A body scan is a mindfulness activity that can help you check in with the physical sensations and emotions happening inside your body at a given time. It can help you become more in tune with your body’s needs in the moment, and it can help with relaxation.
Like all therapy activities, it is not the right fit for everyone. In particular, people who experience chronic pain sometimes report that a body scan can cause an increase in distress because it draws their attention more deliberately to feelings of physical pain.
On the other hand, some populations that experience executive dysfunction, like autistic folks and those with ADHD, sometimes find that the body scan can help them remember that they need to take a break to attend to their needs. Of course, many autistic and/or ADHD people also have chronic pain, and some simply do not like this activity.
All that is to say, use this if it is helpful for you, and if not, don’t. No tool is right for every possible job.
First, find a comfortable position for your body, standing in a relaxed posture, sitting comfortably, or lying on a soft surface. Rest your arms at your sides. Use cushions or pillows if you need them.
If you feel comfortable, close your eyes, or allow your gaze to focus softly on a point in the distance. Bring your attention to your breath, and slow your breathing with longer inhales and exhales. Feel your muscles relax with each breath. If you’d like, pause for a moment between each inhale and exhale, allowing yourself to feel still in this moment.
Bring your attention to the bottoms of your feet. What sensations do you experience here? Temperature, tingling, tension? If you’re wearing socks or shoes, are you aware of those textures? Slowly draw your awareness up your toes and the tops of your feet, noticing any internal or external sensations.
Slowly, slowly, at your own pace, bring your attention up your ankles. Calves. Pausing on each area and noticing what you feel. Knees. Thighs. No judgment, just awareness. Hips. Stomach. Back. What does your body need right now in this moment? Ribs. Chest.
What physical and emotional sensations come up for you in this activity? Remember there are no right or wrong answers. Draw your awareness to your shoulders, then slowly down your arms, to your hands, palms, fingers, all the way to your fingertips. Keep letting your breaths come slowly and deeply.
Now draw your attention slowly up your neck, into your head, the muscles in your jaw and face, all the way to the top of your scalp.
Wiggle your fingers and toes, and if you closed your eyes, open them when you are ready. If you were sitting or laying down, get up and take a big, full-body stretch. If there were any areas where you noticed a lot of tension, breathe into these areas to help them relax and let go.
The more you practice the body scan activity, the more you will become aware of what your body needs in the moment.