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The Body Scan Meditation Technique

Focusing on your physical body can be a simple practice that can help to foster self-awareness and relaxation
Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
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Although practicing meditation can help us slow down and be in the moment, some techniques, like a body scan meditation, can be particularly helpful in learning to tune in with ourselves. A body scan is practiced by consciously observing each part of your physical being. “We’re constantly moving and doing, and we forget to listen to our bodies,” says Julie Haber, director of spirituality at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “Paying attention to our physical selves is a spiritual practice that allows us to care and attend to ourselves at the most basic of levels.”

This technique can be done lying down, sitting up or even standing (some qi gong and tai ch’i practitioners may have you perform a body scan). The truth is, you can do this wellness exercise anywhere—alone in your house or sitting next to someone on a train during your commute to work.

Your scan can start at your head or at your feet. “I like bringing the energy down through my feet to help me feel grounded, so I start at my head,” says Haber. If you’re starting there, close your eyes, which naturally helps us turn inward, and start to tune in to your head—your hair, scalp, forehead, ears, each element of your face. It is common for many of us to carry extra tension in our jaw and face, so it is helpful to spend a little more time on these areas. Next, move your attention to your neck—the back, sides, front—and slowly continue working your way down your body. “As you scan, ask yourself, ‘How am I feeling?’ It is helpful to ask this question while suspending judgment or evaluation,” says Haber. “If you notice any places of tension or pain, try consciously breathing into those areas with the intent to relax them.”

When we practice being in stillness, we allow for the opportunity to become more aware and attuned to insight and guidance. “Focusing in on that shoulder pain you’ve been ignoring may prompt you to book a massage or call your doctor,” notes Haber. “Or you may think, ‘I feel pretty good; I am so grateful that the yoga I am doing is working.’” Often times what we resist persists. By practicing awareness we are more in touch with the subtle cues that our body is often bringing to us.

Give yourself a few minutes to complete the entire scan. You may find that a full five minutes is what you need to really observe your body from head to toe. “You can find the time,” says Haber. “And the more you practice this technique, the more whole and connected you’ll feel with your body, mind and spirit.”