There are many styles and variations of meditation that all offer rich mind-body calming benefits. To name a few, there are breathwork meditations, visualization meditations, bilingual-guided meditations, musical walking meditations, and even Harry Styles-narrated meditations. But, when you're feeling especially tight and tense, one meditation is a definite go-to: a body scan meditation.
As its name suggests, it involves dropping into your body, activating your awareness, and mentally scanning your body from your feet to the crown of your head, releasing tension as you go. It's, in a word, relaxing.
Ready to give it a try? Keep reading to learn the step-by-step process for doing a body scan meditation, as well as some of the benefits it stands to offer.
How to do a body scan meditation in 6 steps
There are different body scan meditation variations, but the general premise is always the same: Scan the body and release tension, starting from the feet to the top of the head. Below, learn a step-by-step process for practicing it, recommended by Tracee Stanley, a yoga nidra teacher and author of the forthcoming book Radiant Rest: Yoga Nidra for Deep Relaxation & Awakened Clarity.
1. Find a comfortable position
Start by finding a comfortable position. You can do the body scan meditation lying down on your back or side, in a reclined position, or in another position that feels comfortable. The key, Stanley says, is that you feel fully supported and safe.
2. Observe your breath
Allow your body to be still for a moment. Release control of your breath and just observe it as it moves in and out, Stanley says. Do this for about two minutes.
3. Bring your awareness to your feet
To start the body scan, bring your awareness to your feet. "Notice where they may be feeling sore or constricted, and then consciously relax the feet," Stanley says. "You can mentally say to yourself: 'feet, relax.'"
4. Scan the front of your body
"Begin to let self-awareness travel up the front of the body, touching the ankles, shins, knees, thighs, groin, belly, chest, throat, shoulders, arms, hands, jaw, eyes, temples, and crown of the head," Stanley says. "Slowly relax each body part. Let go of judging the body or the experience. Feel a wave of relaxation bless each body part as your self-awareness travels and scans through the body." This process takes two to five minutes.
5. Scan the back of your body
Once you've scanned up to the crown of the head, Stanley instructs to repeat the process, slowly traveling down the back of the body, ending at the feet. This takes about two to five minutes.
6. Bring your attention back to your breath
Once you complete the body scan, let your body rest as you bring your attention back to your breath, feeling the navel rise and fall with each breath. "Feel the Earth, or whatever you are lying on, holding and supporting your entire body," Stanley says. "Feel the heaviness of the body sinking into the Earth. Take a moment to be grateful for your body and how it supports you." Spend about a minute here. Once you feel ready to end the practice, Stanley says this is a good time to journal or transition into another meditative practice.
4 benefits of doing a body scan meditation
1. Relaxes the mind and body
The most obvious benefit of a body scan meditation is that it relaxes the mind and the body, and in this global climate, we can use all the relaxation help we can get. In particular, Jenna Monaco, a certified meditation teacher and stress coach, says it helps us detach from the racing thoughts we all know too well. It's also a great practice to do in bed if you have trouble falling asleep, she says.
2. Connects you to your body
One of the most significant benefits of doing body scan meditations is that it helps you deeply connect to your body and understand what it needs to operate optimally. "Our bodies are talking to us all the time, but our awareness is typically elsewhere, and we haven't taken the time to learn our body's language," Monaco says. "You might find that one area of your body is really tight and needs stretching, or that you're holding tension in your belly, and you're more stressed than you realize."
3. Great for meditation newbies
If you struggle just to sit still and meditate, you'll likely find a body scan meditation much more doable. "For many, meditation seems daunting, but body scanning is a manageable first step," Monaco says. "We are still practicing single-pointed awareness as we do in sitting meditation, but body scanning gives us something tangible to focus our attention on."
4. Decreases stress
The fight-or-flight stress response is intended to help humans escape danger. But for many, that stress response gets triggered by not-so dangerous things, like an overflowing inbox. Regular meditation, in general, Monaco says, moves our bodies from a chronic stress state (sympathetic nervous system) into a resting and digesting state (parasympathetic nervous system).
"When we begin any single-pointed awareness practice, we become responsive rather than reactive," Monaco says. "Meaning, we reduce the number of times we go into fight or flight per day. The result of this is that our bodies have the chance to get back into its parasympathetic state. You might notice your digestion gets better, your resting heart rate gets lower, you sleep better, you're more energetic, inflammation goes down, you think more clearly, your memory gets better, your emotions are more stable. The list goes on."
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