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.
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.
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.
* 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.
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.
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.