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  • Six Ways to Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans

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August 22, 2020

Mindfulness Body Scans have benefits that go far beyond stress relief and relaxation. This all-levels meditation is one you should add to your daily practice. 

The mindfulness body scan is among the most accessible forms of meditation. This type of meditation uses body awareness to guide you into a state of deep relaxation, but that’s not all a body scan does. A mindfulness body scan can improve sleep, strengthen gratitude, or teach compassion. It all depends on your intention. Learn more about the limitless possibilities that stem from this foundational practice. 

About Body Scan Meditations

Mindfulness meditation is the act of paying attention to our present moment, without judgment or self-criticism. If you’ve ever tried to keep your mind still in the present, you know how hard it can be! With mindfulness body scan, the mind is anchored in body awareness, to prevent it from running away. At first, we notice the body on the level of physical form. As awareness deepens, we notice how the mind is intricately involved with our perception of what we notice. Ultimately, we notice awareness itself.

How to Do a Body Scan Meditation

  • Posture: Body scans are most often done lying down, although there’s no reason why you couldn’t practice in a seated posture, or even walking. If you’re new to meditation, being still will help free you from unnecessary distractions. 
  • Guidance: Listening to a guided meditation is a very good place to start, but can become a type of distraction. Guiding yourself through meditation allows you to learn more about the habits of your own mind.
  • Where to Start: You can start with any body part you’d like. Starting at the head and moving awareness down toward your feet is the most grounding. Even when you’re lying down, this downward energy pattern provokes a calming energy. 
  • Creating an Intention: Begin your mindfulness body scan by setting an intention. An intention gives your mind a single point of focus. By recognizing when attention has shifted from this focus, you’ll notice when the mind has become distracted. Meditation is the process of returning to your focus once you notice the mind has wandered. It’s not about preventing the mind from wandering, it’s about mindfully recognizing when it does and quickly returning.
Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans, Six Ways to Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans

"Attention to the human body brings healing and regeneration. Through awareness of the body we remember who we really are."

- Jack Kornfield -

1. Mindfulness Body Scan for Body Awareness

Body scan practice offers so much more than body awareness. But if you’re new to mindfulness, body awareness is a very good place to start. By placing attention on the body, we also notice what’s happening in our minds.

Often, the body exhibits what the mind has not yet noticed. We carry tension without realizing, or we feel an unease in the body before recognizing the source. Body awareness puts us in touch with what’s present in both body and mind.

How to Do a Body Scan for Body Awareness

A mindfulness body scan for awareness can be done in any comfortable posture, seated or lying down. Begin with awareness of the body in general, or walk yourself through one body part at a time.

When working with body awareness, intention is to simply notice. As you move through each body part, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What sensation is present here right now?
  • How might I describe that sensation?
  • Does this sensation have a color, temperature, size, shape?
  • What are the boundaries of this sensation?
  • Where is the center of this sensation?
  • What label am I applying to this sensation?
  • Is this sensation associated with an emotion?
  • Is this sensation changing? Moving?

Maintain a sense of open curiosity. There are no right or wrong answers to any of the above. The intention is just to notice and be present with what is. It may be that you feel nothing, and that’s something to note too!

Going Deeper

Body awareness not only gives us information about the body, it gives us information about the mind. As you work with body awareness, focus one small percentage of your mind on physical sensation. With another small part of your mind watch how you label or describe what you notice. Finally, note how the mind reacts to those labels or descriptions.

Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans, Six Ways to Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans

2. Mindfulness Body Scan for Stress Relief

The grounding effect of a body scan is very relaxing. Awareness of form brings us down to earth. When we’re stressed or anxious, we’re often up in our heads, disconnected from the reality of what’s present in our bodies. Mindfulness of the body keeps us present. 

When we’re anxious we’re either worrying about the future, or ruminating on the past. Getting present with the body has the power to quiet and still the mind. We can then access qualities such as peace and contentment, which only exist in the now. 

How to Do a Body Scan for Stress Relief

If relaxation is your goal, it’s best to do this type of body scan lying down. If you’d rather not fall asleep, prop your head and chest on pillows to keep your torso slightly upright. Be sure to maintain a long neutral spine, especially in the back of your neck.

The intention of a body scan for stress relief is relaxation. During this type of meditation, we purposefully fix awareness on the process of relaxing. A technique called progressive muscle relaxation highlights this process. 

To do it, tighten and hold a muscle group with your inhale breath, then release as you breathe out. Mindfully pay attention to the sensation of letting go as you feel the muscles relax.

  • Squeeze your eyes shut, scrunch up your nose, pucker your lips
  • Hold for one breath in or longer
  • With an exhale breath, relax
  • Pay attention to the physical sensation of letting go
  • Mindfully watch this process for as long as you’d like
  • When you’re ready, move on to the next body part
  • Tighten then release the chest, belly, sides of the body and back
  • Tighten then release the shoulders, upper and lower arms, hands and fingers
  • Tighten then release the buttocks, thighs and upper legs
  • Tighten then release the lower legs, feet and toes

If you’d like, close the meditation with a full body squeeze and a full body release. Notice the detail within this process of relaxing. Rest in the sensation for as long as you’d like to.

Going Deeper

To go deeper with the progressive muscle relaxation technique, notice the connection between the physical state of your body, the state of your breath, and the state of your mind. Work with inhale breath to tighten and draw energy inward. Work with exhale breath to release and let go. Note that as the body softens, the mind does too. Body and mind are always in relationship.

Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans, Six Ways to Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans

“Learn to relax. Your body is precious, as it houses your mind and spirit. Inner peace begins with a relaxed body.”

- Norman Vincent Peale -

3. Mindfulness Body Scan for Better Sleep

Regular meditation practice not only helps us fall asleep faster, but improves the quality of our sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is the single most important thing we can do to improve both our physical and mental health. If we’re not sleeping enough, nothing else matters. 

Mindfulness body scan is particularly suited for helping us fall asleep. Not only because we’re lying down, but because we’re relaxing. By staying present with the body, we let go of the thoughts that might be keeping us awake.

How to Do a Body Scan for Better Sleep

Lie comfortably in bed in a darkened room. While meditating, there is an energetic benefit to maintaining a neutral spine. This doesn’t mean you can’t lie on your side. Use pillows to align your head, neck and spine.  

Normally we want to stay awake during meditation. With a body scan for sleep, the intention is to fall asleep. To encourage this process, try one or more of the following: 

  • Start at the top of your head, notice energy settling as you work downward
  • Begin with a body of light, visualize each body part darkening as you fall asleep
  • Silently say goodnight to each part of the body, one by one
  • Feel each body part get heavier, as if it’s sinking further into bed
  • Feel each body part becoming softer, and sleepier
  • Imagine each body part dissolving, dropping away from your conscious awareness

Notice the difference between allowing yourself to fall asleep at any moment, and allowing yourself to become distracted at any moment. Stay with the process and remain present with body awareness, even though you may not make it all the way to your toes.

Going Deeper

As the physical body becomes sleepy and softer, notice this same process in consciousness or awareness itself. What would it feel like to be aware of the mind, even as the mind is subtly shifting offline?

Make it a Habit!

Body scans are easily practiced lying down, which makes it the perfect meditation practice to begin or end your day.

Make it a habit by setting a reminder to do a mindfulness body scan when you first wake up, or to help you fall asleep!

Practicing mindfulness daily makes it more likely you’ll remain mindful all the time, in daily life.

4. Mindfulness Body Scan for Gratitude

Gratitude is sometimes known as the ‘sister of mindfulness.’ A gratitude practice draws awareness to everything that’s going right in our lives. This not only makes us happier and more content, but also makes us kinder and more compassionate. 

The body is a wonderful tool for gratitude practice because it’s always with us, and it does so much for us. Unfortunately, we’re often critical of our bodies. A body gratitude practice helps silence this inner critic, by bringing attention to the opportunities and benefits the body gives us.

How to do a Body Scan for Gratitude

A mindfulness body scan for gratitude can be done in any posture, or even during activity. Try a mindfulness body scan for gratitude the next time you’re taking a shower, getting dressed, walking, or practicing yoga.

The intention of a gratitude body scan is to feel thankful for your body. As you move through your body scan, you might begin with the major body parts, or scan the inner organs such as the heart, belly, lungs and mind. Use the following prompt to deepen your awareness:

  • Acknowledge the function of this body part
  • Note all the ways in which this body part serves you
  • How does this body part make my life easier?
  • In what ways have I benefited from this body part?
  • Does everyone have this body part, and does it function for everyone?
  • How does this body part contribute to my mindfulness?
  • How does this body part help me serve others?

When doing a body scan for gratitude, don’t force it. Start small if you need to. Gratitude should feel authentic and honest. Some days it might be difficult to feel any gratitude at all, notice that too. 

Going Deeper

Notice how you benefit from awareness of gratitude itself. Might being intentionally grateful for your body encourage you to treat it better? What would it look like to act in the world as if you never forgot how awe-inspiring and special your body was? Would you eat better, exercise more, sleep better?

Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans, Six Ways to Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans

“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude for the whole cosmos - the trees, the clouds, everything.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh -

5. Mindfulness Body Scan for Self-Compassion

A gratitude practice may help us become more accepting of our body, but with self-compassion practice this is the primary focus. Not only do we extend compassion to our body, but to any thoughts that arise in relation to our body. 

A self-compassion practice can help us work with pain, sickness, or any physical or mental state that may put us at odds with our body. By sending words of loving kindness to our bodies, and to ourselves, we befriend our bodies and our minds.

How to do a Body Scan for Self-Compassion

When doing a body scan for compassion, we might choose to work with the body as a whole, scan through each body part one at a time, or focus on an area that’s in particular need of loving attention.

The intention of a compassionate body scan is to send words of loving kindness to each of our body parts. The more we practice, these kind words become deeply heartfelt sensations. Extend the following four wishes to your body:

  • May this body part be well; may it be healthy, safe, and free from pain
  • May this body part get everything it needs; good food, exercise, water
  • May I accept this body part with deep gratitude, regardless of how it feels right now
  • May I give the same loving kindness to this body part as I do to the most beloved

Some of these wishes, or some parts of your body, may present more of a challenge than others. Self-compassion includes extending kindness to those challenges. Give yourself grace, regardless of what you notice. 

Going Deeper

When we connect to our own body in a loving and accepting way, we connect to the common humanity we each share through the body itself. Each of us has a body, and each of our bodies is equally worthy of love. Be mindful of how loving your own body helps you become more accepting of the bodies of others.

Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans, Six Ways to Deepen Awareness with Mindfulness Body Scans

6. Mindfulness Body Scan for Wisdom

With consistent mindfulness practice, we develop the quality of wisdom. Wisdom doesn’t mean we know everything, it means we understand how we know things. Everything we notice arises in relationship. There is an interdependence between objects and the mind that perceives them. 

As mindfulness body scan cultivates wisdom, we realize although we have a body we are much more than our body. Labels for this other aspect of our being include the soul, energy, consciousness, our true nature, or awareness itself. 

How to do a Body Scan to Realize Your True Nature

If we’re new to meditation, you generally have a narrator. The thinking mind guides our experience, such as “now I am breathing in.” Eventually, we drop language and become aware of the experience directly, without words. 

The intention of certain contemplative meditations is to get us out of our heads and into an experience. These meditations act like riddles. There are no right or wrong answers. The contemplation guides you toward an understanding that’s beyond words.

Unlike other body scans, this particular meditation begins at your toes, and ends at the crown of your head. Walk yourself through the body, as you ponder the following:

  • Am I one thing, or am I many things? 
  • Is my body one thing, or is it many things?
  • Am I the same as my body, or am I separate from it?
  • If I am the same as my body, I must be in every part of the body
  • Am I in my big toe?
  • What if my big toe was separated from my body?
  • Would I be in my big toe, or the rest of my body?
  • What if all my toes were separated from my body?
  • Then where would I be?
  • What if both feet, both legs, my hips were gone?
  • What if my fingers, arms, and shoulders were gone?
  • What if my torso and neck were gone?
  • Where would I be? Would I still be me?
  • What if my head was gone?
  • So am I my body, or separate from my body?
  • Am I my mind? If so, where is my mind located?
  • Is the mind in the body? Where?
Going Deeper

Let the inquiry release you from logical thought and drop you into experience. Rest in this experience with an open, spacious awareness. Realize that everything in this world arises interdependently. There is an object that’s perceived, a mind doing the perceiving, and a relationship between the two. 

If we’re attached to the body as the source of our identity, the above meditation can seem frightening. The same meditation can be liberating too. Using the body scan, we realize our bodies are a wonderful tool for developing mindfulness and a deep understanding that our true identity is one of spaciousness, acceptance and peace. 

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About the author 

Sara-Mai Conway is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor living and working in Baja Sur, Mexico. In addition to online offerings, she teaches donation-based community classes in her tiny, off-grid hometown on the Pacific coast. She is a certified 500-hour Remedial Yoga and Applied Mindfulness Advanced teacher with Bodhi Yoga Spain under the Independent Yoga Network (UK).