The body scan meditation is a deep investigation into the moment-to-moment experiences of the body. By bringing awareness and acknowledgment to whatever you feel or sense in the body, the body scan can be very helpful in working with stress, anxiety, and physical pain. While you may have heard about meditations that create out-of-body experiences, the object of the body scan is to have an “in-the-body” experience. Most of us can benefit from developing this awareness. If you’re like most people, you probably spend quite a bit of time living outside of your body while thinking of the future or past, imagining all sorts of scenarios, contemplating abstractions, or being otherwise preoccupied with your thoughts.
In the body scan, you methodically bring attention to the body, beginning with the left foot and ending at the top of the head. You may notice a wide range of physical feelings: itches, aches, tingles, pain, lightness, heaviness, warmth, cold, and more, as well as neutrality. Some of these sensations may be accompanied by thoughts or emotions. As you practice the body scan, this multitude of sensations and internal experiences can be boiled down to three basic feelings: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral.
Since the body is a dynamic organism that’s always changing, no two body scans will ever be completely alike. The body has its own wisdom, and if you listen, it can communicate where physical tension, thoughts, and emotions lie within your body. This investigation into physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions is sometimes called the triangle of awareness, since it’s a journey into the totality of our human experience.
When you practice the body scan, first simply become aware of physical sensations by exploring their felt sense. This is distinct from thinking about your body. There’s no need to analyze or manipulate your body in any way; just feel and acknowledge whatever sensations are present. Through this deep investigation, the body may begin to reveal a whole range of feelings. In this way, the body scan can bring you in touch with many aspects of your life.
The body scan is a wonderful way to get in touch with your body and mind. Do this practice in a relaxing environment without distractions. We suggest lying down while doing the body scan, but if you find yourself sleepy or would just rather sit or stand, you are welcome to do that too. Bring your full, undivided attention to this practice. When you’re reading the text, pause after each paragraph to make the exercise last forty-five, thirty, or fifteen minutes.
Take a few moments to be still. Congratulate yourself for taking this time for meditation practice.
Do a mindful check-in, feeling into your body and mind and simply allowing any waves of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations to just be.
Perhaps it’s been a busy day and this is the first time you’re stopping. As you begin to enter the world of being rather than doing, you may notice the trajectory of the feelings you’ve been carrying within you.
There is no need to judge, analyze, or figure things out. Just allow yourself to be in the moment with all that’s there.
When you feel ready, gently shift the focus to the breath.
Now become aware of breathing.
Breathe normally and naturally and focus on the tip of the nose or the abdomen. Breathing in and knowing you’re breathing in, and breathing out and knowing you’re breathing out.
At times the mind may wander away from awareness of breathing. When you recognize this, acknowledge wherever you went and then come back to the breath, breathing in and out with awareness.
And now gently withdraw awareness from mindful breathing as you shift to the body scan. As you go through the body, you may come across areas that are tight or tense. If you can allow them to soften, let that happen; if you can’t, just let the sensations be, letting them ripple in whatever direction they need to go. This applies not only to physical sensations but also to any emotions. As you go through the body be mindful of any physical sensations and any thoughts or emotions that may arise from sensations.
Bring awareness to the bottom of the left foot where you feel the contact of your foot on the floor. It could be the back of the heel or the bottom of the left foot. Sensing into what is being felt. Feeling the heel, ball, and sole of the left foot.
Feel into your toes and the top of the left foot and back into the Achilles tendon and up into the left ankle.
Now move your awareness up to the lower left leg, feeling into the calf and shin and their connection to the left knee. Being present.
Let awareness now rise up to the thigh, sensing into the upper leg and its connection above into the left hip.
And now withdraw awareness from the left hip down to the left foot, shifting it into the right foot and bringing awareness to where you feel the contact of your right foot on the floor. It could be the back of the heel or the bottom of the right foot. Sensing into what is being felt. Feeling the heel, ball, and sole of the right foot.
Feel into the toes and the top of the right foot and back into the Achilles tendon and up into the right ankle.
Now move your awareness up to the lower right leg, feeling into the calf and shin and their connection to the right knee. Being present.
Let awareness now rise up into the thigh, sensing into the upper leg and its connection above into the right hip.
Gently withdraw your attention from the right hip and move into the pelvic region. Sense into the systems of elimination, sexuality, and reproduction. Feeling into the genitals and the anal region. Being mindful to any sensations, thoughts, or emotions.
And now lift the awareness to the abdomen and into the belly, the home of digestion and assimilation, feeling into your guts with awareness and letting be.
Now withdraw your awareness from the belly and move to the tailbone and begin to sense into the lower, middle, and upper parts of the back. Feeling sensations. Allow any tightness to soften and let be what’s not softening.
Let the awareness now shift into the chest, into the heart and lungs. Being present. Feeling into the rib cage and sternum and then into the breasts.
Now gently withdraw attention from the chest and shift the awareness into the fingertips of the left hand. Feeling into the fingers and palm, and then the back of the hand and up into the left wrist.
Proceed up into the forearm, elbow, and upper left arm, feeling sensations.
Now shift awareness to the fingertips of the right hand. Feeling into the fingers and palm, and then the back of the hand and up into the right wrist.
Proceed up into the forearm, elbow, and upper right arm, feeling sensations.
Let the awareness move into both shoulders and armpits and then up into the neck and throat. Being present to any sensations, thoughts or emotions.
Now bring your awareness into the jaw and then gently into the teeth, tongue, mouth, and lips. Allowing any resonating sensations to go wherever they need to go and letting be.
Feel into the cheeks, the sinus passages that go deep into the head, the eyes, and the muscles around the eyes. Feel into the forehead and the temples, being present.
Let the awareness move into the top and back of the head. Feeling into the ears and and then inside of the head and into the brain. Being present.
Now expand the field of awareness to the entire body from head to toe to fingertips. Connect from the head through the neck to the shoulders, arms, hands, chest, back, belly, hips, pelvic region, legs, and feet.
Feel the body as a whole organism, with its various physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Being present.
Breathing in, feel the whole body rising and expanding on an inhalation and falling and contracting on an exhalation. Feel the body as a whole organism. Being present.
As you come to the end of the body scan, congratulate yourself for taking this time to be present. May you know that this is an act of love.
May all beings be at peace.
- It’s truly amazing when you get in touch with your body and discover where you’re feeling and harboring stress and tension and where various emotions may reside. As you sense into the body, a myriad of feelings, thoughts, and experiences may emerge.
- It’s also important to know that sometimes you might not feel much of anything, and that this too can be explored. What does nothing or a neutral state feel like? As you feel into the body, acknowledge and validate all experiences, barring none.
- Many of us often experience unexplainable aches and pains. By practicing the body scan, you may discover that these reflect your tension or emotions, perhaps stored in your chest, neck, jaw, shoulders, back, or stomach. Did the body scan help you become more aware of where you carry tension or emotions in the body?
- Take a moment to note whether you felt stress, anxiety, elation, sadness, joy, anger, or any other emotion in the body. Write about whatever came up for you mentally, emotionally, and physically when doing this practice for the first time.
- It’s important to know that neutral sensations can be part of the body scan. Human beings generally feel three types of sensations: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. If you’re experiencing a neutral sensation, simply be mindful that it’s neutral. As you deepen your practice of the body scan, you may begin to be aware of more and more subtle feelings. It’s like when you go to the ocean and initially only hear the loud crashing of the waves; after some time you may distinguish smaller and more subtle sounds that make up the overall crashing. So it is with the body
The text on this page was excerpted from A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein, and published by New Harbinger Press. This is an excellent resource for anyone seeking practical strategies to focus on the present moment and change the way you handle stress. You can purchase this book by clicking on the image below.
From the publisher: “As you work through A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, you’ll learn how to replace stress-promoting habits with mindful ones—a skill that will last a lifetime.This groundbreaking, proven-effective program will help you relieve the symptoms of stress and identify its causes so that you can start living a healthier, happier life.”