Body Scan Meditation

Last Updated: January 13, 2022

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Body scan meditation is a simple way to start practicing mindfulness. Mentally scanning the entire body like an x-ray can improve one's emotional state and the ability to be in the present moment. This Wiki will not diagnose a disease or provide medical advice.


What Is Body Scan Meditation?

woman doing body scan meditation on the beachBody scan meditation is one of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness. The purpose of the practice is to connect the mind to the physical body.  Although relaxation is not the primary goal, most practitioners feel calmer during and after meditation.

Different variations of body scan meditations have been around for centuries. It is a style of mindfulness meditation that has you focus on the sensations of your body rather than your breath. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program uses the practice to treat long-term illnesses and chronic pain. According to Kabat-Zinn, practicing 20 to 45 minutes of this meditation three to six days per week for four weeks will allow you to reap many benefits.


Why Do Body Scan Meditation?

Shifting your attention to your body and analyzing it from head to toe can improve your physical and mental state. In addition, it can help you manage stress, pain, and anxiety. Stress reduction expert Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends the body scan mindfulness exercise as the most effective meditation for pain conditions.

Research suggests that meditation has profound effects on pain management. One randomized study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that adults with chronic pain can use body scan meditation as a practical and accessible treatment. After just one session, the 55 participants experienced reduced physical discomfort.


The Health Benefits Of Body Scanning

Body scanning has extensive mental and physical benefits. Here are some of the primary benefits you can expect through regular practice:

Pain management: According to Harvard Health, practicing a body scan exercise every day for 45 minutes has extensive benefits on living with chronic pain. Even if you feel it is boring or does not seem to be helping, it will serve you well. Rather than relieving discomfort completely, the practice aims to make you familiar with your pain so that you can learn to manage it.

Improved sleep: Body scan practice helps improve sleep quality. Several peer-reviewed studies reveal how this meditation technique is an effective tool in enabling individuals' abilities to fall asleep faster, including patients with chronic insomnia. Adequate rest is crucial to people's health and well-being.

Stress relief: Body scan techniques allow you to release physical tension in the body. Furthermore, it can improve your awareness of mind-body connections. According to Harvard Health, by noticing and analyzing build-ups of stress in the body and enhancing bodily awareness, you can successfully reduce stress and tension.

Improves overall well-being: Practicing body scan meditation can help people achieve increased psychological well-being. In addition, it can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. One study analyzed the effectiveness of body scans on healthcare providers who often experience burnout. The results found that mindfulness-based stress reduction significantly improves burnout scores and mental states in a range of healthcare providers.

Other helpful benefits you may experience include, but are not limited to:

  • Reduced general discomfort

  • Increased body awareness

  • Improved cardiovascular health

  • Reduced inflammation

  • More regulated emotions

Practicing Body Scan Meditation

man practicing body scan meditation indoors

Here are the instructions for a helpful and straightforward meditation:

Step 1: Get comfortable.

Begin by lying down in a comfortable position. Sitting is also an alternative if you are not in a setting where lying down is an option. Relax your limbs and prepare for the exercise.

Step 2: Take several deep breaths.

Allow your breathing to slow down. Focus on filling your belly with air rather than your chest. Notice as your abdomen expands and contracts with each breath, like a balloon inflating and deflating. Ensure that your shoulders are relaxed and do not rise and fall as you breathe. Once you feel ready, take one final deep breath, and prepare to begin the body scan.

Step 3: Bring awareness to your feet

Once you are comfortable and relaxed, bring your attention to your feet. Observe any bodily sensations that arise. If you notice any pain or tension, acknowledge this and any thoughts or feelings that accompany it. Gently breathe through it without judgment.

Step 4: Breathe into any noticeable tension.

If you observe any uncomfortable sensations, focus your attention on them. Breathe into the feelings and notice what happens. Visualize the sense of aches, pains, pressure, or tension leaving your body. Picture the discomfort exiting your physical self through your breath and evaporating in the air. Move on to the next body part when you feel satisfied and ready.

Step 5: Scan the whole body.

Continue the body scan meditation in each area of your entire body. Gradually move up from the feet through your legs and torso until you reach the crown of your head. Take notice of where in your body you are holding tension. If you notice pain, pressure, aches, or tightness, continue to breathe into it.


Loving Kindness Meditation

The loving-kindness meditation fosters a state of love, kindness, and compassion for yourself and those around you. It is a type of metta meditation that manifests positive emotions. Like body scans, it also contributes to a reduction in stress and physical pain so you can reach a better state of well-being. The exercise consists of imagining yourself in a state of wellness and inner peace as you repeat three reassuring phrases, or mantras, to yourself.

Optionally, you can pair this meditation with a body scan. As you direct your attention through your body from your toes to the top of your head, use traditional loving-kindness phrases during periods of silence while connecting to yourself.


Risks And Contraindications

Although there are no real risks and contraindications to body scan meditation, there are some rare side effects that specific individuals experience. Some of these include an increase in depression, anxiety, and in rare cases, mania. However, most individuals that practice body scan meditation experience an improvement in their mental health. If you feel a decline in mental health following body scan practice, it may not be the best mindfulness exercise for you.

two women providing moral support for emotional health

Frequently Asked Questions

Is body scan mindfulness?

Yes, body scan techniques are a form of meditation practice. Rather than focusing on the breath, as done in most mindfulness exercises, you will focus on sensations in the body. Tuning into the body and connecting with the physical self will improve your mindfulness, concentration, and awareness. If you incorporate body scans into your daily life and commit yourself to the practice, you will reap many benefits.


What is body scan and visualization?

During body scan meditation, you may notice sensations of tension and discomfort arise in your body. You can use visualization to relieve this pain by letting go of the pressure when this happens. Visualize the stress and discomfort leaving your body through your breath as you exhale. Imagine it exits your physical self through your breath and evaporates into the air. You may need to repeat the visualization several times, and once you are satisfied with how the body part feels, you can move on to the next part of your body. Repeat this process each time you notice a new feeling of discomfort.


What is a body scan in therapy?

A body scan is an example of mindfulness that will support awareness in the present moment. Focusing on different sensations in the body is the anchor for mindful attention. It is used in therapy for several reasons, including stress and pain reduction.


Is Yoga Nidra a body scan meditation?

Yes, Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation that has you scan your body. It brings mindful awareness to different body parts to help you achieve deep relaxation. The guided meditation brings practitioners into a state where bodies can rest while the mind remains conscious. The body scan process resets the nervous system and energizes the mind and body.


Are body scan meditations good for sleep?

Yes, body scan meditations are great for helping you fall asleep at night. As you take notice of your body, you can notice where you are tense and begin to let go of your stress which will prepare you for rest and help you sleep soundly and with it, reduce sleep deprivation





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Meditation Techniques

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A Mindfulness Course Decreases Burnout

7 Benefits of Meditation, and How It Can Affect Your Brain.

How mindfulness changed my sleep

Mindfulness meditation to control pain - Harvard Health.

How to Practice Loving Kindness Meditation.

Why and How to Do a Mental Body Scan for Stress Relief.

Six relaxation techniques to reduce stress - Harvard Health.

Body Scan Meditation - HelpGuide.org.


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