Body scan: what is this relaxation technique and how is it performed?
Summary of the characteristics and mode of use of this technique associated with Mindfulness.
Among the most commonly used Mindfulness techniques, in addition to breathing, we have body scanninga 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 body scanning?
Body scanning, also called "body scan" and body sweep, is one of the stress reduction techniques based on Mindfulness, or MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), as well as one of the most important along with controlled breathing.
It consists of taking full attention of body sensations.The practice of this practice has been incorporated into almost all stress reduction programs since, as a collateral beneficial effect, it induces relaxation. This practice has been incorporated into almost all stress reduction programs since, as a beneficial side effect, it induces relaxation.
With our busy lives, coupled with the little time we have to know ourselves, we often only feel an ache, a tingle 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 at night is due to the fact that we pay more attention to our body, either because we are bored or because we find it difficult to sleep.
The main objective of this technique is to to know the state of our bodyto 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 induce generalized relaxation, both physical and mental.
How is it performed?
As we have commented, 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 beginners in this technique, starting when they are in bed. Not only will we not have many distractions, but also, by inducing relaxation, it will help us to sleep. However, it should be said that it can be done at any time of the day and does not necessarily serve to sleep.
As its name suggests, the technique consists of imagining oneself to be performing a kind of systematic scanning or sweeping of the body, like the machines used in airports with passengers. The difference with those machines is that it is not X-rays that we use to scan the body, but our mind, our consciousness, focusing the attention on the different parts of the bodyand becoming aware of what they are feeling and, therefore, what we ourselves should be feeling.
The scanning can start in any part of the body, but it is best to always go in the same direction, whether it is from top to bottom, or from top to bottom.whether this is from top to bottom or from bottom to top. It is said that going from top to bottom generates more relaxation and, as a consequence, can induce sleep. If what you want is to try to sleep this would be a very good direction. It may be the case that, in our particular case, going from head to toe, down-up, implies more relaxation. Everything is to try and see which direction works best for us.
Example of body scanning exercise for relaxation
As an example, we are going to describe how to perform this technique following an order from bottom to top:
First, we close our eyes and start feeling through the toes of the left foot.First, we close our eyes and begin to feel through the toes of the left foot, moving mentally over the entire foot, paying attention to the sole, heel and forefoot. Next, we move 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 as we have done with the right leg.
Once we have seen the two legs, we will turn our attention to 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, upper back, chest and ribs. It is possible that, if we are very concentrated, we may notice our heartbeat, especially if we are a little nervous.especially if we are a little nervous. We will also become aware of the rhythm of our breathing, feeling our lungs swell and deflate.
We will pay attention to the shoulder blades, clavicles and shoulders, the latter being the link 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 dedicate more time to the session, we can 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 are the requirements?
Any person, regardless of gender and physical condition, can practice body scanning.. However, it is necessary to take into account a series of aspects.
It is necessary to find a place where there are no distractions, such as, for example, our bedroom.such as, for example, our bedroom. This place is ideal because it allows us to be lying down while we perform the technique, although it is true that we can perform it lying down or even standing up, but it is not the most recommended for beginners. Also, the idea would be to have enough free time to be able to carry out a session, which can last between 20 and 45 minutes.
Sometimes, it is not necessary to carry out the scanning in its entirety.Sometimes, it is not necessary to carry out the scan in its entirety, i.e. to concentrate on all the sensations of 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 out 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 of our arm or the rhythm of our breathing.
Also, although it is not the most advisable, you can do the body sweep when you are in a place where you have nothing to do, such as in the doctor's waiting room, on the bus or on a bench in the street. The ideal is to have silence and timeBut we can also test our capacity for mindfulness in the most varied places.
What sensations can body scanning involve?
As we were saying, body scanning is a technique that makes us pay full attention to parts of our body. As we are more concentrated, we have a lower sensitivity threshold than compared to a normal day.We notice things that, perhaps, in other situations, we would not even think that we are capable of perceiving.
Below we will see these physical sensations, as well as the emotions that can awaken in us and, of course, more or less related thoughts.
1. Physical sensations
As for physical sensations, we can feel all kinds. Just to name a few: tingling, prickling, tension, softness, relaxation, numbness, heaviness, lightness, trembling, tightness, itching, burning, pain, throbbing, vibrations, and hot and cold sensations.
During the performance of the technique we can feel the whole emotional spectrumboth negative and positive emotions.
We may feel joy, surprise, impatience or the desire to want to stop, either out of boredom or because we do not feel comfortable or, conversely, we may feel pleasure. We can also feel sadness or fear, grief, anger, frustration, disgust even....
Of course, during the realization of the technique it is impossible to leave the mind totally blank.
Perhaps there are people, with a lot of experience in the technique, who are able to leave their mind blank, to concentrate only and exclusively on the corporeal sensations, but this, most mortals, we can hardly achieve it.
During the technique all kinds of thoughts can come to our minds and, like the emotions above and, like the aforementioned emotions, these can be positive or negative.
Since this is a time when we have peace and quiet 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 for it, what we want, where we want to get to... of course, all kinds of thoughts can come to our minds...
Some aspects to consider
It is possible that, during the body scan, discomfort may be experienced.The same is true for the fact that the person may be panicking. Since the person is not being subjected to any type of traumatic procedure, there is no reason to think that he/she is in danger. That is why the most advisable thing to do in these situations is to try to concentrate on breathing, on its rhythmic movement and, as far as possible, to slow down the inspiration-expiration rhythm until the person feels better.
If in spite of it the panic symptoms are not reduced, the best thing to do is to open our eyes, look at the room or the place where we are and try to orient ourselves in space, to become aware that we are not panicking.We can try to become aware that we have not gone to a dangerous place and that we are not in a situation where our lives are at risk.
We can try to look at something that relaxes us, such as a picture 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. The sound of their voice and, above all, their tone, will induce us to feel better. But be careful! do not call just anyone. It must be someone close to us and who we know tends to be comforting to talk to.
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 most like, but preferably not to resort to coffee or tea. It is possible that we like these types of beverages, 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.
- Dreeben, Samuel & Mamberg, Michelle & Salmon, Paul. (2013). The MBSR body scan in clinical practice. Mindfulness. 4. 394-401. 10.1007/s12671-013-0212-z.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)