Heard of body scan meditation but don’t know what it is? We discuss how mindful body scans can help with stress and anxiety. Plus, 5 tips to get you started.
Pause. Take a deep breath. Now, imagine the pace of your life slowed down. Way down. See yourself moving through your days with less stress and anxiety and stopping to enjoy the small, beautiful moments happening around you. This reality is closer than you think. And you don’t need a Zen garden in your backyard or to be a monk atop a Himalayan peak to achieve it. You just need a few minutes of stillness.
Sounds pretty nice, right? These are the gifts of mindfulness — a simple yet transformative practice that has calmed minds across the globe. Mindfulness meditation isn’t a new-age fad. It’s an ancient practice backed by modern science for its health benefits, which range from stress reduction to improved concentration and mental clarity.
Yet, mindfulness can often feel intimidating for newcomers. That’s where the body scan meditation comes into play.
Whether you’ve dabbled in meditation before or are an absolute beginner, body scan meditations are a great introduction. And the best part? You don’t need any fancy equipment or extensive training: just a quiet space and an open mind.
What is Body Scan Meditation?
Body scan meditation is a mindfulness practice that invites you to mentally scan your body from head to toe (or toe to head, if you fancy), observing each sensation, ache, or tension point without judgment. We often gloss over the physical feelings in our bodies, so this is a chance to observe them. It isn’t about problem-solving or identifying what’s ‘wrong’; it’s about awareness and acceptance. Think of it as a status check.
If you’re ready to try it for yourself, check out Calm’s Body Scan Meditation.
The Benefits of Body Scan Meditation
Not to oversell, but the benefits of body scan meditation are kind of like your favourite streaming service: there’s something for everyone. But we’re focusing on stress and anxiety here, so here’s a closer look at how meditation can reduce stress and anxiety symptoms.
1. Body scan meditation fosters mindfulness
In a world overflowing with distractions, body scan mindfulness is like your personal focus lens. It’s not just about understanding the sensations in your legs or the tightness in your neck. It’s about cultivating a heightened sense of awareness that can ripple out into your life more generally.
2. Body scan meditation can help you identify stressors
Stress is a sneaky thing. It creeps up slowly, often disguising itself as ‘just another bad day.’ However, this type of meditation is your built-in stress radar. It equips you to recognize stressors early on so they don’t evolve into a full-blown mental storm. How? Allowing you the space to simply ‘be’ creates a buffer between you and the emotional rollercoasters life can put you on.
3. Body scan meditation can improve sleep quality
Regular practice of mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve sleep quality. Deep, restorative sleep is important for stress and anxiety reduction.
4. Body scan meditation is like a health check
The body is constantly communicating with us, but most of the time, life is so hectic that we don’t listen. This meditation is like opening a two-way communication channel between you and your body. It helps you catch little whispers—slight discomforts, fleeting pains, etc.—before they become loud shouts that are harder to ignore. Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to help relieve the symptoms of chronic pain and associated depression.
5. Body scan meditation can help you with emotional balance
Practising body scan meditation can help you navigate the ups and downs of life by encouraging you to be present and more aware of your feelings. When we see that our emotions are temporary, we don’t identify with them as much and they don’t feel so overwhelming. There’s a world of difference between “I am angry” and “I feel angry right now”.
Tips for Body Scan Meditation Beginners
Here are some essential tips to get you started with body scan meditation.
1. Find a quiet space
First thing’s first—location, location, location! Your environment plays a huge role in setting the tone for your practice. Find a quiet spot that’s as free from distractions as possible.
2. Start with short sessions
Overwhelmed by the idea of sitting still for an eternity? Don’t stress! Just like you wouldn’t sprint a marathon without prior training, you don’t need to meditate for an hour right out the gate. Start with just a minute, every day. As you get more comfortable, you can gradually extend the time to five minutes. Before you know it, those five minutes will stretch into a full-blown half-hour of inner calm.
Calm’s Body Scan series has sessions ranging from 3 to 30 minutes, so start small and work your way up as you get more comfortable.
3. Stay non-judgmental
Spoiler alert: your mind will wander. You’re human. You’ll think about groceries, unanswered emails, and why your favourite streaming platform cancelled that awesome show back in 2019. That’s okay. The goal isn’t to eliminate thoughts but to notice them without judgment. When you catch your mind wandering, gently guide it back without scolding yourself.
Recognizing our judgmental tendencies is the first step towards softening them. Try a 5, 10, or even 30-minute session on Non-Judgement to become aware of, and start to quiet your inner critic.
4. Focus on the breath
If you find your mind doing the jitterbug while you’re trying to concentrate, use your breath as an anchor. Whenever you notice you’re drifting, bring your attention back to the rhythm of your breath. Think of it as your inbuilt ‘reset button,’ bringing you back to the present moment every single time.
5. Make it a habit
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a meditation practice. The benefits accrue over time, so consistency is key. Even if you’re not feeling it some days, sticking to your routine can make a world of difference. Think of it like brushing your teeth.
Learn a simple method to help you build the habits you want in the Turn Choice into Routine episode of the Daily Jay.
Example Body Scan Script:
Set the scene: Find a quiet, comfortable space. Sit or lie down.
Unplug: Close your eyes or focus on a point in front of you.
Breathe easy: Take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Toe talk: Focus on your toes and observe any sensations. Imagine a wave of relaxation starting from your toes.
Legs and lower body: Move your attention upwards—ankles, calves, knees, and thighs. Pause at each spot to notice sensations and release tension.
Arms and hands: Start at your fingers and move towards your shoulders. Observe and breathe into any tense areas.
Core values: Focus on your torso, particularly the rise and fall of your chest and belly. Imagine filling this area with calmness as you breathe.
Headroom: Move focus to your head. Notice sensations in the face, jaw, and scalp.
Wrap-up: Bring attention back to your breath. Slowly open your eyes when you’re ready.
Body Scan Meditation FAQs
Q: What is the body scan for?
A body scan is a mindfulness practice that helps you become aware of different areas in your body where you might be holding tension or stress. By mentally “scanning” from head to toe, you can recognize and then release these sensations. This practice is a way to connect with yourself, ease anxiety, and engage in focused self-care.
Q: What is an example of a body scan?
Imagine you’re in a relaxed position, either sitting or lying down. You begin at your toes and mentally work your way up through your body, concentrating on how each area feels. Whether you notice tingling sensations or areas of tension, the aim is to observe them without judgment. You then breathe into these sensations before moving on to the next area, cultivating a sense of awareness throughout the process.
Q: What are the questions for body scan meditation?
If you’re expecting a questionnaire like, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how tense is your left little toe?”—you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The questions are more about internal inquiries than ticking boxes. As you scan each body part, you might ask yourself:
- What sensations am I feeling here?
- Is there tension or ease?
- Can I breathe to release tension in this area?
These questions act like tour guides, leading you to a deep exploration of your own body.