An introduction to the Body Scan

If you have time to breathe you have time to meditate. You breathe when you walk. You breathe when you stand. You breathe when you lie down. – Ajahn Amaro

This is one of the most challenging mindfulness practices for me, what is yours??

A body scan?

What on earth is that you might ask. It is not a procedure that is carried out in hospital or some weird yoga movement. Rather, it is a way of trying to experience and feel your own body, whilst at the same time focusing your mind. It sounds so simple, but at the same time can be so difficult.

The idea is to simply lie down and do nothing! Well, not exactly nothing. The aim is to become aware of the different regions of your body, and allow yourself to experience how each part feels, without trying to change anything. Just being with what is there.

The body scan as a way to get in touch with the composite that makes up your body; let go of feelings or needing to get stuff done, and release pent-up emotions. Just like other forms of meditation, the body scan also trains attention. It trains your attention on the present moment, on the breath and focuses you to really get in touch with the way your body is feeling.

The body scan alternates between a wide and narrow focus of attention; from focusing on your little toe all the way through the entire body. The body scan trains your mind to be able to move from detailed attention to a wider and more spacious awareness from one moment to the next.

You normally practice by lying on the floor, or a mat, or your bed.

This is where I get into trouble. If I try to do a body scan in the early morning or in the evening, I have a habit of falling asleep. I know I should not berate myself for this, but nearly every time I do a body scan the “zzzzz’s” happen. The only time I seem to be able to do a body scan is when I am in a group session, normally lying down on a community hall floor or during the middle of the day.

So how do I successfully practice a body scan meditation?

Get Ready
Block out at least 20 minutes of time. Make sure you are going to practice it in a quiet and undisturbed place. If you are going to lie down, you do not want people tripping over you!. Most people practice te body scan by lying down, though I know of people that doing it sitting in a chair. If you do lie down, make sure it is in a comfortable place, such as your bed or a cushy mat on the floor. Often, as you lie there you might get cold, so I would also suggest you have a wrap or a throw that you can cover yourself with.

Ground yourself
Before you start the scan, notice the parts of the body in contact with the mat or floor, such as your shoulders. The back of your head. Your legs and back of your ankles.

This is a chance to tune into and relax parts of the body that are holding tension – such as the neck and shoulders, or even tension in parts of the body.

Let go of the thoughts that might be going around your head. I try to concentrate initially on my breathing. The breath and motion of the chest. Don’t listen to the sounds around you. Let everything fade into the background but the body. The first time you do this, you might notice a twinge or something you might have never noticed before. Don’t worry about what comes up. You need to meet what you find in the body with friendliness and acceptance.

Begin the Scan
The central idea of the scan is that you are going to imagine you’re taking a tour of your body, looking to see what’s there. The concept is that you remain still and imagine either a spotlight or a magnifying glass being used to Don’t move your body parts; simply notice and experience them, one by one.

The convention is that you start with your feet, maybe start with the left foot. Feel how the heel makes contact with the mat. Can you tell if your toes are colder than the rest of your foot? If you have a blanket over you or a sock on, notice the weight and texture of the fabric.

Once you scan over a body part, allow that part to fade from awareness. Let it go and then move up to the next body part: the ankle, the calf, the knee, the thigh. Then cross over the lower torso, travel down the right leg and start again at the right foot, and repeat, traveling up the body, part by part, until you reach the head.

Connect It All Together
After you scan the head, you want to connect the entire body together. Feel the head connected to the neck, the neck connected to the torso, the torso connected to the arms, and so on right back down to the feet.

I guarantee that you will notice something new about your body. It’s posture. A forgotten pain. The way something sits or lies. A number of people do feel refreshed and relaxed after a body scan. 

I have felt tingles; as if I am standing on my head and a whole plethora of feelings that are pleasant and positive.

Do let me know how you get on.

I dedicate this blog to one of my colleagues, ChrisB who unfortunately broke his ankle recently and is recovering from major surgery. I am sure, this will help in your recovery.

I leave you with the following quote.

 

“We might begin by scanning our body . . . and then asking, “What is happening?” We might also ask, “What wants my attention right now?” or, “What is asking for acceptance?”

Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

An introduction to Walking Meditation

 

“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead. Walk beside me… just be my friend”  ― Albert Camus

What do you think about when you go for a walk?

What an odd question to ask. But, hang on a moment. What do you really think about when you go for a walk? If you are like me, you decide to go for a walk for the exercise; to walk the dogs (we have two); to be with friends or family on a day out, or perhaps to visit and see something new. You don’t go on a walk to think? Or do you?

I also use walking as a time to reflect on the life events going on around me. Work; the social activities; or even family and friends. But more than that, I also use it as an opportunity to be present.

What is the third approach (after exercise and reflective thinking)?

The walking meditation is one of the key elements of the MBSR – Mindfulness Stress Reduction Programme. Central to it is being present; being aware of the act of walking. You normally don’t think about where you are walking; where you are placing your feet; how you are placing your feet; how it feels to be walking and the affect on your body. This is the basis for the exercise.

So how do you do a Walking Meditation?

  • Find a location. Find a place that allows you to walk back and forth for 10 to 15 paces. A place that is peaceful, where you won’t be disturbed or even observed. A slow, formal walking meditation can look strange to people who are unfamiliar with it!. You can practice walking meditation either indoors or outside. I prefer to be outside, but the choice is entirely yours.
  • Plan your walk. Start walking the steps along the place you’ve chosen, and then pause and breathe for as long as you like. When you’re ready, turn and walk back in the opposite direction, where you can pause and breathe again. Then, when you’re ready, Turn once more and continue with the walk. What is critical is to focus on the component elements of each step you take.
  • The component elements of each step. Walking meditation involves very deliberating thinking about and doing a series of actions that you normally do automatically. Breaking the steps down in your mind may feel awkward, even ridiculous. But you should try to notice at least these four basic components of each step. These are:

    a) the lifting of one foot;
    b) the moving of the foot a bit forward of where you’re standing;
    c) the placing of the foot on the floor, heal first;
    d) the shifting of the weight of the body onto the forward leg as the back heel lifts, while the toes of that foot remain touching the floor or the ground. Then the cycle continues, as you:

   a) lift your back foot totally off the ground;
   b) observe the back foot as it swings forward and lowers;
   c) observe the back foot as it makes contact with the ground, heel first;
  d) feel the weight shift onto that foot as the body moves forward.

  You are focusing on the physical act of walking. Something we have not thought of          since we learned to walk all those years ago.

  • What do you do with your hands and arms? Whatever feels most comfortable and natural to you. It is not an exercise in holding your arms or hands in an unnatural position.
  • Walking speed? You can walk at any speed, but the idea behind a walking meditation is that it is slow and involves taking measured small steps. That is why most people perform the exercise somewhere quiet, as seeing people walking slowly makes people uncomfortable. The most important thing for you is that it feels natural, not exaggerated or stiff.
  • You will find you focus on something. As you walk, try to focus your attention on one or more sensations that you would normally take for granted. Perhaps the weight of your arms. I noticed when I did the exercise that my arms were different weights. Why? I was wearing a heavy man’s watch on my right wrist. I had never noticed this before. Perhaps your breath as you walk; the way your arms move; the sounds around you or looking more closely at sights around you, I noticed individual pebbles  when I did the practice on a path. The glitter and sparkle of each stone.
  • Finally, that damn wandering mind! No matter how much you try to fix your attention on any of these sensations, your mind will wander. Guaranteed.  When you notice your mind wandering, don’t give up of get angry, but simply try again to focus it one of those sensations. You will find that will a little practice, you will be able to be more present when you walk and notice more.

I went for a brief walk today with some colleagues and as I walked along I noticed that there a nail on the path. I picked it up and threw it in a bin. Was I more observant than everyone else? Or was it due to the walking practices?

I leave you with the following quote, from one of my favorite books and films of all times.

 

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

An introduction to Sitting Meditation

 

“There are times when we stop, we sit still. We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.” ― James Carroll

We all like simple, don’t we?

One of simplest and at the same time; most effective mindfulness practices is the Sitting Meditation. If you followed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, the practice is introduced in week four.  

So what is Sitting Meditation?

The Mindfulness approach to the sitting meditation is not sitting in the traditional lotus position, fingers and thumbs circled, gently going “ho oom Mmmmm” for hours at a time. Rather, it is a gentle, easy approach to sitting and focusing on something simple, like the breadth. The practice can take a few minutes or even up to an hour. It all depends on you.

What do you do before you start? If you have questions then the notes below will help. There are four key elements you need to consider:

  1.  A Place that is quiet and calm is key.

Find a good spot where you live, ideally where there isn’t too much clutter or distractions. It needs to be somewhere where you can find some peace and quiet. Not in front of the TV, or in the middle of the kitchen. Perhaps a spare room. I use our spare room as it is quiet and few people go into it.

  1. Next, is Posture and hands.

With Mindfulness, there is no right way or wrong way to practice. It is what is comfortable for you. Some people choose to sit on the floor. Some choose a chair. Me? I happen to sit on the edge of the spare room bed. Whatever, posture you feel comfortable in. If you suffer from back pain, what position is the easiest for you? You might want to sit on lots of cushions or very few. What you do need is a stable, solid seat, not perching or hanging over an edge.

Notice what your legs are doing. If sitting on cushions on the floor, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, it’s good if the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor and your legs a slightly apart. That is the posture I use. I like to sit without shoes on so I can feel the soles of my feet in contact with the carpet.

You need to make sure that you are sitting relatively straight, and do not stiffen your upper body. We all have a slight natural curvature of the spine. Let it be there. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.

People ask, what do you do with your hands? I gently rest my hands on my legs. Not grasping the fingers together, but letting them rest – open and loose.

You can close your eyes or drop your gaze. If you choose to drop your gaze, drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids almost close. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it. It helps in my case as I wear glasses all the time. So I take them off and it helps.

  1. Next, is Time. Build the practice into your day.

At the outset, it helps to set an amount of time you’re going to “practice” for. Otherwise, you may never create the time to fit the practice in. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or ten minutes. Eventually,  you can build up to twice as long, then maybe up to 45 minutes or an hour. I use a timer on my phone. Many people do a session in the morning and in the evening, or one or the other. I tend to practice early in the morning as this is the time I have build into my daily schedule to practice.  If you feel your life is busy and you have little time, doing some is better than doing none. When you get a little space and time, you can do a bit more.

        4. Finally, Attitude, Commitment, and Kindness.

Like anything in life, mindfulness meditation takes commitment and practice. It is well known that little and often is better than intermittent. So be prepared to practice at least four days a week or more. I tend to practice formal mindfulness sessions five days per week and walking meditations at the weekend.  When you begin the practice you will notice that you can “concentrate” on your breathing for a few moments and then all of a sudden a string of thoughts will flash across your mind. Your instinctive reaction is to berate yourself for not being able to “do the practice”. This is where the kindness to yourself comes to the fore. No matter how many years you have practiced and no matter the intensity, you can not ultimately control all the thoughts you have. It is like trying to hold water in your hand. No matter how hard you try, you will not succeed. Instead, don’t bother judging yourself or obsessing over the fact you are having the thoughts or the contents of the thoughts. Come back to the focus that the sitting meditation is centered on. Your body and your breath. You will go away. You come back. Time after time. Like the waves on the edge of the sea.

I hope these simple elements help make your practice a success. If you have experiences and comments on the sitting practice, do let me know.

The photo is one I took this morning, imagining myself sitting under the tree doing a sitting practice.

I leave you with the following quote:

“I’m simply saying that there is a way to be sane. I’m saying that you can get rid of all this insanity created by the past in you. Just by being a simple witness of your thought processes.

It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process.

It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.

And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty.

That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”

Osho

By the Sea

“The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.”  ― Kate Chopin, The Awakening

A quick question to ask you…. What did you do in August this year?

The summer and August especially is a time for holidays and time by the sea. For me, being by the sea has always been part of my life. I was born in a seaside town in the south-west of the England.

Note: The photo on this blog is of Paignton Pier where l lived.

As a small boy, my mum would take my younger brother and me to the seaside almost every day of the summer holidays. We would play on the beach all day. Build sandcastles. Create sea dams. Go paddling. I was not allowed to swim due to problems with my ears. We would have a picnic and by the early evening, our dad would appear, get changed and go for a swim. A wonderful time for all of us.

Fast forward to today. I no longer live near the sea. The nearest beach is over two hours away, so it is very difficult to plan the time off to be with the family at the seaside. This year for the first time ever, we went with my brother and his “crew” on holiday to the seaside. It was fantastic. The girls played on the beach. We all went swimming; paddling and walking along the beach.

It brought back some very fond memories. It also generated a number of new ones.

One difference for me this year though was the impact of my mindfulness practice on the holiday. The ability to step back and be present.  It happened on multiple occasions. I would be standing by the sea and I would become focused and fascinated by the sounds and the feel of the waves as they came onto the shore. The uniqueness of each wave. The differing ripples in the water. The sounds of the waves crashing into one another.

In fact, I even recorded a one minute video of the sea to remind me of that feeling. If you would like to listen and see the sea experience we had, plus the people laughing and joking in the background, please visit – https://youtu.be/Ge1weeFOiVY

I leave you with the following quote.

Well it’s not a quote as such. It is in fact a ditty my grandmother used to sing. 

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside

I do like to be beside the sea!

I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom!

Where the brass bands play:

“Tiddely-om-pom-pom!”

So just let me be beside the seaside

I’ll be beside myself with glee

And there’s lots of girls beside,

I should like to be beside

Beside the seaside!

Beside the sea!

 

“I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside” is a popular British music hall song. It was written in 1907 by John A. Glover-Kind[1] and made famous by music hall singer Mark Sheridan who first recorded it.