The ‘body scan meditation’ technique can help relieve stress, anxiety

Have you ever laid in savasana at the end of a particularly strenuous yoga class and thought, “OK, what next?” Your thoughts invariably turn to work’s ever-growing to-do list, what you’ll have as a post-workout snack, or perhaps you’re just doing your level best to stay awake.

As your mind wanders, you can’t help thinking this is not how meditation should feel.

We all know that a good meditation session can bring so many benefits: from reducing stress and relieving anxiety, to improving our sleep and managing our emotions. But closing our eyes and hoping for the best is never going to produce the goods. Nope, we need a plan. And there’s one meditation technique in particular that deserves *all* your attention.

This is where the body scan meditation comes in. Used by therapists and yoga practitioners alike, this technique involves observing your body’s natural sensations for a set period of time, enabling you to release tension that you probably didn’t even realise was there. Deepa Sapra, a yoga and meditation specialist, explains that if we tune into our bodily sensations, such as “buzzing, pulsing, coolness, throbbing, cramping, and feeling heat,” we can start to be more present in our daily life.

How long should a body scan meditation take?

According to Deepa, a body scan meditation can be “anywhere from 5 to 40 minutes long” depending on how much time you have. She adds that “consistency is more important than time,” so you’re more likely to benefit from a five minute body scan every day, rather than a half an hour scan every now and again.

How can body scan meditations improve sleep?

A study in 2020, which examined how body scan meditations contributed to the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy in treating insomnia, found that the mindfulness meditation may have an additional positive effect on sleep, “above and beyond traditional CBTI cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia techniques.”

Calm, the meditation and sleep app (which contains body scan meditations), conducted a study in 2021, which found that, after using the Calm app for ten minutes a day for eight weeks, 74% of participants noticed an improvement in their ability to “turn off their mind” when they were going sleep; 71% noticed they found it easier to physically relax before falling asleep; and 91% reported having better sleep.

How can body scan meditations improve anxiety?

Deepa explains that, “People who suffer from anxiety are encouraged to practice the body scan meditation due to the relaxing effects it has… It calms your nervous system down, and encourages the mind and body to shift from your sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic nervous system.” The latter is responsible for maintaining homeostasis (AKA balance) in the body, which in turn helps you to relax and protect your energy.

How can body scan meditations improve stress?

Research conducted by Headspace, which also provides body-scan meditations, found that using the app for ten days lead to a 28% decrease in negative emotions; a “reduction” in stress; and a 14% reduction in burnout after as little as four sessions.

Here’s how to do a body scan meditation, according to Deepa:

  1. Sit up nice and tall with a lengthened spine or lie down on your back, with your legs extended out. What matters is that your spine is lengthened, sit however feels comfortable. Close your eyes, softly. Place your hands on either side or on your abdomen.
  2. Take deep breaths and connect with how the deep breaths feel, witness the sensations in your body whilst taking deep breaths. Then connect with how the ground you are sitting on or the bed you are laying on feels, then connect with how your clothes feel on you. Connect with what you feel.
  3. Once you bring awareness to the above, and feel settled, then bring your attention to your body starting from your feet and ending at the crown of your head.

It’s important to breathe in and out during the scan. If you get lost along the way this is the order Deepa recommends…

  • Toes
  • Heals
  • Sole
  • Ankles
  • Calves
  • Knees
  • Thighs
  • Hips
  • Bum
  • Lower abdomen
  • Low Back
  • Stomach
  • Mid-Back
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Upper Back
  • Upper Arms
  • Forearms
  • Wrists
  • Hands
  • Fingers
  • Neck
  • Chin
  • Jaw
  • Mouth
  • Ears
  • Nose
  • Eyes
  • Forehead
  • Scalp
  • Crown of the head

“When you reach the crown of your head”, Deep explains, “imagine white light filling your whole body from top to toe, with love, compassion and warmth.”

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