What Is a Body Scan?
A body scan is like a meditation, designed to take you on a tour of your body with curiosity, mindfulness, and appreciation. It’s an opportunity to experience your body as it is, without judgement or needing to “fix” anything.
If you notice pain or tightness in your body, rather than resisting it or being angry at it, it's OK to allow it to be. Just notice it.
The intention is to cultivate your body awareness, which helps you be more in tune with yourself and more present in your life. You may also notice relaxation or quieter thoughts as you shift out of your head and back into your body.
There’s numerous studies that show that regular mindfulness practice reduces stress and anxiety, lowers heart rate, improves immunity, and relieves pain.
Below are several examples of when a Body Scan is a useful tool. I'm sure you can think of even more situations in your own life where it'd be helpful to pause, unplug, and tune into your body in this present moment.
When Should I Practice Body Scanning?
You can practice a Body Scan daily, weekly, or whenever you need it... As with all forms of meditation, regular practice makes it easier to sink into yourself and stay there for longer. If you think meditation is difficult or you don't get a lot out of it, try practicing consistently for a while to develop the skill. Then the tool will be available for you when you need it.
Here are some great times to do a Body Scan:
After a massage
As you lie in bed waiting to fall asleep
When making an important decision
When you're at your desk and realize your back pain is flaring up
When you're feeling anxious and overwhelmed
A body scan is also a great tool when you're making an important decision in your life. For example, if you're trying to decide between two jobs, think about Job A and notice how your body feels. Then think about Job B and notice how your body feels. Designing your life with body-led wisdom can lead to wonderful things.
In the script below, I recommend that you sit or lie comfortably, but anytime you're feeling uncomfortable is a great time to stop and listen to your body.
For example, if you're dealing with chronic back pain, notice how you feel in the middle of your work day. Take a snapshot. Where is your tension? Is your spine twisted, are your shoulders uneven? Asymmetry is a major cause of pain, the body wants to be balanced. Do you catch yourself clenching your jaw? Is all your weight on one foot or one-half of your seat?
This kind of awareness is a powerful tool for overcoming chronic pain and fostering healthier, easier, more functional body habits.
If you're receiving regular massage, practicing a "body scan" regularly is a great way to notice where you want to focus in at your next massage and how exactly your body feels better week after week. It’s also a tool to neurologically reinforce the changes in your body, which helps the benefits last longer.
This is why I invite all my clients to stay on the massage table for a few minutes after their massage... so they can stay in that blissful post-massage state, breathe, and intuitively experience their body with greater awareness and depth.
That magical place is healing. Why rush out of it and back into the real world? My practice is designed as a way for you to spend time with yourself, and a post-massage body scan is the perfect way to do that.
With all that said, how do you do a body scan? It’s not complicated. Below is a free script to get you started.
How To Do A Body Scan (Body Awareness Meditation)
At first, you may only be able to spend 5-10 minutes noticing your body before your mind begins to wander and today’s To-Do list calls you back. Over time, as you practice more, you may spend up to 45 minutes in a body scan, blissfully occupying your body and quieting your mind.
As you practice this Body Scan, notice what areas are the most “obvious” to you… Any areas where sensation jumps out, even yells at you… As well as any areas that are quiet, blindspots in your somatic (body) awareness. Be curious about each joint.
You can do a standing Body Scan or even a walking/moving Body Scan. However, when you’re first getting started, it’s easiest if you can be relaxed and focus solely on the passive tension in your body. The below Body Scan is done in a resting posture.
Sit or lie down comfortably. No fancy guru pose. Think “nap.”
Soften your gaze, and allow your eyes to close.
Notice your body where it contacts the chair or floor. Feel your weight here.
Take a few deep breaths.
As you exhale, imagine your body becoming even heavier. Allow your weight to settle against the surface that supports you. Shift your body if you need to. Continue to breathe and settle.
Notice the heat of your body.
Notice any sense of vibration, pulsing, heaviness, lightness, twisting, arching.
Bring your attention to your stomach. If it feels tense, allow it to soften. Take a full breath, pushing out your belly button, and exhale completely, bringing your belly button towards your spine.
Notice your jaw. Let your face relax, let your eyes soften, let your jaw loosen.
Notice your neck. See if you can let it relax.
Notice your shoulders and arms. Let them be heavy and warm.
Notice your hands. Is there any tightness? Notice your wrist. Is it stiff? Allow ease to flow into and out of your hands.
Return your attention to your stomach, your chest, your ribs. As you inhale next, fill your ribs expanding and opening.
Notice your low back. Trace your awareness up each vertebrae of your spine, breathing into your back.
Notice your legs. Your feet.
Try to feel your whole body. Notice the areas you can feel and see vividly, as well as any gaps in your awareness. Notice any tension; notice relaxation.
Take a minute to stay here and breathe; when you’re ready, open your eyes.