How to conduct a mental body scan
Melt stress and anxiety as you relax your body from head to toe.
Consider a cat at rest. It doesn’t simply lie down. It sinks every muscle of its being into the floor before finally closing its eyes. As its belly rises and falls, the cat sleeps deeply, dreaming without a care in the world.
For us humans, learning to relax is ironically one of the toughest things to do. When we close our eyes, our monkey mind begins to churn. Yet, the relaxation of the body and mind, especially by way of a body scan meditation, brings about various mental and physical benefits ranging from stress reduction and an improvement in sleep to a heightened sense of focus.
When we perform a body scan meditation, we are learning how to free our body of any tension it might be carrying, thus allowing us to feel comfortable and at ease. The technique involves focusing our attention on each body part and observing the feelings that arise from contracting and releasing the muscles there. We usually begin with the feet and work upwards to the head. In doing so, we move from our feet to the calves, thighs, buttocks, tummy, chest, arms, shoulders, jaw, eyes, and finally the forehead.
What does it mean to bring our awareness to our body? Take your calves for example. Take a moment to draw your sense to them. Do they feel particularly tense today? Observe it for about 15 to 30 seconds without judgment. Simply notice how it is feeling today. Even if any pain or discomfort arises, don’t try to will away the discomfort. Sit with it. Remain relaxed. By suspending our fears or hopes, we because more at ease, allowing this simple technique to segue into meditation.
After you’ve drawn your awareness to a particular body part, note how it feels when you contract the muscles briefly. Hold the contraction long enough to feel the muscles tightening. What does this tension feel like?
Thereafter, reverse the contraction by gradually relaxing the muscles. Here, notice the tightness and tension melting away as a pleasant sense of release washes over you. Pay attention to how the area feels now that you have relaxed it.
Through this series of contractions and relaxations, we not only dissolve the tension we have mindfully created, but we also help to release any residual tension that our body has stored.
The ability to recognise how each part of the body feels like when it’s in a state of deep relaxation allows us to develop a certain familiarity with the sensation of relaxation. When we are fully acquainted with this sensation, we can continue to practise these techniques until we can learn to relax at will. In the midst of a stressful day at work, your jaw might clench up as your shoulders begin to feel tense. Even if you don’t have time to perform a full-body scan, you can apply these techniques to relax your shoulders, jaw, eyes, and forehead.
As you learn to relax, try to do so in a relaxed fashion. Remember to inhale deeply and exhale fully. Let the body rise and fall with the rhythm of your breath. Don’t turn this exercise into an absolute goal that you must master within a week. Relaxation is not meant to be a stressful business. Take your time. Practise these techniques. Let your mind and body finally come to rest.
Begin your body scan meditation practice
If you have 17 minutes to spare, join psychotherapist Andrea Wachter in this guided meditation session aimed at soothing the mind, body, and nervous system.