(see the Stress Management Exercises page for an introduction)
Below are instructions to practice a simple body scan. Read the instructions alone and practice doing the exercise on your own, or ask a friend to lead you through the exercise by reading the instructions aloud, slowly, and with a relaxed voice.
If you get distracted or your mind wanders away from the exercise, that is okay and very normal. Be patient with yourself and simply bring your attention back to the exercise without judging yourself.
Like anything you can practice, you may notice greater ease in bringing your attention to the various regions of your body as you practice this exercise.
- Sit in a comfortable position, either in a chair with your feet flat on the floor or seated on a pillow or cushion with your legs crossed. You can also do this exercise lying down in a comfortable position on your back with your legs and arms outstretched.
- Close your eyes if it feels comfortable, or cast your gaze low. If you are lying down for this exercise, you can close your eyes; however, if you notice you start to drift off or fall asleep, open your eyes into a relaxed gaze to remain awake.
- Rest your hands comfortably on your lap or by your side if you are lying down.
- Now let’s start by taking a few deep breaths. As you exhale, notice your body relaxing and being present. Simply observe your natural breath for a few moments. Inhaling and exhaling in your own time.
- Let’s move now to focus on your feet. Simply bring your attention to your feet. You may notice some tingling or the ground under your feet; your shoes or your clothing touching your feet. Pressure, tightness, looseness. Simply notice the sensations. Notice your toes, the arch of your feet, the tops and sides of your feet. Scan and observe them, noticing any sensations that are present. Avoid labeling, judging, liking or disking the things you notice. Just allow yourself to observe the sensations present around your feet.
- If at any time during this Body Scan your mind wanders, just notice what it’s doing. Perhaps you notice it “thinking, thinking”, “remembering, remembering”, or “planning, planning”… just notice what it’s doing silently. And bring your attention back to your breath and the part of the body you are paying attention to.
- Now move your attention to your ankles, shins and your calves. Notice any sensations that might be present there. If you notice any tightness in your muscles here, let go of that resistance and tightness and simply notice the sensations present in that area. You may notice your clothing, or the air, or even pain. Notice anything you find as a sensation. Even with pain, avoid liking, disliking or rejecting it – just allow yourself to notice it as a sensation in your body.
- Now move your attention to your knees and the backs of your knees. Pay attention to any sensations around there. What do you notice? Again, avoid judging what you notice, and just kindly observe your knees and the sensations in that area.
- Gently shift your attention now to your thighs. The back and front of your thighs. What do you notice there? Maybe your clothing or tingling? The temperature in your skin? You might notice the sensation of your thigh muscles, or the areas where they touch your chair, and where they don’t touch your chair. Simply notice your thighs. If you notice tension in this area or in any area as we move through this Body Scan, play with letting it go as you observe.
- Remember if your mind wanders, just notice what it’s doing. Then come back to focusing on your breath and the part of the body you are looking at.
- Let’s move to your sit-bones, your bum, and your pelvic area. Once again you may notice sensations like tension, temperature, or clothing as you observe this area. Remember, as you notice sensations, avoid labeling, judging, liking or disliking them. If your mind is judging, thinking, or wandering, simply bring your attention back to your breath and continue to observe this area of your body.
- Now move your attention to your lower abdomen and lower back. Scanning these areas for sensations. Make sure your abdominal muscles are relaxed and soft, as it allows you to breathe more deeply and easily. Notice any sensations present here, breathing naturally.
- Expand your awareness to include your upper abdomen and middle back. What do you notice here? Some people hold stress or anxiety in their abdomen. Don’t resist any sensations, just notice them. Notice the life in your body, as it communicates to you what’s going on, through these sensations. Allow yourself to be with the sensations, making sure your breath is flowing, naturally and comfortably.
- Let’s focus next on your chest and upper back. Notice whatever sensations are there. Allow them just to be present. Making sure you do not judge, like, dislike, or reject. Simply notice. Many people hold tension in the chest, upper back and shoulders. If that’s the case for you, just notice the tension as a sensation, and play with letting it go.
- Again, if your mind wanders, notice what it’s doing. Notice the thoughts passing by, and gently bring your attention back to your breath and the part of your body you are focusing on.
- Now, shifting your attention to your shoulders. Notice the sensations there, whatever they might be. You might notice temperature, your clothing, the air, any tension present there. Allow yourself to notice these as sensations. Are you tightening your shoulders? If so, allow them to relax, and continue to scan your shoulders, noticing anything that comes up.
- Now move your attention to your arms. Begin scanning from your shoulders down to your elbows and then down to your wrists, hands and fingers. Notice any sensations present for you. You may notice your arms touching the rest of your body, your temperature, or your clothing, or the air around them. You may notice your muscles. If you notice tension in your muscles, simply let go of the tension and continue to observe these areas of your body.
- Now move your attention to your neck. Scan the front and back of your neck. Observe the sides of your neck, noticing whatever is there. Is there tightness, tingling, hair touching your skin? Whatever is there, just notice it. Notice the inside of your neck. Remember, avoid judging, liking or disliking what you notice. Simply observe this part of your body, and play with letting go of any tension you might notice. Breathing and relaxing as you notice this part of your body.
- Shift your attention next to your head – the back of your head, sides of your head, and top of your head. Simply notice whatever sensations you notice there. Notice your forehead, your temples, your jaw. If you notice any tension or tightness, simply let it go. If there is any pain or discomfort, notice it as a sensation.
- Some of these sensations are very subtle, so you really need to focus your attention on them. Continue to scan down your face, your eyes, cheek bones, your ears, your hair, chin. Pay attention to the sensations you notice. Whatever is there, just notice it, kindly observing without judgment, breathing naturally.
- And finally notice the sensations in your whole body, at once. Allow yourself to feel your whole body, and the sensations in it, all at the same time.
- When you are ready, you can bring that to a close. Gently open your eyes to complete the Body Scan.