The body scan for mindfulness and peace of mind

A popular mindful exercise is the body scan – a practice where you check in with your body – bring your attention to it in a systematic way. It is a way of slowing the pace before a meditation, it is a way to check in with the self at the end of a long day, it is a way to take control when distressed. It is also a way to get some ‘awareness of the body in the body’ – a prime pillar of mindfulness.

I like it because you can do in on a crowded train, or the garden, or in an elevator, as easily as in a mediation room. Ok for the first few times you might want to do it sitting in a chair, lying on your bed or in an undisturbed location. As a meditation it is generally practiced as a 10-15minute exercise. But after a few goes you can find a duration that suits you best or modify it to meet the need. A 2min body check-in might make a crowded elevator or escalator jaunt into a positive opportunity for mindfulness whereas a long commute on a bus, train or plane may be more suited to a 20min plus exercise. With new self isolating protocols around seasonal flu and newer viruses becoming the new norm, ways of checking in with oneself or a means of taking a time out are all the more beneficial to mental and physical well being. Mindfulness is being of purpose but it can suit your purpose too.

You can do a body scan standing, sitting, even lying down. It is a simple noticing exercise. Whatever position you have adopted start by noticing your posture, are you standing, sitting, lying. Bring your attention to the shape you make, become aware of the frame of your body. Inhale, exhale. Notice your body in its physical realm, how the ground is beneath your feet, your solidity in standing, or how the chair supports your bum and back or how lying on the bed holds your body. If you notice a physical sensation or have a thought response such as ‘my neck is stiff’, ‘my feet are tired’, ‘my shoulders are relaxed’, just notice, don’t judge. Inhale, exhale. Your mind is aware of your corporality now; you are bringing awareness to being of a body. Next we will bring our attention through the body.

You can do it head to toe or from toe to head – doesn’t really matter which direction, the idea is a systematic scan of the whole body, a gentle sweep and check-in with the parts that make the whole. I often do it standing so commence with my feet. You can wiggle your toes to bring your mind there. Become aware of your toes, then bring your attention to your feet, notice any sensation ache, numbness or tingling – notice but do not judge or go into the sensation. Next move to the ankle, repeat process, next to shin, then to knee, spend a little time noticing and experiencing each section, next to thigh, to buttocks, to lower back and right up to neck, you can scan fingers to shoulders and then into head. Notice. Experience. Be present to the body and its parts. End by bringing your attention back to the entire body, its posture, its solidity, its sum of parts. Inhale, exhale. Take a moment to come back to the room and then continue your day.

If you chose you can make this exercise a relaxation scan, you can allow that noticed sensation or any tension present in the body part to cool or soften. This systematic ‘attention giving’ to each section of the body, infusing it with loving kindness and intended relaxation is also good practice. The two options are equally valid. Both sharpen your attention capacity, both bring your body into the now. Both engage a brain-body chemistry and signalling that is more conducive to less anxiety and better wellness perception.

About The Holistic Gardener

author of wellness books, columnist, keynote speaker.
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