Background: The body scan is a well-loved mindfulness exercise. This is a practice which invites us to carefully survey the body and to explore how it is feeling. One of the objectives is to compare how the different body parts feel. Those parts of us that feel relaxed are contrasted with the places we feel tense.
It’s a powerful thing, to note what feels comfortable. Just as watching the example of someone performing well is often more helpful than analyzing what is wrong, finding parts of the body which are comfortable allows us to use them as a sort of example in how to bring that comfort elsewhere.
On this approach, the soreness is simply noted. Noticing has a strange kind of power in contemplation. Sometimes, just the act of noticing is enough to make the situation feel better. It is a bit like putting a band aid on the “owie” of a small child.
The exercise that is on the next page is written with this simple approach of merely noticing. After you feel comfortable with this, you might try the following variations and see how they work for you. These variations bring a more active focus to the places which do not feel comfortable.
The first variation is to “breathe into” the hurt. As we inhale, we imagine the breath going straight to the place that is sore. Envisioning the breath coming to work on the painful place can be very effective.
The second variation is to turn the attention to relaxing the area. Here, we will the muscles themselves to relax. Sometimes it is helpful to begin with the surrounding area and work our way inward, toward the center of the discomfort.
After a particularly good body scan, I become delightfully aware of the ways my body parts are all connected. I notice the joints, ligaments, and places that connect one part of me to another. I get this sense of being a single, unified body rather than just a collection of parts.
- Inhale again, and turn the attention to the soles of both feet. Explore them front to back, or left to right. Let yourself become aware of where they are and how they are feeling.
- Now, draw your attention up through the tops of the feet.
- Become aware of the ankles and lower calves. Continue to be aware of how these body parts are feeling.
- In your mind’s eye, see your shins, too.
- Become aware of the knees, and the area behind the knees. Continue to draw the attention up to the thighs.
- Remembering to continue to breathe deeply, now notice the pelvis, hips, and buttocks.
- Bring your awareness to your lower back and abdomen.
- Draw your attention up, through the rib cage and shoulders.
- Inhale. Exhale.
- Wiggle your fingers. Bring your awareness to each finger and thumb. Notice where they come to join the hand.
- Feel your palm and notice the back of your hand.
- Continuing to breathe deeply, note your wrist and forearms.
- Draw your attention to the elbow and upper arm.
- Note your armpit and the place where your arm joins the body.
- Inhale. Exhale.
- Turn your attention to everything below the neck. You have become aware of that whole portion of your body.
- Now, draw your awareness up the neck.
- Become aware of the jaw, and slowly draw your attention across your face. Feel how your nose and ear sit in your skull. Become mindful of how your eyes and sinuses feel.
- Notice the back of your head, and slowly draw your awareness up through the very top of the scalp.
- Now, relax for a few minutes, enjoying the connection with your body.
Here is an audio file presentation of this exercise: