If you’re new to meditation, particularly body scan meditation, it may seem a little…off-putting at first.
After all, many of us spend our days trying NOT to focus on our bodies and sensations. Instead, we’re focused on DOING, rather than BEING.
We may be focused on our to-do list, our workload, or an argument we had with a friend.
Maybe you’re focusing on that loud construction going on outside the window or the sounds of your kids yelling in the yard.
But by taking time to run through a simple body scan meditation, we get in touch with ourselves.
We’ll connect with our bodies, temper our reaction to stress, and strengthen our sense of focus and purpose. Meditation makes a difference.
The Benefits of Meditation
There are many people studying the benefits of meditation right now and they’re making exciting discoveries. Meditation helps reduce our stress levels, decrease anxiety, and uplift feelings of depression.
By clearing our minds with meditation, we actually become more mindful and present in our daily lives.
You see, back in the days of early humans, our stress levels protected us. If we were in the jungle, we needed to be hyper-aware of noises and different sensations because a lion could be hiding around the corner. Time moved on and our lives became much safer, but our brains still possess this flight or fight response.
When you get in a spat with your spouse or get a critical email from your boss, these feelings (and stress chemicals) flood our brains and bodies. We’re still ready to run away from a lion, even though we don’t need as strong a reaction.
Additionally, many of us are overloaded with stress. We live beyond our means. We’re overscheduled, over-tired, stretched thin, and worn out.
If you feel like you never have enough time, it could mean you aren’t making time for mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the antithesis of stress.
You see, when you’re mindful, you aren’t focused on the worries of the future. You also aren’t replaying the past on an endless loop. Mindfulness means being in the present moment.
When we practice meditation, we help reset our minds to the present. It helps us feel calm and even improves our memory and focus.
According to the Harvard Health Publishing article, How Meditation Helps with Depression:
Meditation has been found to change certain brain regions that are specifically linked with depression. For instance, scientists have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) becomes hyperactive in depressed people. The mPFC is often called the “me center” because this is where you process information about yourself, such as worrying about the future and ruminating about the past. When people get stressed about life, the mPFC goes into overdrive.
Another brain region associated with depression is the amygdala, or “fear center.” This is the part of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response, which triggers the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol in response to fear and perceived danger.
These two brain regions work off each other to cause depression. The me center gets worked up reacting to stress and anxiety, and the fear center response leads to a spike in cortisol levels to fight a danger that’s only in your mind. Research has found that meditation helps break the connection between these two brain regions. “When you meditate, you are better able to ignore the negative sensations of stress and anxiety, which explains, in part, why stress levels fall when you meditate.”
With all the benefits of meditation, including increased mindfulness, it’s worth exploring. If you’ve never given it a try, there are many ways to get started. The simplest way is to use a free app or listen to a free mindfulness meditation online.
Meditation and mindfulness apps to check out:
From there, you can start to explore different types of meditation, such as mantra and body scan meditation.
How Body Scan Meditation Helps You Get in Touch with Your Feelings
In the practice of body scan meditation, the idea is you first lie down somewhere comfortable (like a yoga mat or blanket on the floor). From there you mentally walk through each part of your body. You reconnect with your feelings and sensations.
This type of meditation allows you to focus on the sensation of breathing and the feelings going through your body. As with mantra meditation, you clear your mind and let go of the stressful thoughts usually racing through your brain.
After all, how many of us really take time to think about all the feelings happening in our body at any given moment?
We may feel hundreds of ways all at once:
Even types of pain and discomfort feel differently. For example, a toothache feels quite different from a headache or a pulled muscle in your leg. Even though the sensations are all painful, they certainly aren’t the same.
Our mind is cleared of all the buzz and mental noise we typically experience, and we’re allowed to notice how we really feel.
Many people experience worry when they first try body scan meditation. They may wonder if they’re doing it right. It may even feel uncomfortable at first.
If you’re new to meditation, you may want to start very slow.
Try body scan meditation for 15-20 minutes at first, then work up from there. If 15 minutes seems too long, you can even start with 5-10 minutes.
When you begin body scan meditation, you may also notice your mind wanders off. You might find yourself thinking about your plans for later, what you ate for breakfast, or the movie you watched yesterday. This is totally normal.
It’s not uncommon to feel bored and frustrated when you begin, especially if you’re new to meditation as a practice. Simply keep coming back and focusing on your breath. If you’re using a guided meditation, listen to the sound of the voice. Follow the instructions and focus on the different areas of your body as you go along.
During body scan meditation, you’ll note how you’re feeling. The goal isn’t to get too wrapped up in the sensations, but to notice, acknowledge, and move on. It takes practice, but as you go along, you’ll begin to notice certain sensations.
You may notice tension in your shoulders, neck, or jaw. You may catch yourself clenching your fists, grinding your teeth, or squeezing your eyes tighter.
When you notice these moments of tension, simply acknowledge them and then, like a balloon, let them float away. Come back to your breath and the present moment.
How to Do Basic Body Scan Meditation
A basic body scan meditation starts in a comfortable position on the floor. You may wish to lie on your back and put a cushion or pillow under your knees. You can even put a cozy blanket over yourself to stay warm.
Beginning the Meditation
To begin, you’ll close your eyes softly. You can also choose to lower your lids but leave your eyes softly open in a downward gaze. Most people find it easiest to close them.
Breathe in deeply. Feel the sensation of your breath going into your diaphragm. Feel your chest and stomach rise and lower.
Some people find it helpful to count as they breathe. In for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, out for a count of eight. Your breathing should feel fairly comfortable and rhythmic.
As you continue with your rhythmic breathing, you’ll first notice the sounds and sensations around you.
What do you hear in the room?
What do you feel?
Focus on the places where your body meets the ground. How does your body feel in those spots? Does it feel heavy?
Starting the Body Scan
Next, begin at your feet. You’ll start by focusing on your toes. How does each toe feel? Begin with your smallest toe on the right foot and work your way across to the left.
You’ll move your way up through your body, spending a few moments (or longer, if you feel up to it) exploring each area as you breathe in and out:
- Lower abdomen
- Upper Stomach
- Upper Arms
- Top/above your head
Once you’ve reached the top of your head, imagine warm, white light pouring over your body. Breathe in and out as you feel the sensation of warmth and comfort.
Notice the Sensations
As you move through each body part, you may feel many of the different sensations mentioned above. It could include tightness, pain, strain, pressure, heat, or cold. You may find you don’t notice much feeling at all and that’s totally normal too.
You may also notice it’s challenging to keep your focus on each part of your body as you do the body scan meditation.
Our monkey mind comes out and wanders away when we try to focus. The idea isn’t to clench down on your mind, but simply acknowledge the distraction and come back to the moment.
Come Back to the Present
When you’ve finished the body scan meditation, allow yourself to come back to the awareness of your breathing.
Breathe in, hold, breath out.
Notice the sounds of the room around you. Notice the light through your eyelids. Note any other smells or feelings in the room.
Once you feel as though you’ve come back to the present, gently open your eyes. Spend a moment to thank the universe for this calming break in your day.
If you continue to practice meditation each day, you will soon notice differences, both in your body and your mind. I find when I meditate regularly, I’m calmer, more focused, and more tolerant of little irritations and frustrations when they pop up. I also find I’m better at explaining how I feel (because I’m more aware of my feelings).
If you’re hoping to get a handle on stress and add more calm to your life, I highly recommend trying body scan meditation!