Rocky Mountain Insight Rocky Mountain Insight

February, 2015

The Body Scan: A Mindfulness Meditation of the Body — by Pat Komarow

 For Rocky Mountain Insight 2/25/15


The Body Scan:  A Mindfulness Meditation of the Body

By Patricia Komarow 

This guided meditation, which will be taught Wed. Feb. 25, 2015 at RMI is based in the traditional Buddhist teaching of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness or the Satipatthana Sutta.  Within this sutta, the first of the foundations is “Contemplation of the Body” and offers a variety of meditations based in the body, the Body Scan being one of them.  The Buddha knew in his wisdom that focusing our awareness in the body is one of the most effective ways to stay grounded in the present moment.

The Meditation         

This meditation cultivates the “observer” versus trying to change your experience.  You are merely trying to be with whatever your experience is, not judge it as good or bad or analyze it in terms of problem-solving.  Yes, you will be informed by it but you can use this information later for any decision-making regarding remedies or even insights into your experience.  It is similar to mindful breathing of not changing the breath but rather “watching” it as it is in all its impermanence.

Begin in an upright but relaxed sitting posture, close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath, a simple “in” and “out” at the level of the chest.  Take full breaths.  Feel your heart beating.

Slowly move your breath into your pelvis.  Try to expand your breathing into this area, extending it below the diaphragm.  Breathe into the belly and pelvis and feel this expansion.  Breathing out from the pelvis, let your abdomen relax.  Do you feel anything there?  You may notice your belly, your genitals, your clothing touching your skin.  Are the sensations pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.  Can you stay with the unpleasant whenever it occurs for just a while, and not immediately turn away from it.

Next, move your awareness and breathe into your right hip and leg.  Include the shape and length of your right thigh, knee, calf, and shin.  Imagine that you can take your breath down the entire length of your leg from the thigh to the ankle and into the foot and toes.  Practice this with several breaths.  Notice what parts of your leg is producing sensations.  Notice sensations in your foot and the different parts:  top of foot, toes, arch, sole, and heel.  As you are glide down your right leg, visualize the bones, muscles, tendons and flesh.

Shift your awareness over to the left foot and slowly glide up the left leg, again noting all the parts of the foot, calf and shin, knee, thigh and into the left hip, buttocks and low back.  Breathe into this area and again visualize the shape and size of the bones, the muscles and tissue.

Then imagine the arch in the low back and where your pelvis connects to your sacrum below the base of your spine.  Sweep up into your low back and all the side-body muscles including the intercostals between the ribs.   Breathe up into the mid-back and rib cage and again imagine its shape.

Float your awareness up into the spine, mid-back, upper back and right shoulder, breathing into the wing of your shoulder.  Imagine the shape and size and then glide down your right arm with both your awareness and breath:  upper arm, elbow joint, lower arm, wrist, hands, fingers and thumb.  Cross over to the left arm, now sweeping up to all its parts.

Shift your awareness to your mid torso, noting your belly again, sternum and chest, up into your neck and throat.  Breathe into your face and notice the sensations in your cheeks and jaws, your mouth and tongue, your nose and eyes.  Imagine the shape of your head and breathe into your scalp.

Allow your breath to flow out the top of your head, the crown chakra and surround your entire boy, expanding your inner vision out so that you are aware of your entire body  just sitting.  Feel the shape and sensations of your entire body and relax as much as you are able.  Stay here for awhile.

Gradually come back to your breath at the diaphragm or the tip of your nose and just settle your focus there, again feeling the general movement of your body as you breathe.  Stay here for a few minutes or longer.

As you gently end your meditation by bringing your senses back into the room, explore your experience.

Assess the Quality of Your Energy for your Individual Practice

 Again begin with attention on your breath, a simple “in” and “out”.  Feel it rise and fall in your chest and abdomen.  Take full breaths.  Feel your heart beating.  Gently  assess whether you are high energy or low energy in this moment.  If you are high energy and you want to relax and settle down, you will start your Body Scan at the head and work down.  If you are low energy and want to increase your energy, you will start at your feet and work up.  This you will determine when individually working with this practice.

Helpful Questions

  1. What kinds of sensation did you notice in the body during the meditation?
  2. What areas of your body have the most feeling? The least feeling?
  3. What thoughts and emotions came up for you when you investigated your body?
  4. How did you feel before and after the meditation?
  5. Pain? If so, how did you manage the pain?  What was this like?

Home Meditation

You may use this sequence to do the body scan or modify it to what makes sense to you.  Take 2 to 3 minutes for each area.

  • Chest, heart, lungs
  • Belly, pelvis, genitals
  • Thighs, knees, calves and shins
  • Ankles and feet
  • Buttocks and low back
  • Mid-back and shoulders
  • Arms
  • Wrists, hands and fingers
  • Throat and neck
  • Face
  • Head and scalp
  • Breathe at the diaphragm or tip of the nose

How to Handle Pain Sensation Within the Meditation

When you feel pain in your body, there are two basic approaches for working with this pain:  moving away from it and moving into it.

When moving away from pain, you take note of the pain and then return your attention to the guided body scan.  By focusing your attention on the different parts of your body that aren’t in pain, you are distracting your attention away from the pain.  This is an indirect way of relieving tension and relaxing.

On the other hand, if the pain is so distracting that you cannot keep your attention on the body scan, then move into it.  Begin by breathing into the part of the body that hurts.  On the in-breath, imagine that your breath is expanding the painful area.  On the out-breath, imagine that you are breathing the pain out of your body.  Relax and let go of the tension that pain creates in both the body and mind.  If this approach significantly relieves your pain, you may return to the body scan.

A second approach to going into the pain is to explore different elements of the pain in that one body part.  See if you can sense the size of the pain including its borders.  Is there a shape to your pain?  Does it have a color or many colors?  What is the texture?  Bumpy?  Slippery?  Jagged?  What is the over-all sensation?  Throbbing?  Achy?  Sharp?  Dull?

Now, match all these elements of size, shape, color, texture, and sensation and then overlay this on top of the actual physical pain.  An example of this type of overlay is like laying the palm of one hand on top of the other so they match exactly.  Imagine this matching with all its elements and just focus on it.  Relax your body as you stay focused.

You may notice these elements changing in the physical pain and the matched elements.  Let that happen as you continue to focus on the changes.  They may float in their change.  Stay with them and explore.  After a while, notice if the physical pain has dissipated somewhat or changed in some way.  When it has, come first to your breath and then back to the body scan.

Sometimes, the pain may be too intense for formal meditation.  Then, do what you need in order to take care of yourself and ease your pain.  Toughing it out is not a healthy practice nor nourishing toward yourself.