Essentials of Mindfulness Meditation Part 2: The Body Scan

Do you often find yourself caught up in your thoughts? Well, it is common to most of us!

Thoughts can take us all over the place, and they are of course useful. We need them to operate; they can be creative and beautiful. However, thoughts can be difficult, dreadful, repetitive, boring; they have their downside too.

Thoughts can be very judgemental, of ourselves and others.

So wouldn't it be nice to have a little "mind break" say, each day?

Take a mental break

Mindfulness of the body can provide a break from intense thinking. Thinking still occurs but, with practise, it becomes more like background noise than being at the forefront of the mind. Instead, awareness of the body comes to the foreground, and it has a steadying and grounding quality.

It is something I'm glad I've learnt. So in this blog, we will look at two approaches to the body scan, and you'll get to have a go at both of them.

The part by part body scan

You may have come across the first approach. It involves going through and being aware of various parts of your body one by one.

Often one starts, say, with their left foot (you can start with your right if you like, it is no big deal) by placing awareness on it. One then moves that awareness up the leg taking in the different aspects of this part of the body.

The same process is then repeated with the left foot and parts of your left leg.

After this, you can either go up the front of the torso, focusing on the effects of the breath there, or focus awareness with inner concentration on your spine: trying to feel each vertebra. You can then take in the arms, say the left first followed by the right, and finally finish with awareness around your head.

When the mind wanders...

When the mind wanders off from the part of the body it is supposed to be with, you just notice this then, come back to that part and carry on.

It is not a competition, there is no prize for going through the body with the least wandering. The only judge is your thinking mind and that is what you are supposed to be having a break from with the body scan - so don't get caught up in it.

The best way to learn is, of course, to do it. So here is an audio; adopt a sitting posture and have a go.

How did you get on with the meditation?

Personally, it is not my favourite approach to the body scan and never has been. I can do it and have found it useful over the years in getting to know the body, but I'm not drawn to it. Others are: it is a matter of taste and personality.

Remember the foundation of meditation is about relaxing into the moment. Difficult stuff can be released and all sorts can happen but the best place for that, in my experience, is in the relaxed open space of the grounded meditation.

The simple flexible body scan

This, therefore, brings up the second approach - my favourite - not that I'm trying to bias you or anything, just sharing my experiences! It is a more informal way of doing the body scan.

Instead of going through the body bit by bit, one just chooses five or six points to concentrate on and then flows between them. It could be the sensation of say: sitting as one, then the sensation of your hands touching, followed by the breath around the chest region; then the sensation of your lips touching or maybe a point on the small of your back.

Your choice

Choosing where is really up to you, it is not definite.

The basics are to have 5-6 points (sometimes I have even less, just the sensation of sitting, my hands and the breath) and go with the flow of it all. The mind of course wanders, this is noticed and then one returns back to the body point and again applies awareness with some concentration.

As ever the best way to learn this is by doing it, so here is a guided meditation; take a flavour from it and have a go yourself - see how you get on.

Any questions?

I hope parts one and two of these short blog series The essentials of mindfulness have given you a taster of meditation, and that you enjoyed it. Of course, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.

The next blog series is all about the four postures you can be mindful of, that is: walking, standing, sitting and lying down. The series will hopefully give you some skills you can use in daily life to be more in the present moment.

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About Paul
Paul has been practising mindfulness since 1997, but still has a "beginner's mind" approach to meditation. He is the author of the eBook series The Silence Between the Noise and primary contributor to the Establish Mindfulness online meditation center.