Updated: Jun 20
Writer: Erin Lee
I have heard my learners lamenting that the body scan is one mindfulness practice they really dread doing.
And I can understand why.
During the body scan, we typically lie down flat on the back and rest in stillness. We are advised to stay awake and alert to what the body may be experiencing from moment to moment.
For some of us, a practice like this can feel downright torturous at the start. We might find it difficult to lie still and not be doing anything, or not allow ourselves to fall asleep or drift into daydreaming mode.
Impatience and restlessness will probably arise. We may also struggle to stay awake.
So why does the body scan remain a fundamental practice of mindfulness meditation?
I have personally benefited tremendously from doing a daily body scan, and I'd like to advocate that we embrace it as a regular mindfulness practice.
First, let's clarify the intention of the practice.
It is important to know that the body scan is not meant to be a practice of relaxation, nor a means to falling asleep.
The body scan is a practice of wakefulness.
As much as possible, we learn to pay attention to the bodily sensations that are present in each moment of our practice, and also observe the relationship between the body and the mind.
This way of paying attention requires some effort on our part to stay present and alert throughout the meditation.
Next, let's try and understand what scanning the body does for us.
By attending to the physical experience of the body, we are teaching the mind to stay focused in the present moment, instead of being scattered and getting lost in the headspace of thinking, evaluating, planning, or fantasizing.
As we move our attention through the entire body one part at a time, we are training our faculty of attention to become more flexible.
Our attention learns to let go of one part of the body and move on to the next - a skill that is particularly useful for getting unstuck from mental states and habit patterns.
And as we take note of the bodily sensations that are present in each moment, we reacquaint ourselves with the reality of the body.
We become more attuned to how our mental states manifest as felt experiences, and understand that our mental and emotional wellbeing impacts our physical state of health.
Through paying attention to the body, we learn about preference - the inclination to like and chase after an experience that feels pleasant and enjoyable, and the inclination to dislike and struggle with an experience that feels unpleasant and painful.
We notice moments of boredom, impatience, or overindulgence in enjoyment, and learn to work with these tendencies of the mind.
We cultivate non-judgemental awareness, and learn to be at ease with each moment as it is.
We accept every moment of the body scan practice as it arrives, and learn to be curious, patient, gentle and kind with our body and mind.
And most importantly, we learn to adapt these skills and attitudes to even the most difficult and critical moments of our day-to-day life.
In the long run, the body scan proves to be a very deep and skillful practice that offers us the opportunity to transform the mind-body connection and the way we attend to ourselves.
Now that you know why we should embrace the body scan, let's learn how best to practice it.