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How can the body scan be useful?

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I’m often asked in a Learn to Meditate course why a body scan practice is useful. There are a number of benefits to a body scan practice, some of which are outlined below.

Learn to be in the present moment

The practice of scanning the body and becoming aware of what is present in the body is an invitation to be in the present moment. As with many of the mindfulness practices, its essence involves accepting and experiencing whatever arises without judgment[1], whether or not it is considered pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

Train attention and improve concentration

One intention of the body scan is to improve concentration over an extended period of time[2] – the time it takes you to scan through the body. Concentration may be strengthened as a result of the body scan’s emphasis on focusing on each part of the body one-by-one, directly and systematically, and bringing attention back to the body when the mind wanders. By paying attention to the physical sensations in a particular part of the body in any and every moment[3] you have a vivid and accessible object to anchor your attention on, even if its location is shifting overtime.[4]

Become more aware of sensations in the body

The body scan is a technique that allows you to become aware of sensations and feelings within the body.[5] As a result of being on autopilot, or trapped in reactive states of being, you can miss, abuse, ignore or lose control of the body, insensitive to, and unaware of how your body is being affected by the environment, by your actions and by thoughts, feelings and emotions.[6] The body scan’s focus on direct sensing of the body turns up the volume on the body’s messages and turns down the volume on mental chatter.[7] The body scan provides a tool to reconnect to your body, providing cues to the presence of aversion, stress, anxiety, etc that you may otherwise fail to recognise; as a result, the body scan can help you to become more attuned to what is happening within you, and better equipped to respond appropriately.[8]

Relate differently to your present experience

The body scan meditation provides a place through which you can learn to relate differently to your present experience.[9] As the invitation is to experience the body rather than to get caught up in judgmental thinking about the body, to disembed your immediate experience from stories about the experience,[10] your whole view of the body and how you relate to it can change as a result of the body scan.[11] The body scan can teach you to relate to unpleasant body sensations in a mindful, non-reactive and less judgmental way.[12] In this way, the body scan helps you to be with things as they are.[13]

Experience a body scan practice for yourself at our next Learn to Meditate course or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in Preston. Register here. 

[1] McCown, D., Reibel, D., and Micozzi, M., Teaching Mindfulness: a practical guide for clinicians and educators. Springer, 2010, p. 130.

[2] Kabat-Zinn, J, Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, Delacorte Press, New York, NY, 1990, p. 79.

[3] Segal, Z. V., Williams, J.M.G., Teasdale, J. D. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, 2nd edition, New York: Guildford Press, 2013, p. 157.

[4] Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., Teasdale, J. D., Kabat-Zinn, J., The Mindful Way Through Depression – Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, New York: Guildford Press, 2007, p. 107.

[5] Kabat-Zinn, J, Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, Delacorte Press, New York, 1990, p.88

[6] Ibid, p. 13.

[7] Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., Teasdale, J. D., Kabat-Zinn, J., The Mindful Way Through Depression – Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, New York: Guildford Press, 2007, p. 107.

[8] Kabat-Zinn, J, Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, Delacorte Press, New York, NY, 1990, p. 13.

[9] Segal, Z. V., Williams, J.M.G., Teasdale, J. D. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, 2nd edition, New York: Guildford Press, 2013, p. 155 – 156.

[10] McCown, D., Reibel, D., and Micozzi, M., Teaching Mindfulness: a practical guide for clinicians and educators. Springer, 2010, p. 138.

[11] Kabat-Zinn, J, Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, Delacorte Press, New York, NY, 1990, p. 76.

[12] Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., Teasdale, J. D., Kabat-Zinn, J., The Mindful Way Through Depression – Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, New York: Guildford Press, 2007, p. 96.

[13] Segal, Z. V., Williams, J.M.G., Teasdale, J. D. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, 2nd edition, New York: Guildford Press, 2013, p. 151.

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