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Body Scan Meditation

Feeling tense? Feel your body relax as you try this practice.

Duration: 5 mins Frequency: 3x/week Difficulty: Moderate

Time Required

5 minutes, three to six days per week. Research suggests that people who practice the body scan for longer reap more benefits from this practice.

How to Do It

The body scan can be performed while lying down, sitting, or in other postures. The steps below are a guided meditation designed to be done while sitting. You can listen to audio of this three-minute guided meditation, produced by UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), in the player; if it doesn't play, you can find it here or download it from MARC's website.*

Especially for those new to the body scan, we recommend performing this practice with the audio. However, you can also use the script below for guidance for yourself or for leading this practice for others.

  1. Begin by bringing your attention to your environment, slowly looking around and noticing that you are safe in this moment. 
  2. Bring your attention into your body. 
  3. You can close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you or maintain a soft gaze, with your eyes partially closed but not focusing on anything in particular.
  4. You can notice your body seated wherever you’re seated, feeling the support of the chair or the floor beneath you.
  5. Take a few deep, long breaths, within the range of what is comfortable for you. 
  6. And as you take a deep breath, bring in more oxygen, enlivening the body. And as you exhale, you might experience a sense of relaxing more deeply.
  7. You can notice your feet on the floor, notice the sensations of your feet touching the floor. The weight and pressure, vibration, heat. 
  8. You can notice your legs against the chair, pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness. 
  9. Notice your back against the chair, supporting you. If you are not able to notice sensations in all areas of the body, that is OK. We are more connected to certain areas of the body than others, at different times of the day.
  10. Bring your attention into your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, can you allow it to soften? Take a breath.
  11. Notice your hands. Are your hands tense or tight? See if you can allow them to soften.
  12. Notice your arms. Feel any sensation in your arms. Do your best to allow your shoulders to be soft.
  13. Notice your neck and throat. Try to allow them be soft. See if you can invite a sense of relaxation in.
  14. Try to soften your jaw. Do your best to allow your face and facial muscles to be soft.
  15. Then notice your whole body present. Take one more breath.
  16. Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath. Slowly open up the eyes, without focusing on anything in particular. Allow the head and neck to gently rotate, taking in the space you are in. When you feel ready, you can return to your normal gaze.

* You can also listen to a 45-minute version of the Body Scan that the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness uses in its trainings in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

Why You Should Try It

This exercise asks you to systematically focus your attention on different parts of your body, from your feet to the muscles in your face. It is designed to help you develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations, and to relieve tension when possible. Research suggests that this mindfulness practice can help reduce stress, improve your well-being, and decrease aches and pains.

Why It Works

Our body can sometimes be a source of pain and negative emotions, whether they are caused by injury or disease, or experiences of discrimination and prejudice. The body scan provides a rare opportunity for us to experience our body as it is, including any difficult feelings that come up, without judging or trying to change it. 

It may allow us to notice and release a source of tension we weren’t aware of before, such as a hunched back or clenched jaw muscles. Or it may draw our attention to a source of pain and discomfort. 

Our feelings of resistance and anger toward pain often only serve to increase that pain, and to increase the distress associated with it. According to research, by noticing the pain we’re experiencing, without trying to change it, we may actually feel some relief. Even if the pain doesn't go away, we can take steps to shift our relationship to pain and our relationship to our body in general. 

The body scan allows us to work with these types of negative feelings. This practice may also increase our general attunement to our physical needs and sensations, which can in turn help us take better care of our body and make healthier decisions about eating, sleep, and exercise.

Evidence That It Works

Carmody, J. & Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms, and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(1), 23–33.

Body Scan is one of the practices included in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and based on Buddhist teachings, MBSR is a six- to 10-week program that teaches various mindfulness techniques through weekly sessions and homework assignments. More information about this program is available in Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living.

People in Massachusetts who attended an MSBR program showed increases in mindfulness and well-being, and decreases in stress and symptoms of mental illness, at the end of eight weekly sessions. Time spent engaging in the Body Scan was associated with increased psychological well-being and greater levels of two components of mindfulness—non-reacting to stress and observing thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.

Who Has Tried the Practice?

Additional studies explore how the Body Scan benefits people outside the U.S.:

Research suggests that MBSR, which includes the Body Scan, benefits the mental health of various groups, including the following:

More research is needed to explore whether, and how, the impact of this practice extends to other groups and cultures.

Keep in Mind

A 2015 study found that MBSR “improved depressive symptoms regardless of affiliation with a religion, sense of spiritually, … sex, or age.” However, other studies suggest that MBSR may not benefit everyone equally:

Sources

Diana Winston, Ph.D., UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center
Steven D. Hickman, Psy.D., UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

References

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Fogarty, F. A., Booth, R. J., Lee, A. C., Dalbeth, N., & Consedine, N. S. (2019). Mindfulness-based stress reduction with individuals who have rheumatoid arthritis: Evaluating depression and anxiety as mediators of change in disease activity. Mindfulness, 10(7), 1328–1338.

Gallegos, A. M., Heffner, K. L., Cerulli, C., Luck, P., McGuinness, S., & Pigeon, W. R. (2020). Effects of mindfulness training on posttraumatic stress symptoms from a community-based pilot clinical trial among survivors of intimate partner violence. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(8), 859–868.

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Hoffman, D. M. (2019). Mindfulness and the cultural psychology of personhood: Challenges of self, other, and moral orientation in Haiti. Culture & Psychology, 25(3), 302–323.

Jung, H. Y., Lee, H., & Park, J. (2015). Comparison of the effects of Korean mindfulness-based stress reduction, walking, and patient education in diabetes mellitus. Nursing & Health Sciences, 17(4), 516–525.

Kabat-Zinn, J., De Torrijos, F., Skillings, A. H., Blacker, M., Mumford, G. T., Alvares, D. L., & Rosal, M. C. (2016). Delivery and effectiveness of a dual language (English/Spanish) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in the inner city - A seven-year experience: 1992-1999. Mindfulness & Compassion, 1(1), 2–13.

Kabat-Zinn, J., & Hanh, T. N. (2009). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Delta.

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McIntyre, T., Elkonin, D., de Kooker, M., & Magidson, J. F. (2018). The application of mindfulness for individuals living with HIV in South Africa: A hybrid effectiveness-implementation pilot study. Mindfulness, 9(3), 871–883.

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SeyedAlinaghi, S., Jam, S., Foroughi, M., Imani, A., Mohraz, M., Djavid, G. E., & Black, D. S. (2012). Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction delivered to human immunodeficiency virus-positive patients in Iran: effects on CD4⁺ T lymphocyte count and medical and psychological symptoms. Psychosomatic Medicine, 74(6), 620–627.

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Vinesett, A. L., Whaley, R. R., Woods-Giscombe, C., Dennis, P., Johnson, M., Li, Y., Mounzeo, P., Baegne, M., & Wilson, K. H. (2017). Modified African Ngoma healing ceremony for stress reduction: A pilot study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 23(10), 800–804.

Waldron, E. M., & Burnett-Zeigler, I. (2021). The impact of participation in a mindfulness-based intervention on posttraumatic stress symptomatology among Black women: A pilot study. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 14(1), 29–37.

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Zhang, J., Cui, Y., Zhou, Y., & Li, Y. (2019). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on prenatal stress, anxiety and depression. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 24(1), 51–58.

Zhang, J., Zhou, Y., Feng, Z., Fan, Y., Zeng, G., & Wei, L. (2017). Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on posttraumatic growth of Chinese breast cancer survivors. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 22(1), 94–109.

Quick Description

The Body Scan Meditation helps us become more aware our bodies, an awareness we often neglect. Are you attuned to the present moment? Take our Mindfulness quiz to find out:

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Summary

Science-based practices for a meaningful life, curated by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

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