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A Step-By-Step Guide to the Body Scan

Writer: Erin Lee


A step-by-step guide to the body scan practice


We practice the body scan to cultivate a wiser relationship with our body, and consequently our mind.


In the modern world, we tend to live on autopilot and spend a lot of time dwelling in the headspace. Over time we neglect paying attention to the body, and this can prove to be problematic for our wellbeing in the long run.


Without attending to the body, we will not be aware of signs of stress and tension until the body and mind begin to break down.


Knowing how the body feels in each moment offers us the opportunity to regulate and calm ourselves in a more timely manner.


The body also offers us a gateway to understanding the inclinations of the mind, so that we learn to work more skillfully with difficult experiences.

Having understood why we should embrace the body scan practice, I'd like to offer a detailed guide on how to practice the body scan more effectively.



INTENTION OF PRACTICE:


The intention of the body scan is to be aware of what the body may be experiencing from moment to moment. This will require us to stay alert and wakeful as much as possible throughout the practice.


As we move our attention through the body one part at a time, we observe any physical sensations that may be present at that part of the body, without trying to change the experience.


  • This means that there is no need to imagine the presence of any sensations, even when nothing seems to come up in the body as you are attending to it.

  • Sensations that feel pleasant or unpleasant may arise. As you pay attention to these sensations, notice any tendency in you to want those pleasant feelings in the body to continue, and those unpleasant ones to change or go away.

  • There may also be sensations that feel somewhat neutral to you, that you neither like nor dislike. This may invite boredom, prompting your mind to seek some stimulation by wandering away to thoughts.


These are the natural tendencies of the mind to react to experiences, which we simply notice.


As best as possible, we practice staying with each moment of the felt sense of experience as it arrives in our awareness.


POSTURE:


The body scan can be practiced lying down flat on the back, or in a sitting posture.


  • If you're choosing to lie down for the practice, lay out a yoga mat on the floor.

  • A bed or sofa is not recommended, as the comfort of these surfaces may invite drowsiness and lead to falling asleep during the scan.

  • If you're sitting for this practice, you may either sit upright on a chair with your feet flat on the floor, or sit on the floor with both your legs crossed.

  • Sitting on the floor with your back leaning flat against a wall and both legs stretched out in front of you works as well.


It might take you some time to find a posture that works best for you. The idea is for the body to not get so comfortable or relaxed that you fall asleep during practice, but also comfortable enough to stay still for an extended period of time.

Mindfulness Coach Erin Lee guiding a body scan practice


PRACTICE:


Begin the body scan by bringing the body to stillness and becoming aware of the entire body breathing in and out.


  • As you ease into the start of the practice, the mind may still be quite busy and your attention may get pulled away by thinking or activity happening around you.

  • Gently bring your attention back to the body, and allow the body to remind you of your intentions of practice - that for now there is nowhere you need to go, and nothing you need to do in particular.


When you are ready, start at the bottoms of the feet and move your attention upwards through the body one part at a time.


  • You may either start from the bottoms of the feet and work your way up, or start at the top of the head and work your way down.

  • Allow the quality of your attention to be gentle and kind, like you are shining a soft spotlight on each part of the body.


As your attention arrives at each part of the body, notice the presence of any physical sensations, without trying to ignore or change them.


  • There may be sensations of temperature (heat, warmth, coolness, cold); sensations of weight (lightness, heaviness); sensations of pressure (tightness, tension, looseness, relaxedness); and others (tingling, pulsing, throbbing, itching, rising & falling, expansion & release, etc).

  • Notice the tendencies of the mind as you learn to rest with pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral sensations that come up in the body.

  • Also observe the tendencies of the mind when no sensations come up.


Whenever the mind gets pulled away by thoughts, simply know that thoughts are here; gently guide your attention back to the body again and continue with the practice.



ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR PRACTICE:


How to work with drowsiness during the body scan:

  • When you notice yourself falling asleep, simply know that drowsiness is present.

  • Take a few slow deep breaths, and when you feel more alert, return your attention to the body and continue with the practice again.

  • To keep yourself awake, you may also practice with your eyes softly open to let some light in.


How to work with mind wandering during the body scan:

  • When you notice the mind drifting away to thoughts or sounds and activity around you, simply know that thoughts or sounds are present.

  • No matter how many times your attention wanders away, gently and patiently bring it back to the body and continue with the practice.


How to work with restlessness or discomfort during the body scan:

  • Sometimes the body may start to feel restless or uncomfortable, inviting an urge to move or change your posture.

  • When this happens, try to observe where this restlessness or discomfort is showing up in the body (e.g. at the feet, hips, or hands).

  • You may also notice a desire to avoid and skip the part of the body that is feeling uncomfortable.

  • See if it's possible to stay with this experience for a few moments and see what sensations are present (e.g. numbness, soreness, itching, etc).

  • If there is eventually a need to move the body, slow down the movement and pay attention to every moment of moving.


You may meet with "blank" areas of the body, where no physical sensations seem to be present.

  • Notice the tendency to want to move that part of the body, or squeeze the muscles just to feel something.

  • Practice accepting this as the reality of your present experience - that there is simply nothing happening here for now.

  • Rest your attention there for a couple more moments, and then move on to the next part of the body.


You might also miss a body part during the scan and feel badly about it. Know that you don't have to get too fixated on having to cover every part of the body.


Last but not least, notice if or when impatience arises during practice.


See if you are able to approach the body scan experience one part at a time, one moment at a time.

Approach the body scan experience one part at a time, one moment at a time.

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A body scan may last as long as you need it to. A typical body scan practice in a MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program lasts 30 - 40 minutes.


As a teacher, I recommend a minimum of 20 minutes for practicing the body scan on a daily basis.


Follow this guided meditation for a 20 min body scan practice:







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