Time now for a little longer and more focused activity than we had so far. The “body scan” meditation is one of the most common meditation practices for mindfulness practitioners. In fact, I have seen some mindfulness courses designed almost exclusively on variations of this meditation (which may also explain why often mindfulness is sometimes confused with and used as a a different name for meditation).
A good thing about the activity is that you can do it as long or as short as you want, at least if you are doing it yourself. It can last from just a few minutes to 45 minutes or longer. I’ll first describe you the activity and tell you how to do it yourself – and then I’ll include a suggestion in case you want to have a guided form of body scan.
1. Begin by sitting upright. Close your eyes if that feels comfortable and helps you to focus. Try to feel the weight of your body, focus on the sensations you feel where your body is touching the chair or floor.
2. Take a few deep breath and feel the flow of air into your body. Every time you exhale, feel how you are becoming more and more relaxed.
3. Starting from your feet, feel any sensations you feel in them. Are they touching the chair? Feel the sensation and observe it before moving on.
4. Move up from focusing on your feet, and shift your focus slowly to your back. Do you feel it touching the chair? Focus on the sensations in all the muscles in your back, relax with every breath you exhale, before moving on.
5. Focus on your stomach area. Do you feel your stomach expanding when you inhale? Relax it a little. Focus on the sensation of your stomach. Exhale.
6. Move your attention sideways to your arms. Are they resting comfortably? Feel how the sensations in them.
7. With your body now relaxed, observe the sensations in your neck. How does it feel? Feel your jaw, all your face muscles without moving them, before moving on.
8. Feel all of your body. Feel the whole body and any sensations in it, how energy is flowing through your body. Look at your whole body in wholeness – and feel what an amazing work of art it is.
9. Take a few more deep breath before slowly returning to the space surrounding you and opening your eyes.
You can vary this basic technique infinitely by including more details in the body scan (for example, start by focusing on your toes, sole, midfeet, heel, ankle, calf, chin etc). You can also do the scan from the crown of your head down to your feet if this feels better to you. An other alternative is to remain longer in step 8 above, where you can slowly expand your awareness sense by sense.
Note: the difference between a mindfulness and a relaxation meditation is that during a mindfulness activity you don’t necessarily focus on relaxing your body or calming your mind. Rather, you focus on observing the different sensations in your body at this present time.
If you feel your mind wandering off, or thoughts appearing, that is perfectly fine. Acknowledge them kindly, before bringing your attention gently back to the mindfulness activity.
Depending on how confident you feel with doing this exercise on your own, an alternative is to listen to a guided body scan. There are plenty of those available for example on YouTube, ranging from 5 minutes to very long sessions. For example, this short, 5 minute version.