind in meditation. For some, the body is a more accessible anchor than the breath, mantra, or visualization. A body scan can help us develop a strong foundation in mindfulness meditation.
How to Do a Body Scan Meditation
- Sit upright or lie down in a safe, quiet space
- You might close your eyes to help turn your attention inward
- Beginning with the feet, notice if any sensations are present
- You might observe temperature, tingling, tension, discomfort, ease or anything else – there’s no right or wrong
- With a kind curiosity, explore the nature of this sensation – is it changing? Does it exist in just one way, or does it exist only in partnership with your labeling, your definition?
- You might also become aware of your reaction to this sensation – is attachment or aversion present?
- After having spent some time on the feet, move on to the next body part, regardless of whether or not the sensation you feel has gone.
Remember, the body scan meditation is not about ridding the body of sensation, but connecting us more deeply to the truth of the present moment.