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

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