The Body Scan
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of bringing your present moment experience with a quality of clarity and an attitude of non-judgment. The practice is both subtle and profound.
As a mindfulness meditation practice, the body scan takes the body itself as the “object of mindfulness” (definition of object of mindfulness: the object that you return your attention to when you notice it has wandered).
When you scan through the body, noticing and releasing tension, you actually affect your body down to the cellular level. When tension releases in an area, the metabolism of the cells in that area changes — they communicate more efficiently with one another, oxygenate more appropriately, and get rid of waste more efficiently. So as you invite tension to release, you are inviting your body to heal.
You are also inviting your thinking mind (the one that never shuts up) to take a break. For reasons that I won’t get into at length, when you are doing the body, blood flows away from the part of the brain responsible for discursive thinking (so it can attune to the subtle sensations of the body). It’s like telling your inner dialogue to take a nap.
Finally, in doing the body scan — by remaining consciously, but being completely physically relax, the body rejuvenates and heals itself in a way that is more efficient that normal sleep. With two of the groups I shared that 45 minutes of the body scan is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep. It’s a wonderful way to recharge and reset body and mind in the middle of the day.
A Heads Up
So mindfulness is simple but not necessarily easy. If you notice that you lay down or sit down with an intention to practice and your mind just won’t stop wandering — that’s not a problem, per se. It just means your a normal human being. In college.
It is not what you do but how you do it. When you notice your attention wanders, that is actually a great sign. Most people don’t realize their minds are wandering. You are. And when you notice your mind has wandered, you have the opportunity to bring it back to the present moment. That is the power of mindfulness. People usually have no idea that there is even a choice as to what they do with their attention.
With time and patience, you will find that your attention wanders less and less, and that you return more easily to the present moment. It’s like going to the gym. You start out struggling to curl a 5lb. weight. And then one day you’re benching 200lbs. That takes time. Be patient.
The 45 minute practice is the “gold standard” but do what works for you. If you can only do 10, or 20, or 30 minutes that is better than nothing at all. Even if all you do is over and over again release tension in your feet and legs, you will notice a difference in your whole body.
The 45 minute practice is an excellent sleep aide. When our attention is in our body, by definition it is not feeding/amplifying/energizing your thoughts. And by releasing tension, you are making it easier for your body to fall asleep.
If you are committed to making this a part of your schedule — as in you plan to do it every day — start with the 30 minute guided meditation and work up to the 45 minute practice (say after a week or so). It is easier to build up to the 45 minute practice than “take the leap” — but that’s just my recommendation, you live your life however you want.
45 minute Guided Body Scan - Jon Kabat-Zinn
15 minute Guided Body Scan - Jon Kabat-Zinn
If you have difficulty sleeping, I wanted to share that there is another free guided meditation on this site for fostering sound sleep. It is called Sound Sleep. Check it out.