The Body Scan
This mindfulness practice was borrowed from the book The Art and Science of Mindfulness by Shauna Shapiro and Linda Carlson. Our intention for including these mindfulness practices verbatim from the book is to allow others to experience the transformative power of mindfulness.
“The body scan meditation is usually practiced in a lying-down position on your back, with your legs extended, feet hip-width apart, and arms by your sides with palms facing up, if this open and receptive posture is comfortable for you. The idea environment is a warm, safe, and quiet location that has minimal distractions; for example, be sure to turn off the ringer on your phone and remove pets from the room. The technique requires focusing your awareness slowly, deliberately, and systematically throughout the body, either from toe to head or head to toe, applying moment-by-moment awareness to whatever your experience of each body part is, including awareness of sensations, emotions, and associated thoughts about the body if they arise.The body scan should ideally be practiced daily over a period of weeks to hone your abilities to closely pay attention. The entire exercise can take 30 to 45 minutes, or it can be done more quickly depending on your needs and time frame.”
How to Practice The Body Scan
“Begin by forming a clear intention for this practice. The intention can be whatever feels true and authentic to you in this moment: “May I be with my body in a loving way,” “May I cultivate greater mindfulness,” or “May this practice be of benefit to all beings.” Once you have an intention, silently repeat it to yourself, and then let it go, focusing your awareness on the breath. Feel the breath move in and out of the body. Ride the waves of your own breathing from moment to moment, non-judgementally.
When you are in touch with the flow of the breath in the body, direct your attention to the toes of your left foot. Pay close attention to any sensations (or lack of sensations) in this area of your body. If possible, feel both the tops and nails of the toes and the pads of the toes. Try to remain aware of both your breathing and sensations from your toes at the same time. Sometimes it helps to imagine that each in breath travels all the way down to your toes and each out-breath flows back up and out from your toes. Don’t worry if you get distracted or have a hard time feeling anything at all in your toes; as soon as you notice your mind wandering, gently return focus to your toes, noticing without judgement whatever your experience of that area of your body may be.
Keep this focus for a minimum of 1 minute. When you feel ready, on an out-breath, purposefully let your awareness of the toes go, allowing them to either dissolve or float away, and move your attention to the bottom of the left foot, including the sensations of pressure in the heel touching the surface you are resting on. Bring your attention and breathing to this region in the same way you just did with your toes. Just try to be in touch with your body however you can without judging yourself; there is no right or wrong way to feel. When you are ready (after a minute or 2 on the bottom of the foot), move on to the top of your left foot- the bones, skin and tendons across the top of the foot, and joint of the ankle, as well, if you choose.
In this way, move slowly and systemically through every region of your body. The order of the scan can be as follows: The left ankle, lower leg, knee, thigh, hip. The toes of the right foot, bottom of the right foot and right heel, upper foot, ankle, lower leg, knee, thigh, hip. The whole pelvis, including both hips, the genitals, buttocks, and rectum. The lower back and abdomen. The upper back, rib cage, and chest. The shoulder blades and the shoulders. For each area, check in to see what sensations are available to your awareness, dwell with the sensations, and also notice any other experience as you pay attention to different body parts, such as holding, tension, or emotions and associations that may arise. Notice any tendencies to rush ahead or dwell longer on certain areas. When moving from each area, imagine with an out-breath releasing your focus and allowing that area to dissolve from awareness as you move on to the next.
From here, move on to the fingers and hands, doing left and right together, tuning in to the fingers, thumbs, palms, back of the hands where you feel the pressure from contact with the resting surface, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms and shoulders. You might try expanding your awareness from one region to the next as you move up the arms until it includes the entire length of both arms, from the fingers to the shoulders. Then let go of the whole of the arms on one out-breath. They may feel hollow, warm and heavy, or weightless as you release your awareness and move on to the head and neck.
Next, move on to the neck and throat. After breathing out and letting go of awareness of muscles around the front and back of the neck, move on to the head and face. In scanning the face, start with the jaw and chin, allowing the jaw to become slack and feeling the tongue touching the back of the lower teeth in the mouth, then let the awareness gradually spread out to include sensations from the lips, teeth and gums, roof of the mouth, tongue, back of the throat, cheeks, nose (feel the air moving in and out of the nostrils), ears (and hearing), eyes, eyelids, area around the eyes, eyebrows, forehead, temples, scalp, and the entire skull beneath the skin of the scalp.
Finally, dwell for some time at the very top of your head. Imagine you have a blowhole there, like a whale or a dolphin, through which you can draw air in and out. See if you can draw the air in through the blowhole and feel it travel through your entire body to the very bottoms of your feet, then out through the top of your head again as you exhale. Perhaps feel a warm flow through your body as your entire body breathes as a whole system, feeling complete and content. Keep up this whole-body breathing for a few minutes, and then let go of the body altogether. See if you can just stay in the present moment with a sense of the breath flowing in and out but to no particular location.
At this point, allow yourself to let go of your focus on the breath and simply be awake to whatever may arise and predominate in your field of awareness moment by moment. This may include thoughts, feelings, sensations, sounds, breath, stillness, or silence. Just pay attention and try to be with whatever comes up in the same way you paid attention to your toes and other body parts during the san. Practice simply seeing thoughts, impulses, sensations, feelings and emotions as they arise, and then letting go, seeing them, letting go, seeing them, letting go, moment by moment, just lying here with nothing to do other than to be present, to be awake.
When it is time to end the body scan, notice the effects of the practice on your mind and body. Notice if you feel different then you did when you began. Perhaps make an intention to bring a piece of this awareness of your body with you into your daily life. Finally, thank yourself for taking this time and giving yourself this gift of awareness.”