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What is a Mental Body Scan and How Does it Relieve Stress?

Updated on March 31, 2013
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The body scan is an effective form of mindfulness meditation. It is designed to help raise awareness of the many sensations that occur throughout the body. Regular practice of meditation can improve your ability to work through pain and manage difficult emotions. In the case of pain and muscle tension, research has shown that accepting these sensations is much more effective than trying to control them. The body scan meditation teaches us to recognize, feel, and work through various sensations of the body.

How To Meditate Properly: Before You Start

Meditating can be a very calm and relaxing experience. There are a few things you can do before you even begin t ensure a positive experience.

  • Avoid eating at least one hour our prior to the body scan meditation. Being over full or stuffed can prevent the relaxation you are looking for.
  • Dim the lights and turn off any possible distractions. This includes cell phones, televisions, radios, etc.)
  • Wear comfortable clothes. Remove your shoes for additional comfort.
  • Make sure your position is comfortable. If necessary, a pillow under the knees may help to relieve strain on the lower back.
  • Gently push any negative or distracting thoughts that may surface away and return your attention to your breathing and your body. Don't get upset when they come because it is bound to happen, but always return to your meditation.
  • Remember that meditation is a natural process and with practice it will begin to feel that way.

Overview of Body Scan Meditation

The Body Scan involves scanning the body for physical sensations. it is, in effect, a mental tour of the body and it is derived from Burmese Vipassana meditation practices. It is done in various yoga practices and is used widely in mindfulness-based stress reduction.

In general, a body scan will take approximately 30 to 40 minutes to complete. Many, however, choose to do a shorter scan, spending less time on each area of the body or even focusing on both feet, legs arms together instead of individually. While some prefer to go from toes to head, others prefer head to toes. There is really no wrong way to do a body scan meditation.

A Word of Caution Before You Start

It may seem simple, but body scan meditation (as well as many other forms of meditation) can have a strong effect on many. Those who have experienced physical abuse or other traumas in the past may be especially susceptible to the effects. In these cases, it is highly recommended that a trained professional guide you through the process. If you notice intense fear or any other strong emotions related to a particular area of the body, please discontinue the scan.

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How to Properly Meditate Using the Body Scan Technique

1. Lie on your back with your legs and arms in a relaxed uncrossed position. Your eyes may be open or closed. Take a moment to notice the areas of your body in contact with the floor or mat. Begin to breath deep.

2. Focus on your breathing. Your stomach should rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. At least two minutes of deep breathing will take you into a calm relaxed state.

3. Now consider the toes of your right foot. Continue your deep breathing as you notice any sensations you may feel in that area. Imagine those deep breaths flowing to those toes. Continue to focus on that area for one to two minutes.

4. Move your focus from the right toes to the sole of the right foot. Notice any sensations there as you continue to breath in and out deeply for one to two minutes.

5. Next, move to your right ankle, focusing on the sensations and breathing deeply. Then, your calf, your thigh, and you hip. Repeat for your other left leg. Take note of any pain or discomfort as you continue the body scan.

6. Now move to your torso, focusing on the sensations of your lower back, then abdomen, then upper back, then chest, and lastly shoulders.

7. The fingers of your right hand are next. Continue to breath deep as you focus your attention there for one to two minutes. Move up to the wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder. Then repeat for your left arm.

8. Continue upward into your neck and throat, giving them each at least one to two minutes of your attention while continuing to breath deep. Explore every region of your face, starting with the back of your head then the top of your head.

9. Now focus on your jaw, chin, lips, tongue, and nose. Move into your cheeks, eyes, forehead, temples, and scalp. Once you have reached to top of your head once more imagine you are outside of yourself hovering above.

10. The last step is to simply relax. This is best done in silence and stillness. Notice how your body feels. Slowly open your eyes and, if necessary, take a few minutes to stretch.

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    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      I do this regularly, especially before bed. It certainly helps to relax tense muscles, and reduce the pain of fibromyalgia. Sometimes I can even relax a cramped muscle this way!

    • LQWILLIams profile image
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      LQWILLIams 4 years ago

      It is a great method to relax. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

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