Ever had that moment when you feel incredibly stiff, tense and sore with no clear explanation why?
It’s frustrating, ey!
For many years, I’ve suffered with pain and tension in my upper and lower back. I’ll often wake up to immediately notice the stiffness and tension in my body. almost like my body is constantly screaming at me.
But why? Was it due to:
- Poor posture at work?
- Exercising too much?
- Chronic Stress? or
- Sleeping in a bad position overnight?
If I’m honest with myself, it’s probably due to all of the above.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably tried it all: massaging it out, stretching or even ignoring it in hopes it will go away.
But so far, nothing has worked.
Body Scan Meditation is definitely something that can help and that you should check out. Here’s why!
How Body Scan Meditation Combats Built-up Stress
For many of us, chronic stress doesn’t only have mental and emotional symptoms. It can also show up physically in our bodies.
When you’re stressed, you may notice that you become more susceptible to headaches, shoulder tension and back pain, heartburn and more.
And, given we’re used to living in a highly stressed-state, we don’t often connect the dots between our physical discomfort and our emotional state.
This is why regular body scan meditation can be useful and effective because it not only allows us to tune in to our bodies, but also helps to release built-up tension.
Let’s now explore the basics of Body Scan Meditation including what it is, how to do it and also 5 ways that it benefits your health.
What is Body Scan Meditation?
Body scan is a type of meditation that involves mindfully exploring your body from head to toe to tune into the sensations present in different parts of the body.
This enables you to become aware of hidden tensions you may have been ignoring and can help to alleviate them.
There are some different ways you can scan over your body depending on what you prefer. I’ll run through each of these below.
Body Scan from Head to Toe
The most common type of body scanning is to start from the crown of your head and gradually make your way to your toes.
Scanning your body from head to toe is said to be more relaxing and grounding, and can result in feeling sleepy afterwards.
Body Scan from Toes to Head
Scanning your body from the bottom-up is said to be more energising and uplifting compared to scanning top down.
Personally, I have not experienced much difference whether scanning top-down or bottom-up, but it’s always worth trying both and seeing which style feels better for you depending on your goals.
Scanning the Body in Stages
You can also scan the body in stages. For example, you can start by scanning your entire head. Then gradually move down to your neck and throat. Then focus on your torso as one whole section. Next, scan each arm and then gradually scan each leg individually.
The concept behind this is to scan each section of your body individually to really hone down on any specific parts of your body.
Scan Slowly or Quickly
Depending on the amount of time you have available, you have the option of doing a quick or slow body scan meditation. You can choose to spend 15 minutes slowly scanning through your body, or do a quick check in over 5 minutes.
The choice is yours!
Scan Only the Upper Body
Have you noticed that when stressed your shoulders and back start seizing up?
Yep! It’s a pretty common symptom.
For most of us, we store a lot of our stress in our upper body. That’s why doing a scan focused solely on your upper body can still be very beneficial and help to release the majority of your tension.
Targeting Pain in the Body
Although most meditations encourage you to avoid striving for a particular expectation or outcome, with body scan meditation you can aim to target key areas of discomfort.
This allows you to let sensations come to the surface and hone in on what feels bad.
By being mindful of the areas you feel pain and breathing into them deeply, your body can start to troubleshoot and focus on alleviating them.
What are the Benefits of Body Scan Meditation?
Although there are many known benefits of body scan meditation, here are my top 5:
- Helps you cope better with stress and anxiety, whilst also reducing their symptoms
- Reduces the impacts of chronic stress on the body
- Leads to greater self-awareness and compassion
- Reduces pain and tension in the body
- Helps you feel grounded and centred
Let’s explore each of these in more detail.
1) Using Body Scan Meditation to Relieve Stress & Anxiety
A great thing about body scan meditation is that it prompts us to lean into bodily sensations, rather than becoming paralysed with or battling our thoughts due to stress.
This prompts us to take a moment to ourselves to pause, reflect and deal with stress in a healthy way. It also gives our body a chance to release any built-up tension rather than ignoring it in hopes that it will eventually go away.
2) Body Scanning Can Reduce the Impacts of Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is very unhealthy for our bodies.
It not only results in the release of cortisol and adrenaline which depletes our system resources, but also negatively impacts our mental health.
Giving our bodies time to shift from being in a stress response (activated by the Sympathetic Nervous System) to the relaxation and recovery response of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), has dramatic effects within the body.
Bringing the body back to a state of homeostasis can reduce muscle tension, kick-start our digestive systems and bring attention to discomforts, pain and tiredness that were being masked by our stress hormones.
You may also notice that your breathing slows down, saliva production increases, your eyes start watering and your stomach may even start gurgling or making noises.
These are common symptoms of relaxation.
3) Improve Self-Compassion and Awareness
When performing any meditation, you may notice something feeling bad or uncomfortable in your body. You may even get frustrated or impatient when your mind wanders or you don’t notice the pain subsiding.
But practicing body scan meditation can help you approach these situations with gentleness and acceptance.
As you practice this technique more and more over, this newly gained self-awareness and compassion can start to trickle its way into your everyday life as well.
4) Reduce Pain and Tension in the Body
As we have already mentioned, regularly checking in with our body can help us identify aches and pains early on – before they become too serious.
By letting your body show you where tension exists, you’re able to focus on it and let your body heal itself. Consciously breathing into these areas can create a sense of space and openness throughout the body.
This can stop your body from screaming at you multiple times during the day to get your attention. By scanning your body on a regular basis, you’re showing that you care and are very much aware of what is going on.
5) Body Scanning Helps You Feel Grounded
Throughout our day we often find our body doing one thing while our mind is doing another.
A body scan meditation can help to sync our mind and body, pulling us away from the noise in our mind and back to the present moment.
Body Scan Tips for Beginners
Because body scanning is often thought to be therapeutic, many try to force relaxation to happen. But doing this, often leads to frustration:
“OMG why can’t I get my shoulders to relax! No matter what I try it’s not working!”
Rather than taking this approach, try to treat body scanning with a tolerant and loving curiosity towards your body. Also called “non-judgemental acceptance”.
If the pain or discomfort coming up is really bad, do you best to focus your attention on it and breathe deeply into that space, then let it go.
This may sound weird for some people:
“Isn’t it impossible to breathe into other parts of the body, outside of your lungs?”
(Don’t worry – I used to think this too).
But with meditation, your key aim is to visualise the breath directing to that area. Use your imagination to picture the area opening up and releasing tension in a soothing way.
How to Do a Body Scan Meditation
If you’re interested in learning how to do a body scan meditation for the first time, you can check out our short video below.
In this video, I guide you through the basic steps of Body Scan Meditation, so you can digest the concepts simply and easily.
In Summary, here are the very basic steps:
- Close your eyes
- Breathe deeply & slowly
- Visually scan from the top of your head and down your body.
- Notice if you feel any feelings, sensations, or discomfort in your body.
- When you encounter areas of tension, focus your attention and continue to breathe deeply.
- Try to visualise your breath soothing that area and the tension leaving your body.
- If you get distracted by thoughts, return your attention to the area of the body where you last left off.
Keep in mind that at this stage of the meditation you’re not trying to change anything. You are simply building a picture of how the body feels right now, in the moment.
Your brain will make judgement calls such as “This feels bad”, “This feels good” and “If I do this, it feels better.” By staying focused and mindful of the sensations, we accelerate this process.
How to Release Built Up Tension in Your Body
After you’ve completed your body scan meditation, you can look to release the tension more directly through upper or lower body stretches.
You can also relieve tension by contracting and releasing certain muscles, as I show you in the video above.
Some yoga poses are also great for targeting certain areas of tension. Here are some examples you can try below:
- Standing forward bend
- Cat-Dog Pose
- Downward facing dog
- Triangle pose
- Childs pose
Start a Regular Meditation Routine & Experience The Benefits
If you’d love to learn more about meditation and how to create a meditation routine to experience the greatest benefits from your practice, ensure to check out our Journey to Calm Meditation Course.
In this course, you will learn how to meditate and tips for beginners when building a routine.
I will also teach you about other natural techniques you can do to relieve stress and anxiety symptoms and boost productivity during our day.
As another alternative, you can also start with our FREE/Lite Meditation e-Course for Beginners.
In this FREE email course, you will gain an insight into the basics of meditation and why it is a valuable exercise to add into your daily routine.
Start the mini course by entering your details below.