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Wednesday Meditation Tip: The Abbreviated Body Scan

The body scan is one of the fundamental practices of mindfulness  meditation.   If you decide to participate in a mindfulness meditation course, you will begin meditation practice with the body scan. Usually, you will engage in a 45-minute body scan under the direction of Jon Kabat-Zin, yes the creator and promoter of mindfulness. No, he doesn’t make a guest appearance, only his voice does (oh, the wonders of modern technology).

Briefly, the body scan is a guided meditation wherein you focus on specific regions of your body.You typically start at your toes and work your way up the body, finishing with the top of the head. The longer the meditation, the more specific the focus (i.e. focus on each toe versus the entire foot).

I must point out, that the body scan isn’t easy. Especially at the outset. Your mind will wander. You will have itches crop up continuously. Your legs will become restless. You will feel frustrated and unfocused. However, I encourage you to press on with the meditation. While difficult, the end result of full-body relaxation and mental calm is worth it.

So how does one go about the body scan? I am going to share a modified version with you. I would encourage you, however, to purchase a CD and/or one meditation off of iTunes as having a voice guide you through it is much easier than doing it yourself. Trust me on this.

1. Find a comfortable spot to lie down on the floor. Carpet is preferable. You could always use a yoga mat. Do not lie down on your bed (I think you know why).

2. Cover yourself with a blanket and place pillows wherever necessary to ensure comfort throughout the practice.

3. Bring your focus to the breath. Experience the inbreath and the outbreath. When your mind wanders, come back to the breath.

4. When you feel ready, shift your focus to the toes. Don’t wiggle them. Just mentally attend to them. If you feel nothing, experience the nothingness that you feel. And don’t worry, your toes are still there. The more you start to pay attention to your toes and other body parts, the more you will be able to feel them. Focus on the toes for 3-5 breaths.

5. Focus on your feet. Are they aching from a long day of work? Maintain your focus for 5-7 breaths.

6. Shift your focus to the ankles. Stay here for 5 breaths.

7. Now to your calf muscles. Take time to appreciate the strength and utility of your calf muscles. Stay here for 5-10 breaths.

8. Move to your knees. 5-7 breaths.

9. Now shift to your upper thighs. Are they tired, too? Or are they itching to move? Stay here for 10 breaths.

10. Shift your focus to the hips and pelvis. How does this area feel? 10 breaths.

11. To the stomach and lower back we go. Are you digesting dinner? Are you excited/angry/nervous? 10 breaths.

12. From here, shift your focus to the chest. 10-15 breaths.

13. Now to your shoulders. How are your shoulders? Fatigued? Itchy? 10-15 breaths.

14. From your shoulders move to your upper arms. 10 breaths.

15. Now to your elbows. They do such hard work throughout the day. Be sure to appreciate your elbows. 10 breaths.

16. To your forearms and wrists. 10-12 breaths.

17. Now to your hands. 10 breaths.

18. Let’s move upwards now, back up to your neck. The neck can be a carrier of tension. Stay here for a while. 10-15 breaths (if not longer).

19. Shift your focus to your facial muscles. Enjoy your time here. 10-15 breaths.

20. To the top of your head. Enjoy the final breaths of your body scan. 10-15 breaths.


If possible, I encourage you to stay longer at each body part. However, at the outset of your practice, maintaining extended focus will be difficult and thus, perhaps sticking with has been suggested is best.

Remember your mind will wander; you will forget what body part you just completed. Don’t worry, just start from the point at which you think you left off. This is not a test, nor a chore, but a practice to help you better manage stress and achieve some form of full body relaxation.

These two (my cat Fern, and my old dog Montana) definitely know/knew how to achieve full body relaxation!




Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Learning to say ‘no’ so our bodies don’t have to | live it active pingbacked on 4 years, 9 months ago


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