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Meditation 101: The Body Scan

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear your body speaking the language of your emotions. All the aches, pains, stress, and fatigue—as well as the lightness, flexibility, and enthusiasm—are the ways your body is expressing them. There are immense preventive benefits in exploring this body-emotion connection and really listening to our bodies. One of the powerful ways to do it is practicing the body scan meditation technique. This practice not only relaxes you, but also brings your awareness to, and connects you more meaningfully with, your physical and emotional self.

According to the timeless Ayurvedic texts, holding on to emotions like greed, anger, or pride can create toxins that accumulate in the body-mind complex and lead to illnesses. Sometimes stress shows up in our bodies in the form of headaches, backaches, muscular pain and stiffness, fatigue, and heartburn. And unless we are very aware, we may not be able to identify these connections immediately. A body scan meditation can be helpful in healing by identifying and observing these connections.

What is a body scan meditation?

The body scan meditation is simply that—a scan through the entire length of your body from head to toe using your mind. By becoming aware of each sensation in your various body parts—which may be in the form of pain, discomfort, stiffness, or tension—you are waking up to the signs your body has been giving. According to mind-body experts, running our awareness through these signs can hasten the healing process, bring tremendous relief, and help alleviate the pain.

What are the benefits?

One big aim of doing a body scan is to align yourself with the physical body, in order to rise higher. In the higher states of meditation, one lets go of body consciousness too. But to get to those blissful states, you must go through the process of becoming conscious of each part of the body. Other benefits include

  1. Helps with insomnia. Meditation practices based on awareness can lead you to be more open to letting go of thoughts of anxiety and fear, which can be common detriments to good sleep. Studies have shown that a regular body scan before going to sleep helps you deal with insomnia. Meditations like yoga nidra can also improve the quality of rest, even if you slept for fewer hours.
  2. Relief from anxiety and stress. A body scan eliminates stress from the system by simply moving your attention to it. With our busy lives, lack of rest, improper diet, and overworked minds and bodies, we tend to accumulate stress toxins in our system that we do not know how to—or take the time to—get rid of. Meditation helps you identify the stress and discomfort in your body and heals it from the root.
  3. Dealing with discomfort. Body scan as a form of meditation tenderly trains your body and mind to be at ease with pain and discomfort, not to say we aspire to tolerate it without seeking medical attention. It is simply that your awareness of what triggers them is more heightened and therefore easy to repair.
  4. Relaxation-awareness response. While relaxation benefits may be one of the crowd-pullers, you end up staying for the improved focus and mindfulness when it comes to body scans. You are more in tune with the sensations in your body and the subtle relationship between your emotions and the body.
  5. Cleansing the energy centers. Meditation, especially ones involving body scan help resolve repressed emotions by cleansing each chakra or energy center in the subtle body. Each energy center, among the seven major energy centers or chakras, is associated with particular emotions. For example, the energy center at the base of the spine is associated with inertia or enthusiasm. The second chakra manifests as sexual energy or creative or procreative energy. The third chakra is associated with four different emotions: greed, jealousy, generosity and joy. So, every time we take our attention through these energy centers, our attention is powerful enough to transform the negative emotions to the positive ones, which are our very own nature.
  6. Emotional self-regulation. The practice helps you build more patience and be more aware of why and what emotional experiences you are dealing with at this moment. You can read emotional signs that your body is trying to send, be it fear (sensations in the pit of the stomach), tension (stiffness in the body), or stress (racing heartbeat). This can save you from reacting aggressively in any given situation or hurting others in the spur of the moment. Your response can be well thought out instead of being a trigger-happy one.

How to Practice

To begin with, you may want to try a guided body scan meditation. We’ve give you one here lead by AOL’s own Andrew Keaveney. You can also find a myriad of them on YouTube if you’d prefer a different voice, language, cadence, etc.

Another option is to memorize, or record yourself reading, a simple body scan script; we’ve supplied one below.

The Body Scan

  1. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing. If possible, remove your shoes, loosen any belts or ties, etc.
  2. You can practice the body scan in a seated position in a comfortable chair, couch, or the floor, or you can lie down. If you know you’re going to be going to sleep after this, then get into bed so you can just roll over and go to sleep when you’re done (if you make it to the end!).
  3. Close your eyes and gently take your attention to your breath. 
  4. Take a few deep breaths in and exhale slowly.
  5. Observe the rise and fall of the abdomen while breathing.
  6. Gently take your awareness to your toes and feet. Notice any sensations or pain. You might feel tingles, itches, aches, or heaviness. Breathe into these sensations as you observe them.
  7. Similarly, take the awareness through the entire body, keeping your attention in each body part for about five seconds.
    • toes
    • feet
    • ankles
    • calves
    • shins
    • knees
    • thighs
    • genitals
    • abdomen
    • stomach
    • chest
    • lower back
    • middle back
    • upper back
    • shoulders
    • upper arms
    • elbows
    • forearms
    • wrists
    • hands
    • fingers
    • neck
    • face
    • back of the head
    • top of the head
    • and one final full scan from head to toe.

And here’s a delicate note about any pain you are experiencing—it is important to not focus too much on the sensation discomfort. The idea is to become aware of it and breathe into it. Believe that the pain is leaving the body.

If you want to take things up a notch, try  yoga nidra.

So, whether you’re trying to be more present in your body, the moment, or with the breath, a body scan is the perfect way to connect, align, and relax.  

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