Reconnecting with the body
Mindfulness has two key elements to it: awareness and loving-kindness. Each element is wonderful in of itself, but combined is where the magic happens. A way to kick-start or deepen any mindfulness practice is to reconnect with the body by bringing back an awareness to our bodies with loving-kindness.
The average person today experiences the world disembodied. We are not fully utilizing our five physical senses. There’s little awareness of how one’s body moves, interacts with the world and others, or even an awareness of what we put in and on our bodies. To make matters worse, we’ve come to rely on over the counter and subscription medications for pain relief, insomnia, relaxation, etc. We automatically reach out for a bottle of pills rather than sometimes sitting with the pain, discomfort or unrest with curiosity and compassion. (Please note that I’m not suggesting that medication are not helpful or that people should stop taking medications to relieve debilitating pain.) It is the automatic response that is the concern, not the medications. Becoming aware of our bodies is essential in mindfulness because no matter where you go your body goes with, including every pain, discomfort, insecurity, and beauty mark. Everything walks with you in this world.
The human body is incredible. Think about all the actions you can do? And all the sensations you can feel? We take for granted the small muscle movements in our face that allow us to smile or for many of use the ability to walk. One way to reconnect with the body is to practice the body scan. This practice can help bring awareness to what you never noticed before in your body. By reconnecting with your body you are reclaiming it and experiencing life fully.
How to Practice the Body Scan Meditation
In this practice you will be systematically checking in with each part of your body starting from the soles of your feet all the way to the top of your head. This meditation can be longer than what most people are accustomed to, but it is a great exercise of attention and focus. I will admit that when I started practicing the body scan I would rarely make it past my legs before I either fell asleep or my mind simply wandered to only return after the guided meditation. So, don’t get frustrated with yourself or feel like you failed the body scan meditation (you can’t fail meditation). It does take practice and time to fully understand and experience the practice.
Typically the body scan meditation is done lying down, but you can do this practice, standing, or sitting. You can close your eyes if it’s in your practice and just start by checking in with your breath. Notice how your breath is today. Is it shallow, fast, slow, etc. Once you’ve settled you will be focusing a region of your body for an extended period of time. Sit still with every sensation you feel in the region of your body you are focusing on. The practice is done with curiosity, an open-mind and an open-heart. There is not judgement during this practice.
You’ll start with focusing your attention on your left foot. Tap into what the sole of the foot feels like today. Is there numbness, tingling, pain, itchiness, or do you feel nothing? Then you’ll move onto the toes. Then moving up the left foot into the ankle, calf, knee, thigh, left hip, and across the pelvis. At each point focusing on what you feel in that part of the body. Do this slowly and methodically. Taking your time to just notice. As you focus your attention you can also use the breath to guide you through this practice. Breathing in and out of the region you’re focusing on. Then you’ll move your attention to the right foot and repeat what you did with your left foot and leg. Notice if you feel the same sensations on the right side? Does the right side feel different than the left? Remember you’re just bringing awareness not analyzing what you notice.
Once you move up the right leg and across the pelvis you’ll focus your attention on the torso. Again, systematically focusing on each part of this region of the body: the lower and upper abdomen, the lower back, the chest, upper back, the shoulder blades, shoulders, and even armpits [yes, we always forget about the armpits until the stink ;)]. Then you’ll focus on the fingers on both hands (don’t forget the thumb). You’ll continue on to the palms and the back of your hands, the wrist, forearms, biceps, triceps, and back to the shoulders. Then, gently move your attention to your neck, throat, face, back of your head, and finally the top of your head.
If you’ve been using your breath during the body scan you can close the meditation by imagining the breath freely circulating through your body starting from the soles of your feet and moving through the body and out of the top of your head. You can do that as many times as you’d like. Gently flutter your eyes open, making small gestures, stretching slowly and sit back up. You may notice a lightness in your body (like a weight has been lifted, especially in areas that you tend to hold tension), you may feel like your breath moves with ease, you may feel something else, or nothing at all. The body scan meditation is not about achieving an end result. It’s just a practice of awareness and reconnection with the body.
You can do the body scan meditation practice at the pace you feel comfortable with. The body scan meditation typically takes 30-45 minutes. I would suggest that if this practice is new to you or you haven’t done it in a while you may want to block out 45 minutes to an hour in your schedule. If you can’t spend that much time then 30 minutes will work just as well. Once you have a sense of you body and its physical sensation you will be able to do this practice with ease. Additionally, you’ll be able to notice quickly when your body’s physical sensations shift or change due to something in your environment or internally that caused a change in your body.
There are guided body scan meditation out there. I highly recommend suggest using guided body scan meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, or Tara Brach.