Mindfulness is a moment-to-moment awareness cultivated by paying attention to the present moment with acceptance. Mindfulness can help to reduce stress and other negative emotional or behavioural issues (Aherne et al., 2016). It is based on practices that focus attention and originates in Buddhism and meditation. Mindfulness training has been shown to improve cognitive and behavioural flexibility, perceived emotional control, longevity in older adults, and is often used as a treatment to psychological stress and negative mood states (Aherne et al., 2016; Rosenkranz et al., 2013). Mindfulness has been associated with increased health outcomes in clinical and non-clinical populations, and studies have reported improvements in pain, body image, activity levels, medical symptoms, mood, affect, somatization, anxiety, depression and self-esteem (Rush & Sharma, 2017). Continuous or chronic stress may fuel depression and anxiety and lead to unproductive rumination and worry that consumes energy (Rush & Sharma, 2017).
The Mindfulness-Based Body Scan exercise requires paying attention to various parts and sensations of the body starting from the feet and moving upwards to the head (Rush & Sharma, 2017). During the exercise, when distraction or thoughts deviating from the task occur, participants are asked to attempt to return to the task at hand (Rush & Sharma, 2017).
The exercise is extended into the day-to-day activities, or “mindfulness-moments” by practicing a sense of informal awareness on emotions, thoughts, and cognitions that occur during activities, such as walking, eating, driving, working, and talking (Rush & Sharma, 2017). Mindfulness practices help to alter one’s relationship with stressful thoughts and events by reducing reaction to everyday emotions and improving thoughtful actions (Rush & Sharma, 2017).
Body Scan Exercise
Let’s Begin. Take a few moments to adjust your position and get your body settled. When you are ready, let your eyes close gently. Begin by taking your attention down to the feet, really concentrating on your feet. Perhaps moving them a little, really feeling what sensations there are in the feet right now. Remember that for this exercise there is no right or wrong, the exercise is a simple one of noticing and working with whatever sensations there might be in the feet and the rest of the body right now.
As you notice and hold your attention on your feet, feel the muscles softening a little, relaxing and releasing. Softening, loosening, just simply letting go. Remember there is nothing else you need to be doing right now. Having given yourself the time and space for this exercise, there is nothing else you need to be doing, nowhere else you need to be, no one else you need to be pleasing or satisfying. It is just a time for relaxing, releasing and letting go.
So now move your attention up to the calves, it is almost like you are moving your attention up through the calves. Feel what sensations might be there at the moment, perhaps some parts feel different from others. And again, even if some areas feel tight or tense or uncomfortable, just be interested to notice how they feel at this particular time, almost like an impartial observer, just noticing, being interested. It is a gentle curiosity, just notice how your calves are feeling at this particular time. And as you hold your awareness on the calves, feel the muscles softening and loosening, relaxing and releasing, just simply letting go.
Take your attention up the thighs and feel them relaxing and releasing, feel it deeply, completely, all down through the thighs and the calves and the feet. Sometimes it might feel almost like the muscles are melting down into the floor or chair a little. Just relaxing and releasing. Perhaps feeling a little heavier, like they could be melting or merging, just feeling them letting go, deeply, completely, letting go.
And now feel it all through the buttocks, hips and pelvis. Sometimes it helps to imagine there is a belt or a band around the hips that has just been loosened a little, the big muscles around the hips, softening and loosening. Relaxing and releasing, quite effortlessly, effortlessly, just going with it.
Bring your attention up to the tummy, you will probably notice it rising and falling a little with the breath, and then that feeling of letting go again, all through the tummy. Calm and relaxed, just going with it, calm and relaxed.
Move your attention up to the chest, again just being aware of the chest rising and falling with the breath, and feeling the ease of it all. Just allowing the breath to take up whatever rhythm feels comfortable for you at the moment, quite effortlessly, effortlessly, just going with it, more and more, deeper and deeper, letting go.
Now feel a wave of relaxation flowing down through the arms. First, the upper arm, softening and loosening, and down through the elbows and into the forearms. Relaxing, releasing, letting go. And then down through the wrists, the hands and fingers. Sometimes you might notice almost what feels like a tingling flowing into the hands and fingers, a feeling of lightness, almost like they could be floating. Just going with it, effortlessly, effortlessly, just going with it.
Now feel it all through the shoulders, perhaps just raising and lowering the shoulders a little. Feel the head moving from side to side, and the muscles up either side of the neck softening and loosening. Just feeling it all through the shoulders, the neck and the throat, feeling the ease of it all, just going with it.
Bring your attention to your face, with your lips just lightly touching, feel the jaw drop a little, the tongue, soft and loose. Feel it all through the mouth, and feel it up over the nose and through the cheeks. Feel the eyelids smoothing out, feeling it deeply, all through the eyes, and the temples, soft and loose. And feel it all around the ears, the back of the head, up on top of the head.
And now feel the forehead smoothing out, feel it deeply, completely, feel it all through the body, more and more. Deeper and deeper. Just letting go, going with it. Feel it through the body, and the mind, going with it, going with it, more and more, deeper and deeper, just letting go, letting go.
Take as long as you choose to sit quietly, then when you are ready you might like to take a deeper breath or two. Perhaps move your feet a little, feel your hands move a little, and then when you are ready, let your eyes gently open again.
I hope this exercise was helpful to you. Your challenge for today is to stop 1-3 times today and have a mindfulness moment, where you are fully present, you focus your attention only on what you are doing. I like to do this every time I wash my hands. I do it slowly, without judgement, just fully immersing myself in the task and feeling all of the sensations. You can choose any activity during your day to practice mindfulness.
At the end of the day, reflect on those moments, how you felt, what changed or didn’t change, what you might have noticed today that you havent noticed before.
See you on day 5.
Aherne, D., Farrant, K., Hickey, L., Hickey, E., McGrath, L., & McGrath, D. (2016). Mindfulness based stress reduction for medical students: optimising student satisfaction and engagement. BMC medical education, 16(1), 209. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1533210110387687
Gawler, I., & Bedson, P. (2011). Meditation: An in-depth guide. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
Rosenkranz, M. A., Davidson, R. J., MacCoon, D. G., Sheridan, J. F., Kalin, N. H., & Lutz, A. (2013). A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 27, 174-184. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518553/
Rush, S. E., & Sharma, M. (2017). Mindfulness-based stress reduction as a stress management intervention for cancer care: a systematic review. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 22(2), 348-360. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2156587216661467