How to Perform a Body Scan: Listen to My Body? WTF? (Part 2)

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In part one of how to listen to your body, I discussed the importance of getting in touch with your breath, and practice listening to the way it moves through your body. In this section, I will go over one of my favorite ways to perform a body scan. A body scan is essentially a practice that allows you to survey all parts of your body, and encourages you to get back in touch with yourself. It is the gateway to understanding how your emotions are linked with your aches and pains, and to tapping into your intuition. I like to use it as the first part of my meditation in the morning, but I also find it helpful to perform this routine, at anytime throughout the day that I feel “off” and need a quick reset. It only takes about five minutes, but you can always take more time. To ready yourself start by sitting upright, either cross legged or with your feet planted firmly on the ground, and close your eyes.

Step 1) Deepen your breath.

In order to deepen your breath, it is helpful to have a specific exercise that serves as a gateway to more profound breathing.  One of my favorite practices is the 4-7-8 practice taught by Dr. Weill. For this practice, press the tip of your tongue on the back of your front teeth, and let out all your breath.  Then inhale for the count of four through your nose, and hold your breath for a mental count of seven.  Next, with your tongue still pressed against the back of your teeth, exhale through your mouth and make a whooshing noise for a count of eight. Continue for three more rounds for a total of four breath cycles. After performing this exercise you should be breathing deeply pretty steadily. If you need to find a more consistent pace, try counting to ten with your breath. Inhale “one”, exhale “two”, and so on.

Step 2) Gain awareness of your surroundings.

To scan your body, it is useful to get in touch with your senses and gain awareness of your surroundings.  Start by listening to the sounds around you, and try to feel where they are coming from. Really notice each and every little sound, from the creaks in the wall, to the cars driving outside, to leaves hitting the window, to even the sound of your own breath. This trains your hearing sense, gets you outside of your own thoughts, and helps clear the pathway to your inner world.

Step 3) Tune in to touch and temperature.

After a few breaths of noticing surrounding noise, start focusing on touch.  Notice the way it feels to be supported by your seat. Notice what it feels like to be supported by your chair, the earth, your bed, or your couch. Where is it touching you? Is your back planted against a wall or floating in the air? Where are your feet? Do you feel the firmness of the ground, or the weight of your knees resting on top of your feet? Then start to notice other elements that are touching you. What does the fabric of your shirt feel like against your skin, or your hair against your neck? Notice your body parts that are touching other body parts. Feel the weight, and the space in between all that is touching your body. Then, notice temperature, and where you feel hot or cold. This allows you to deepen your sensations, and tune into your physical body.

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Step 4) Scan your body.

Now is the time for the actual head to toe body scan. Start by imagining a beam of light entering the top of your head, that will help illuminate what your body is feeling. Imagine that this light twirls around your head, down to your neck, across each of your shoulders, and down to your fingertips. Then it makes it’s way back to your chest, your back, down your spine, to your stomach, to your abdomen, to your hips, to your pelvis, to your tailbone, and down each of your legs, feet and toes. Along the way, pause at each new body part, and notice if there is any tension, tightness, soreness, pain, relaxation, or pleasure. This is absolutely essential in learning how to decipher what your body is communicating to you. Try to name what each pain, tension, tightness, or soreness feels like. For instance, if you have pain in your shoulders, it might feel like somebody is putting a very heavy backpack on you. If there is a constriction in your throat, it might feel like someone is wringing your neck.  After naming the pain, breath deeply into the spaces that are feeling the pain, tension, tightness, and soreness. Imagine that the light reaches each of those parts and scrubs them clean of pain. After this point, is where you can start to tune into the source of your tensions, and learn more about your emotional landscape. But for now, we are going to pause, and give ourselves a rest. We will learn that in Part 3.  For now, let’s loosen our bodies, and adjust what we can.

Step 5) - Adjust what you need, where you can.

Now that you have performed a physical body scan, and tuned into what areas are expressing pain or pleasure, you can take some steps to heal and treat your body more kindly. At this point, you do not need to think to hard, because you are already in touch with your body. Move however comes naturally to you, and open your eyes when you are ready. Perhaps you need a big stretch upwards, a twisting of your spine, or a shaking of your hands or feet. Whatever it is, get moving. Take a big deep breath in, exhale, and thank yourself for taking the time to listen to your body, and become more in touch with yourself.

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To receive the most benefit from this body scan, I recommend doing it first thing in the morning, every day. Start by trying at least once a week, and build up from there.  Remember, small changes, make BIG differences! In the next section of listening to your body, I will be going over how to start learning more about the source of your body pain, and how to listen to your emotional landscape. All of these build on the other, so remember to keep practicing deep breathing, and performing this body scan!

After performing this body scan, did you notice anything you didn’t before? What do you think your body might be trying to tell you? Share in the comments below!