Introduction to Various Meditations #2: Body Scan Meditation
The first step towards reaching a meditative state is to release mental tension and re-direct that attention towards the body. The body scan meditation is the simplest, most intentional way to reach this state. It involves moving undivided attention across each part of the body and acknowledging the sensations found along the way.
The purpose of this meditation is to become more present within your body. Rather than devoting too much attention to thoughts, this exercise re-routes any mental excess towards becoming more attentive to how your body feels. After a few sessions, you may notice that your shoulders tend to hunch or your jaw clenches when faced with particular challenges, and by noticing them steps can be made to improve those reactions. Your posture may improve simply by benefit of increased awareness of your back. Most importantly, the excess mental efforts that daily life demands will have a space to replenish themselves.
To start, remove any distractions and extra-stimulation from your environment, such as bright lights or noise. Give yourself twenty minutes to complete this meditation, if possible. The posture for the body scan meditation is to lay flat on your back, head supported, arms and legs shoulder-width apart, and palms facing upward.
To begin, focus on deliberately inhaling and exhaling your breath. Inhale deeply to a count of seven, hold for a pause, and then exhale to a count of seven. Try to expand your diaphragm as much as possible, so that your belly swells along with your chest as your breath fills your torso. It may help to imagine your breath moving all the way through you, down to your heels, and then emptying again after traveling all the way through your body. Take three long, intentional breaths, counting to seven for each inhale and exhale.
Next, shift your focus from your breath to the weight of your limbs. Inhale for a count of seven again, and slowly lift your legs and arms an inch off the ground, allowing your neck and torso to tense up as well. Hold for a pause, and then exhale for a count of seven, letting your limbs settle on the ground again. Do this three times.
With your attention more acclimated to your breathing and body, you will be ready to begin the body scan. During this, your attention will follow a slow route across every inch of your body, while attempting to maintain focus on your breathing and sensations. Note any feelings of heat, cold, air moving over your body, tension in your muscles, and the weight of your body against the ground.
First, put your focus on the tip of your left pointer-finger. Gradually move your attention down and around this finger over enough time for a few deep breaths, then move to your index-finger. Feel each pad and joint without moving your hand at the pace as if someone were tracing an outline of each line in your hand. Follow your attention around your fingers, along your palm, on the back of your hand, and upwards towards your wrist. Follow your attention along your arm, making sure to devote some attention to both the front and back of your forearm and upper arm, up to your shoulder. At the top of your shoulder, switch to your right hand and execute the same process. Try to make each side last for over two-minutes.
With both arms finished, begin again with your toes and feet. Guide your attention around and between your toes, around the sole of your foot, around the ball of your heel, and upwards along your calf, knee, and upper-leg, and up into your groin. Repeat this again for your other leg.
The head, torso, and waist remain. Bring your attention to the top of your head, and work your attention around it. Pay particular attention to any tension in your neck and shoulders, as this is a common area for holding tension, and feel yourself releasing it into whatever your head is resting on.
Focus on the feeling of your face, and let any stiff muscles relax. If there is too much to focus on at once, try scrunching up your eyes, mouth, and forehead towards the center of your face, and then let your features fall slack. Pay special attention to the muscles around your eyes, as they are easy to strain and can be difficult to get used to relaxing.
Follow your attention down your neck and chest, and feel the sensation of your lungs and belly expanding and falling with your breath. Let any tension in your lower back free. Follow your attention to your buttocks, and again let go of any tension.
With your whole body given a long, slow once-over with your mind’s eye, relax and let yourself breath in an easy rhythm for another minute or two. Release yourself from devoting attention to anything but slow breathing.
A body scan meditation as described so far will enhance perception in relation to each part of your body. When you are ready, and if you have time, the second half of the body-scan will help to build an integrated sense of your body. It can be an amazing experience to feel your body as one moving whole, rather than a series of vaguely connected sensations.
To do this simply continue with a second round of the body scan, however this time around focus on each limb as a whole. For instance, feel your left arm as a whole arm, not as separated fingers, a palm, wrist, arm, elbow, and shoulder. Feel the weight and sensation of your arm as a whole, and then do the same with your other arm. Repeat this for each leg, and then again for your head, and again for your torso.
After each major section of your body has been given a few minutes of attention, group them into bodily halves: your upper body and lower body. Hold the sensation of what you feel like from the waist up in your attention for several minutes, breathing deeply, and then do the same with your lower half. Finally, try and feel your body as a whole. Over several practices, it will become easier to integrate your body under your awareness, and you will notice more sensation and feel a degree of completeness in relation to your physical self.
After using the body scan to become more aware of each inch of your body, and then integrating your awareness into whole limbs, and then whole sections, and then a whole body, the meditation is finished! Take a few moments to enjoy the sense of calm this meditation brings with a few more deep and rhythmic breaths.
This is a highly replenishing meditation. If you find a spot to do this during your lunch break, you will approach the second half of your day as if it were the first. It is also important to note that if you need sleep, you will fall asleep during this meditation. If you’re caught-up on sleep, you will be able to reach a very pleasant meditative state of breathing and awareness of your body.
The body scan is a type of Vipassana meditation, which describes practices meant to connect with the true nature of the subject. In this case, the body scan explores the true nature of your body. This meditation provides more awareness of the true feelings of the body as it changes and adapts to stress and relaxation.
Thank you for your time spent becoming more familiar with the body-scan meditation. Namaste!