How To Release Stress & Tension With A Simple Body Scan Meditation
From guided journeys to mantra work, there are so many different meditation methods worth trying to figure out which is best for you. Body scan meditation is a wonderful option for those looking to direct their focus, connect with their body, and release tension. Here's how to do it.
What is a body scan meditation?
Doing a body scan meditation requires bringing awareness to different parts of the body, aka "scanning," through focus and concentration. "You begin by noticing that body part and then consciously relaxing it," explains yoga teacher, Reiki master, and meditation expert Susy Markoe Schieffelin.
Body scans arose from Vipassana meditation and take inspiration from the practice of "sweeping" in the Burmese U Ba Khin tradition. Body scanning gained global popularity in 1976, when meditation instructor Satya Narayan Goenka taught it at his Vipassana retreats.
Benefits of the practice:
One primary benefit of body scan meditations is bringing relaxation to the body and mind. While it may be a little uncomfortable at first, as different sensations arise, deep states of relaxation can be achieved with practice.
And as Schieffelin tells mbg, "By bringing loving awareness and relaxation to each body part and allowing that energy to be released, we can experience deep and lasting physical and emotional healing."
Deep states of meditation
Along with feeling more relaxed in your body, Schieffelin notes body scans can help you drop into a deep state of meditation. If you've struggled with other meditations, body scans give you something to direct your attention toward so you can avoid mind wandering.
We hold a lot of tension in the body, often without even realizing it, which can manifest into physical pain or other conditions, according to Schieffelin. Lucky for us, body scans can help to release that tension (both physical and energetic).
Connecting to your body
The excess tension we hold on to can often lead to a disconnection from the body, but body scans return us to our bodies and help us feel at home in them. In fact, research shows that those who practice body scans not only learn how to redirect their attention1 to their own bodies but in turn are better able to manage stress, regulate emotion, and become more in tune with their physical and emotional states.
Schieffelin also adds that body scans can help with things like negative body image, by helping you bring loving awareness and healing to those areas. "Regularly practicing body scan meditation can help you to heal your relationship with yourself and feel a deeper sense of self-love for yourself—both inside and out," she says.
And last but not least, the same aforementioned research also suggests the benefits of body scan meditations are likely a result of neuroplasticity changes in the interoceptive system—which, in more plain terms, just means the body and mind are becoming increasingly more in sync.
How to get started.
Body scan meditations are quite simple, though you can add your own personal touches to make them your own. Here's how to get started, according to Schieffelin:
- Body scan meditations can be done seated or lying down, so get comfortable in a position that works for you, in a setting where you'll be undisturbed for at least five to 10 minutes.
- Begin by bringing attention to the top (or crown) of your head, and scanning downward.
- From your head, bring awareness to individual body parts—the more specific the better. Forehead, brows, cheeks, jaw, tongue, ears, neck, shoulders, and so on.
- Let your awareness travel down the body, through the arms, hands, torso, and eventually all the way down into your legs, feet, and 10 toes.
- As you notice each body part, become aware of how it feels at first. Imagine you're letting go or dissolving any pain or tension that may arise. You can otherwise just set an intention to relax that body part as you notice it and imagine sending your breath to it.
Tips to keep in mind:
Pair your meditation with a sound bath.
Try a guided body scan to start.
If you're just getting started with this type of meditation, it can be a good idea to try a guided option at first. As Schieffelin explains, "It can be helpful to have someone else lead you through the experience when you are getting started so that your attention does not drift away," adding that over time, you'll be able to do it on your own whenever you need throughout the day.
And lastly, like any meditation, body scanning is not always easy. It's normal for the mind to wander during this practice, or for different sensations to arise. Remain nonjudgmental through it all, Schieffelin says. "Do not judge any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that arise during a body scan. Allow yourself to be open and sit in perfect awareness of anything that you notice," she adds.
In the case of any pain, stress, or tension, she says you can simply acknowledge it and allow it to pass before you move on to the next body part. "If there is a part of your body that you feel a block around, have trouble connecting with, or feel self-conscious of, imagine bringing love and healing light to that body part," she recommends.
The bottom line.
Keeping up with a regular meditation practice is one of the most tried-and-true ways to bring the body and mind into a state of equilibrium, with the benefits branching out into virtually all areas of your life. Whether you want to release any tension, relax your mind, or get more in touch with your own body, body scan meditations are a great place to start.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.