Many specific meditation techniques can be used to help us find stability and cultivate mindfulness, even during times of great stress. One of the most accessible practices is a body scan, during which you focus on your body, noticing different sensations as you scan yourself from head to toe.
This is important because the stress we feel isn’t limited to emotional or mental symptoms. It sometimes manifests physical symptoms, but we too often overlook the connection between stress and our headache or heartburn, for instance. Taking a moment to pause and evaluate our bodies section by section can bring us more in tune with how we are reacting to stress and other emotions.
Here’s what you need to know about body scan meditation, including how to begin.
Lie down on your back with your legs relaxed and arms to your sides, then close your eyes. Take two to three large breaths and pay attention to how you feel. Can you feel your belly go up and down and feel the air go in and out of your body? Remember you are not trying to change anything, just observing.
Start with your feet. How do they feel? Do they feel warm or cold, relaxed or jittery? If you can’t feel anything, that’s OK too! Just focus on your body and listen to what it might be telling you. Sometimes our brains might start to think about other things. If that happens, just redirect your thoughts back to your body.
Work your way up the body to your legs. Do they feel light, warm or cold? What are you feeling? Are your legs wiggly or are they still? Travel further up to your belly. Do you still feel it moving up and down with each breath? Do you feel anything inside or on the outside? Are you hungry or full, do you feel your clothes touching you skin? Sometimes we might even find emotions in our belly, like feeling happy, sad or upset.
Hang in there! Now focus on your chest. Do you notice your chest expanding as you breathe? Next, turn your attention to your hands. What do you feel with your hands? They might be touching the floor or somewhere on your body. Relax them for a few moments and try to refocus if you get distracted again. Focus on your arms now. Do you notice anything different, such as a small pause at the end of each breath? Concentrate on your back and focus on what you are feeling. How does it feel against the bed or the floor? Let’s continue to move up to your neck and shoulders and begin to relax them.
Continue upward to your face and head. What feelings are you experiencing? Are you smiling or frowning? What else do you notice in your face, your head, or in your mind?
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Finally, spend a few moments paying attention to your whole body again. Remain still and continue to focus on your breathing or the feelings in your body.
When you are ready, you can open your eyes and sit for a few moments before deciding when to move again.
When our minds get busy or angry or scared, we can use this body scan meditation to pause, relax and access our emotions.
Jenny Topliff, LMSW, is a School Based Therapist with Tanager Place. She and her family reside in Marion.