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How (And Why) To Do A Guided Body Scan

Lindsay Kellner
December 28, 2016
Lindsay Kellner
Contributing Wellness & Beauty Editor
By Lindsay Kellner
Contributing Wellness & Beauty Editor
Lindsay is a freelance writer and certified yoga instructor based in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a journalism and psychology degree from New York University. Kellner is the co-author of “The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide to Ancient Self Care,” with mbg Sustainability Editor Emma Loewe.
Photo by Stocksy / mbg creative
December 28, 2016

Manifest the year of your dreams by going inward. Renew You 2017 is a month of mindfulness during which we’ll share content that guides you to create a deeply-rooted intention for the new year. We’ll help you navigate inevitable obstacles with the latest science on habits, motivation, ritual, and more, and equip you with tried-and-true techniques to outsmart even the toughest inner critic.

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Let’s just get it out there: if you’re new to body scans, they can feel silly, dumb, or just absolutely unnecessary. Whatever you’re thinking right now: that you don’t have time, that this isn’t really going to help, that you’ll feel silly doing it—just brush them aside for a moment here today. It won’t take more than ten minutes, and everyone can make room for ten minutes.

Body scans are effective, according to science

You know how the saying goes: mind over matter? Now there’s research to prove that the mindfulness body scan technique has tangible benefits. If you’re feeling something physically and are unsure about why, research suggests1 that a body scan meditation could alleviate it, whether it’s anxiety, anger, frustration, etc. It’s also been shown to have immediate benefits2 for people with chronic pain in a clinical setting, which to us seriously demonstrates the power of the mind over the body. It’s even helpful when attempting to break deeply ingrained habits, like smoking. Body scan meditations are shown to help cigarette cravings and withdrawal symptoms subside3, which is so powerful. The body and the mind together are limitless. Even meditations like “white light” meditation that expand and/or dissolve the body’s actual boundaries, can increase relative happiness4.

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What to expect in this body scan

Body scans are popular for relaxation, but they are effective in other ways too. In the context of Renew You, you’ll do a body scan as an exploration. Because how often do we stop to actually feel our bodies? You’ll come away with a better understanding of where you hold tension—which isn’t diagnostic by any means. It’s merely information and awareness.

So what should you expect? It takes a little discipline and attention. You might feel some seemingly random body sensations, but try not to label them. Just take note and then let them go. Some have trouble quieting the mind, some feel deeply relaxed, while others fall asleep completely. The important thing to remember is that there is no wrong outcome! (Here's a good video example.)

Your body scan

Starting in a comfortable seated position, either in “virasana” with the legs tucked underneath you and a block or blanket under your sits bones, crossed legged with a prop, or you can sit comfortably anywhere really, as long as you can stay there for five to ten minutes.

Bring your awareness to the the crown of your head.

Release the inner and outer corners of your eyes.

Release the jaw, and the inner cheek.

Moving down the throat, swallow, and let it go.

Without judging it or changing it, notice the quality of the breath.

Releasing any tension in the shoulders, bring this wave of warmth down the arms, passing by the inner elbows. Feel it land in your palm and extent to the tip of the middle finger.

Bring it down the outer ribs, and trace in toward the belly.

Releasing any tension in the belly, bring your attention to the lower back. Notice what it feels like now, and on your exhale allow it to release into the block, chair, or ground beneath you.

Release the buttocks, and feel the muscles of the thigh and hamstring. Acknowledge how they support you throughout the day, and then let it go.

Travel down to your knees, over your shins and around to your calves.

Bringing your awareness to your feet, the tops of your feet and wrapping around to the bottom.

Acknowledge and thank you heels, thank your big toe ball mounds, and the webbing between your toes and let it go.

Take a few deep breaths here, starting in the belly, expanding through the low ribs, the upper ribs, and exhale let it go. A few more like that.

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After the scan: 5-minute journaling prompt

After the scan, take five minutes to rejoin the real world and write in your journal. It is our belief that the body is intelligent. If you’ve ever shed a tear during pigeon pose in yoga class, you know what we’re talking about. Sometimes the body is trying to communicate to us, and we need to quiet down in order to hear it. At the end of January, you’ll be thankful you did. Jot down the answers to these questions:

  • How did the scan make you feel?
  • Where did you feel the most tension?
  • What was the quality of your breath?
  • Were you able to observe your body without judgment?
  • What was the voice inside your head chattering about?
  • How did you feel before and after?
  • What was the quality of the mind? Energized, relaxed, somewhere in between?
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Lindsay Kellner author page.
Lindsay Kellner
Contributing Wellness & Beauty Editor

Lindsay Kellner is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based out of Brooklyn, NY. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology at New York University and earned a 200-hour yoga certification from Sky Ting. She is the co-author of “The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide to Ancient Self Care,” along with mbg’s Sustainability Editor, Emma Loewe.