Is meditation just focusing on breathing? Not exactly, considering there are many ways to meditate. One such way is by practicing a “body scan meditation,” which is often recommended for those who are just getting started building a meditation practice.
Studies have found that following body scan guided meditations can help people become more self-aware and present, cope with pain, feel more relaxed and less anxious, sleep better, and learn to be less self-critical.
How does it work? It’s believed that the practice can help increase awareness of sensations happening in the body, providing insight into deeper emotions without judging or trying to change them.
What Is Body Scan Meditation?
Body scan meditation is a practice in which you pay attention to sensations happening in your body. During a body scan, you mentally scan over every part of your body from your head to your toes.
Sensations are anything that you feel and notice in the body, like tingling, cramping, tightness, heat, coolness, buzzing, pulsing, itching, throbbing or numbness.
Why is noticing sensations in the body beneficial? It helps bring your attention to the present moment, since you can only feel what is taking place in the “here and now.”
The idea behind a body scan is that physical sensations are tied to emotional states. You may not even realize that stress and other emotions, such as anger or sadness, cause physical symptoms like tightness in your chest, headaches and heartburn.
The practice trains you to stay present in your body even when you don’t like what you’re experiencing, such as pain and discomfort.
According to the HelpGuide website:
The goal is to train the mind to be more open and aware of sensory experiences — and ultimately, more accepting. With time and practice, the body scan will build your ability to focus and be fully present in your life.
What is a body scan exercise good for? Here are some of the benefits associated with this type of meditation practice:
1. Improves Self-Awareness
A number of studies have found that people who practice body scans as an act of “self-care” experience greater levels of self-awareness, mindfulness (they are able to observe their thoughts and feelings without reacting) and increased psychological well-being.
One of the primary reasons to practice body scan is to tune in to what you’re feeling, rather than ignoring how your emotions impact your body. Another way this is described by researchers is as experiencing “increased internal somatic sensations” (or interoceptive attention).
A body scan practice can help you notice what’s going on in your body/mind without having to hold on to sensations/feeling, allowing you to better let them go and run their course.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, unsure of how you really feel or lost, this is a good time to try a body scan. Try to relax into whatever comes up and explore both the pleasant and unpleasant sensations as they unfold.
With practice, you can use your body to gain awareness of your emotions without trying to fix or change anything.
2. Has Relaxing Effects
This type of meditation is one of the most commonly recommended for people dealing with anxiety symptoms and chronic stress. It can help decrease muscular tension and tightness in the body and other symptoms tied to stress, such as inflammation, pain, digestive issues, tension headaches and insomnia.
Studies show that meditation practices lead to greater activation of the parasympathetic nervous system in relation to the sympathetic nervous system, evoking a relaxation response.
Not only can it reduce stress in the moment that you’re feeling anxious, but it can also be used to help you cope better with stressors in the future. With practice, you can get better as noticing stressful thoughts and feelings without over-reacting to them or ignoring them all together.