This post is an excerpt from my upcoming e-book “How to Create Your Own Action Plan for Recovery”. If you want to stay updated on the release of the book, sign up for weekly newsletters from The Health Sessions here.
All day long, your senses are bombarded with information – sights, sounds, smells. Your brain is constantly busy selecting and interpreting these stimuli, storing what’s important into your long – term memory.
Turning your attention inwards instead of to the world around you has several benefits for your health.
Brain studies suggest that observing what’s happening inside of you – your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations – taps into a different part of your brain than watching the outside world does. Instead of solely relying upon the frontal lobes of the neocortex, focusing on your feelings also activates evolutionary older parts of your brain that are associated with emotional reactions and the integration of physical experiences. It’s that bypass of the thinking and judging parts of your brain that makes mindfulness such an effective method to find your calm when you can’t seem to stop your racing thoughts.
Learning to tune into your body also allows you to pick up signals of stress, pain and exertion before these symptoms become (too) serious.
A mindful body scan is a powerful way to get in touch with your body and really notice what you’re sensing, without judging or trying to change what’s happening within. At first glance, a body scan might seem like you’re just lying down doing nothing. But it involves a little more than that. Because while your body is resting, your mind goes on a guided tour from your toes to your head, pausing at each part and paying attention to what you’re feeling.
The Relaxing Body Scan
The Relaxing Body Scan releases tension from your body, which helps to relieve pain and sleep better at night. It’s also a great tool to calm you down when you’re dealing with anger, anxiety or a racing mind.
Warning: If focusing on physical sensations makes you feel hypochondriac or tight in the chest, doing a body scan might not be right for you. This practice can also stir up build-up emotions or buried traumatic experiences. In these cases, it would be wise to first try mindfulness techniques under supervision of an experienced counsellor.
Here’s an example of how you perform a body scan:
• Make yourself comfortable. Remove your shoes, loosen tight clothing and find a relaxing position. You could lay down on your back with your arms alongside your body, your palms facing upwards, and your legs slightly apart. Close your eyes if you want to, to help you focus on your bodily sensations instead of the things around you.
• Start by bringing your attention to your body. Feel the weight of your body on the floor, mattress or chair. Notice how the surface supports your spine, the back of your legs and arms.
• Take a deep breath. Feel the crisp air entering your nose as you inhale, your belly gently rising and falling with each breath.
• Focus on the sensations in your body, starting at your feet and slowly working your way up. Notice the tingling in your toes, the pressure where your heels touch the floor, the pulsing in your calves. Are your legs cold or warm, heavy or light, cramped or relaxed?
• Pause at every part of your body and pay attention to how it all feels.
• Whenever you come across tension or tightness, try to let it go. In your mind, zoom in on the tense area and breathe out slowly and deeply, to help you relax your muscles. Don’t be surprised if this releases some build-up emotions.
• Mentally move your way up, all the way from your toes to your head. Let go off stress and tension with every exhalation. Lower your shoulders, relax your jaws and ‘soften’ your face.
• Finally, when you’ve reached the top of your head, let go off any effort to be mindful. Just let your breathing flow freely and bask in the stillness.
• When you feel rested, recharged and ready, start wiggling your toes and fingers. Stretch your limbs. Gently roll on to your right side, open your eyes and get up slowly. Try to carry this tranquillity with you throughout the rest of your day.
Once you’ve practised this exercise a few times in quietude, you’ll learn to quickly scan your body as you go about your business, like a mindful check-in to see whether there’s tension, discomfort or distress building up in any body parts.
“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”
– Deepak Chopra