the body scan may build your resilience for change

11/08/2010

by anne lueneburger

This is my third entry regarding Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction… (on October 16th and November 1st you will find more)

Today Laurence had us roll out yoga mats, lie down and took us step-by-step through the ‘Body Scan’ Meditation. And yes, she literally guided us (in her calm voice with its strong French accent), through our bodies:

  • Lie on your back with your legs uncrossed, your arms at your sides, palms up, and your eyes open or closed, as you wish.
  • Focus on your breathing, how the air moves in and out of your body.
  • After several deep breaths, as you begin to feel comfortable and relaxed, direct your attention to the toes of your left foot. Tune into any sensations in that part of your body while remaining aware of your breathing. It often helps to imagine each breath flowing to the spot where you’re directing your attention. Focus on your left toes for one to two minutes.
  • Then move your focus to the sole of your left foot and hold it there for a minute or two while continuing to pay attention to your breathing.
  • Follow the same procedure as you move to your left ankle, calf, knee, thigh, hip and so on all around the body.
  • Pay particular attention to any areas that cause pain or are the focus of any medical condition (for asthma, the lungs; for diabetes, the pancreas).
  • Pay particular attention to the head: the jaw, chin, lips, tongue, roof of the mouth, nostrils, throat, cheeks, eyelids, eyes, eyebrows, forehead, temples and scalp.
  • Finally, focus on the very top of your hair, the uppermost part of your body. Then let go of the body altogether, and in your mind, hover above yourself as your breath reaches beyond you and touches the universe.

About 5 minutes into the meditation my neighbor had started snoring slightly and I knew where his thoughts were… Mine kept going over my day and what I wanted to accomplish over the next couple of weeks, but I worked hard on refocusing myself solely on the ‘instructions’. The total exercise took around 30 minutes, whereas the full body scan as developed by Jon Kabat Zin, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, takes 45 minutes to an hour.

So how did it feel? Well, I was more relaxed afterwards, but the key is really in the practice. Ideally you practice this every day until it becomes second nature to you, and living a more mindful life in the ‘here and now’ becomes part of who you are.

And the scientific evidence is in: meditation really does permanently change our brain for the better. (Based on new ‘functional MRI’ technology undertaken by researches such as Richard Davidson, who have looked at Buddhist monks and other meditators.) It’s not unlike working out with handlebars to train your biceps – the brain has the capability to build new neurological pathways and to strengthen the brain circuits that support concentration and empathy, important qualities that sustain a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle.

So, is the body scan meditation the best way to manage stress? To reap the benefits takes quite some practice, maybe not 10,000 hours, but still many weeks, months and years are necessary to reduce anxiety and stress. And I am the first one to admit that I really struggle with spending 30-45 minutes lying still and concentrating on my body every day. This is where choice comes in, and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) does offer a variety of meditation techniques, and you can select the one that works best for you.

Next session Laurence is introducing us to walking meditation which sounds pretty good, given that I sit on my chair most of the day. So stay tuned… And until then I will do what relaxes me most: ride ‘Einstein’, a black stallion who teaches me how to focus on the ‘here and now’ as I make sure I stay on. I wonder what my brain scan would look like? Based on how happy I am when I am on horseback, it may show that a de-stressing activity need not be meditation or calmness; it could be anything that engages us, takes the focus off our worries and re-energizes us. It is about finding our authentic comfort activities to replenish.

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