Body Scan: What Is This Relaxation Technique And How Is It Performed

Summary about the characteristics and how to use this technique associated with Mindfulness.

Body scan

Among the most used Mindfulness techniques, in addition to breathing, we have the body scan, a useful resource to become more aware of the sensations of our body without resorting to anything other than our own mind.

Let’s see what exactly it is and how it is done to relax and be in the here and now

What is a body scan?

The body scan, also called “body scan” and body sweep, is one of the stress reduction techniques based on Mindfulness, or MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), in addition to one of the most important along with controlled breathing .

It consists of taking full attention to the bodily sensations, going from part to part of the body and being aware of what they are feeling, intensifying and understanding it. This practice has been incorporated into almost all stress reduction programs since, as a beneficial side effect, it induces relaxation.

With the type of busy life we ​​have, coupled with the little time we have to know ourselves, many times we only feel a pain, a tingling or our own body posture towards the end of the day, when we are already in bed. The fact that we suddenly become more aware of our sensations late at night is because, either out of boredom or because we have trouble sleeping, we pay more attention to our body.

The main objective of this technique is to know the state of our body, to know what sensations come from the different parts that compose it. The relaxation, emotions and thoughts that occur as a result of this process are secondary, but equally fundamental. Although it is not considered a purely relaxation technique, the way it is applied contributes to inducing general relaxation, both physical and mental.

How it is performed?

As we have mentioned, one of the moments in which, involuntarily, we become more aware of our sensations is when we are lying down. This can be a good starting point for newbies to this technique, starting with when they are in bed. Not only will we not have many distractors, but also by inducing relaxation it will help us sleep. However, it must be said that it can be done at any time of the day and that it does not necessarily serve to sleep.

As its name suggests, the technique consists of imagining yourself performing a kind of systematic scan or sweep of the body, like the machines used in airports with passengers. The difference with these machines is that it is not X-rays that we use to scan the body, but rather our mind, our consciousness, focusing our attention on the different parts of the body, and becoming aware of what they are feeling and, therefore , what we ourselves should be feeling.

The scan can start anywhere on the body, but it is best to always go in the same direction, be it from top to bottom or from bottom to top. Going up and down is said to lead to more relaxation and, as a consequence, can induce sleep. If what you want is to try to sleep this would be a very good address. It may be the case that, in our particular case, going from head to toe, bottom-up, implies more relaxation. Everything is to try and see which direction is the best for us.

Example of body scan exercise to relax

As an example, we are going to describe how this technique is performed following an order from bottom to top:

First, we close our eyes and begin to feel for the toes of the left foot, mentally moving through the entire foot, paying attention to the sole, heel, and forefoot. Next, we will go up the left leg, feeling, in this order, the left ankle, shin and calf, followed by the knee and kneecap, the entire thigh, groin and hip. Then, we jump to the toes of the right foot, following the same process that we have done with the right leg.

Once we have seen both legs, we will focus our attention on the pelvic part, including the hips, buttocks and our genitals. We move on to the lower back and abdomen, which will be our introduction to the rest of the torso, the upper part of the back, the chest and the ribs. If we are very focused, we may notice our heartbeat, especially if we are a little nervous. We will also become aware of the rhythm of breathing, feeling the lungs swell and deflate.

We will pay attention to the shoulder blades, clavicles and shoulders, the latter being the links between the torso and the arms. When evaluating the arms, we have a certain freedom, since we can dare to analyze both simultaneously or, if we prefer to spend more time in the session, go one by one.

In the arms we can start in a similar way as we have done with the legs, going to the fingers and thumbs. We move successively through the fingers, palms, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, armpits and shoulders again, which will serve as a bridge to go to the final part of the body scan, the head, passing through the neck and throat.

What requirements are needed?

Anyone, regardless of gender and physical condition, can practice body scanning. However, it is necessary to take into account a number of aspects.

It is necessary to find a place where there are no distractions, such as our room. This place is ideal since it allows us to lie down while we perform the technique, although it is true that we can do it lying down or even standing up, but it is not the most recommended for novice people. Also, the idea would be to have enough free time to carry out a session, which can last between 20 and 45 minutes.

Sometimes it is not necessary to carry out the entire scan, that is, to concentrate on all sensations in all parts of the body. The example given above is a full body scan, but it is not the only one and it is not necessary to carry it so extensively if you only want to focus on one part, especially if you are quite new to this technique or do not have much time. For example, we can focus only on the sensations in our arm or the rhythm of our breathing.

Also, although it is not recommended, the body scan can be done in a place where we have nothing to do, such as in the doctor’s waiting room, on the bus or on a bench on the street. The ideal is to have silence and time, but we can also test our capacity for mindfulness in the most varied places.

What sensations can the body sweep involve?

As we were already saying, the body scan is a technique that makes us pay full attention to parts of our body. Being more concentrated, we have a lower threshold of sensitivity than compared to a normal day, noticing things that, perhaps, in other situations, we would not even think that we are capable of perceiving.

Next we will see these physical sensations, in addition to the emotions that can awaken us and, of course, more or less related thoughts.

1. Physical sensations

As for physical sensations, we can feel all kinds. Just to say a few: tingling, pricking, tension, softness, relaxation, numbness, heaviness, lightness, tremors, tightness, itching, burning, pain, throbbing, vibrations, and hot and cold sensations.

2. Emotional reactions

During the performance of the technique we can feel the entire emotional spectrum, both negative and positive emotions.

We may feel joy, surprise, impatience, or want to stop, either out of boredom or because we don’t feel comfortable, or else we may feel pleasure. We can also feel sadness or fear, grief, anger, frustration, even disgust …

3. Thoughts

Of course, while performing the technique it is impossible to completely blank your mind.

Perhaps there are people, with a lot of experience in the technique, who are capable of blanking their minds, concentrating solely and exclusively on bodily sensations, but this, most mortals, we can hardly achieve.

During the technique, all kinds of thoughts may come to mind and, like the emotions mentioned above, these can be positive or negative.

Since it is a time when we have quiet time and time to ourselves, we can resort to looking back, to see what has happened in our past, and to be aware of our successes and failures.

We can also look to the future, think about how to plan it, what we want, where we want to go … of course, all kinds of thoughts can come to mind …

Some aspects to consider

It is possible that, during the body scan, discomfort is experienced, as important as the person may feel panic. Since they are not being subjected to any type of traumatic procedure, there is no reason to think that the person is in danger. That is why the most advisable thing, in these situations, is to try to concentrate on the breathing, its rhythmic movement and, as far as possible, reduce the inspiration-expiration rhythm, until the person feels better.

If despite this, the panic symptoms do not reduce, it is best to open our eyes, look at the room or the place where we are and try to orient ourselves in the space, to become aware that we have not gone anywhere We are not dangerous, nor are we in a situation where our lives are at risk.

We can try to look at something that relaxes us, such as a painting or a photo of a loved one. We can even try to talk to someone in case we are not alone at home or, in case we are, call (no instant messaging) someone. With the sound of his voice and, above all, his tone, he will induce us to feel better. But beware! let’s not call just anyone. It must be a close person and that we know that it tends to be comforting to talk with him or her.

Also, if what we need is air, we can take a walk open the windows. If the soft and delicious aroma of an infusion relaxes us (before a tea), we can prepare a chamomile, a valerian or the herbal infusion that we like the most, but preferably not resort to coffee or tea. We may like these types of drinks, but since they contain caffeine, a substance that can increase stress, it is not the most appropriate for the situation in which we find ourselves.

Bibliographic references:

  • Dreeben, Samuel & Mamberg, Michelle & Salmon, Paul. (2013). The MBSR body scan in clinical practice. Mindfulness. 4. 394-401. 10.1007 / s12671-013-0212-z.

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