Many times in my life I have used Body Scan, a form of meditation created by Jon Kabat Zinn, to help both myself and my students to reduce stress.
This wonderful technique can help to reduce tension and anxiety. Indeed, that’s why I get so many requests for it my online meditation lessons.
It’s a simple method in which we progressively pass consciousness around the body. Much like Progressive Muscle Relaxation, this causes a systematic relaxing of the body, while also enhancing the mind-body connection.
Let’s look at the script itself, and then I will discuss the science.
Body Scan Meditation
- If you are new to meditation, read my beginner’s guide to meditation.
- Lie down, close your eyes, and take a few moments to relax.
- Once you’re relaxed, take a moment to check your posture. I find that having good posture is essential in meditation because it helps us to focus. Make sure you are comfortable and that your spine is in proper alignment. The best way to lie down is in Shavasana. To do this, lie on the floor face-up (you might like to use a blanket or a cushion under the small of your spine). Move your legs so your feet are about shoulder-width apart. Rotate your feet a little outwards. Place your hands by your side, palms upwards. Check that your body is relaxed, including all the muscles in your face.
- With your eyes closed, focus on the sensations throughout your entire body. Simply observe the way your body feels. It has a vibration and an energy. Get in contact with that energy. Feel it. Investigate it. Is it soft or hard? Warm or cool? Is the vibration fast or slow? Focus the mind on those sensations. Some of the sensations you experience may include tightness, coolness, twitches, cramps, buzzing, pulsing, numbness, itching, and nausea.
- Also notice emotions and feelings like restlessness, irritability, fatigue, and stress as well as positive emotions like calmness and joy. Be aware of these sensations as you continue the process. I find that the key is to simply accept what you observe, which is a point Jon Kabat Zinn wrote about in his bestseller Full Catastrophe Living. Trish Magyari, M.S [meditation researcher and counselor] says that mind-body awareness is about “saying hello to your body with awareness.”
- Direct your mind to the crown of your head. Notice the sensations there. Meditate on the way the crown of your head feels. I like to take a moment to connect my mind to that part of my body before I continue.
- Now gradually begin to move your focus down your body, through your face. When you get to your eyes, notice if you are crying. If so, you might like to read about why you cry when you meditate.
- Continue to pass your consciousness down your neck, your shoulders, your arms, all the way to your fingers. Then proceed back up your arms to your shoulders, and then down to your feet and toes. Meditate on each part of the body before moving on.
- Once you’ve reached your toes, reverse the procedure until you are once again focusing on the crown of your head.
- Now take five minutes to meditate on the sensations throughout your entire body.
- When I finish, I like to take a few moments to relax before returning to normal. This allows for a time of transition back to my normal state.
- Continue to tune in to your body throughout the day in order to stay mindful.
If you would like to take meditation further, you might like to try the Osho meditation methods.
Benefits of Body Scan
Both I myself and my students have found some great benefits of body scan meditation. They include:
- Reduced symptoms of anxiety
- Better mind-body connection
- Increased self-awareness
- Reduced pain
- Reduced cravings associated with addictions
- Improved sleep
- Reduced symptoms of PTSD
- Reduced stress [also try this meditation script for stress reduction]
1: Reduces anxiety
When you follow the script, you’ll quickly reduce ruminating thoughts.
I also find that it makes us more conscious of our physical form and physical sensations, which are often the triggers for stress and anxiety.
The Journal of Clinical Psychology published research in which 93 adults with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were given instructions in either MBSR or stress management. The group that practised MBSR reported less symptoms of anxiety.
A 2019 study also showed that it reduced the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 47 healthy students [Dana Schultchen et. al., Ulm University, 2019]
2: Increases emotional awareness
The first thing I notice when I do the exercise is that there’s a lot more going on in my body than I may have realised.
There are a million vibrations taking place throughout us. There are also varying degrees of tension and strain. Some areas of your body will be more relaxed than others. Some areas might be quite painful. This is good to know.
The more you know about your own physical form, the more control you’ll have over it. Just by being aware of the complexity of your body, you begin to take control.
You will also notice that different emotions create different kinds of sensations in the body. For instance, worry is almost always matched with a tightness in the chest.
It’s good to be conscious of these symptoms. When you feel tension in your fist, for example, you will have an early warning sign of approaching anger. You can then take countermeasures (such as taking a deep breath or going for a walk).
3: Helps with insomnia
A 2020 study led by Edward J. de Bruin [Centre for eHealth and Wellbeing Research, Department of Psychology, Health and Technology] showed it increases the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy in the treatment of insomnia in 54 teenagers.
4: Helps with PTSD
Wing says she often recommends body scan for clients who have experienced trauma, or those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Plus, a 2015 study led by Dana Dharmakaya Colgan [School of Professional Psychology, Pacific University] showed that it reduces the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
5: Helps with cravings and addictions
If you struggle with any kind of addiction, you will notice that cravings begin with a certain physical sensation. For instance, when I used to smoke, I found that my fingers itched when I wanted a cigarette. (If you do smoke, read my guide to quitting smoking for good).
By being aware of your craving in its early stages, you can take preventative measures. For instance, when I experienced a craving for a smoke I was able to catch the craving in its early stages and do something different instead.
Think about it like this:
Imagine that your body is an antenna. It is always giving and receiving signals. Those signals are valuable. They tell you that in a moment you’ll be craving a smoke or feeling angry, or that you have tension in your body. Listen to those early signals. Then you can do what you need to do to stop the situation from escalating.
6: Pain management
It can help you manage chronic pain according to a randomized controlled trial published by the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
For the research, 55 participants were asked to take either a ten-minute meditation or a natural history reading. The group that did the Body Scan exercise reported less pain after just one session.
As a precaution, note that some experts state that learning mindfulness without proper training in Buddhist dharma could lead to more harm than good [Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm, author of The Buddha Pill].
I personally believe that John Kabat Zinn’s Body Scan Meditation script is one of the best methods for relieving anxiety [READ: Best Meditations For Anxiety]
It’s a unique technique because Jon Kabat Zinn decided to take most of the Buddhism and “McMindfulness” out of it. Of course, he is very familiar with Buddhist dharma, but he created a method anyone can use, regardless of their knowledge or experience.
That said, I do think it is inspired by Buddhism. Indeed, Jon Kabat Zinn has mentioned previously that he first got into meditation when he attended a lecture by Zen Buddhist teacher Philip Kapleau. Certainly, the method is influenced by Buddhist Vipassana, which is one of my favorite meditations and is all about observing the world through our senses.
I do like how this method is unique though. In most other meditation techniques, we keep our focus on one thing. For instance, when you are practising beginners breathing exercises you will focus on your breathing, and your focus will stay locked on that one thing. This exercise is different.
When you do a body scan exercise, you gradually pass your focus around your body from your head to your toes. You observe the sensations in each part of the body and then focus on the entire body. This enhances the mind-body connection. It also increases awareness of different physical sensations. In turn, this can help to reduce your reactions to sensations that trigger stress and anxiety.
I do think this is a superb technique. Indeed, that is why I teach it in our corporate meditation classes.
I love using this method with my students to help them relieve stress and anxiety and to gain more emotional control.
Research has proven that this method is excellent for stress and can help to increase relaxation. Hence why it is part of the 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course, which Jon Kabat Zinn designed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School to help people struggling with chronic pain at the UMass Stress Reduction Clinic.
I invite you to join me in an online meditation lesson today
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison