Body scan meditation is a mindfulness practice which is particularly useful for chronic pain. Pain is more than just the physical sensations of the body. It also involves your beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.
Chronic pain can cause feelings such as anger, hopelessness, sadness,
If you have been suffering chronic pain for years, you may tend to ignore your body as much as possible. Subconsciously we begin to see pain as the enemy. It is only natural to have negative thoughts and feelings about an enemy. The trouble is, these negative thoughts and feelings make the pain stronger. The worse you think or feel about your pain, the worse your pain feels.
Pain-related thoughts are automatic. Most of the time we are not even aware of them. Body scan meditation is a way to get in touch with the body, let go of pain-related thoughts and feelings, and release bottled-up emotions. It can change our relationship with pain. Instead of letting the mind be held hostage by pain, we learn new ways to cope with pain.
Body Scan Meditation Changes your Perception of Pain
Mindfulness allows us to see the different elements of pain -primary suffering and secondary suffering. Primary suffering is the physical pain itself. Secondary suffering is the thoughts and feelings we have in reaction to primary pain. As bad as the primary pain might be, how we respond to it can escalate things.
Negative emotions make the body sense pain more quickly and with greater intensity. The reverse is also true. Reducing stress and tension can lower the perception of pain.
During body scan meditation:
- You focus your attention on the sensations that are occurring in the body, section by section. Just feel and acknowledge whatever sensations are present. You may come across areas that are very tense and the pain is sharper. If you can, allow the area to soften. If you can’t, just let the sensations be.
- Focus on your breathing as you bring your awareness to each section of your body. Most people automatically hold their breath when they feel pain. This leads to shallow breathing which increases tension and stress. Breathing into the pain or distressing feelings has the opposite effect. It is naturally calming.
- Try to get a sense of the thought and feelings that accompany the sensations. Try to leave behind any preconceived ideas about what you should feel. Simply observe what you do feel.
We all have our own unique perception of pain. Understanding your own pain is important. Body scan meditation allows us to see our pain more accurately. It can help us learn to disentangle the two layers of suffering. Then you can significantly reduce your pain and distress. Even if the primary suffering remains unchanged.
The Body Scan Meditation.
The body scan meditation only takes 10-15 minutes. You should do the body scan twice a day. Preferably at the same times every day. You need a quiet area without distractions or interruptions.
- A comfortable position. – Most people prefer to do the body scan lying down. If this is uncomfortable you can sit in a chair. Cover yourself with a blanket if this will help you feel more warm and relaxed.
- Give up to gravity. – Allow your body to settle down onto the bed or floor as much as possible. Place your arms at your sides with your hands resting on your belly. Allow your shoulders to rest back toward the floor. Stretch out your legs. If you have back problems, you can put pillows behind your knees to take the strain off your back. Or you can bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor.
- Breathe into the pain. – If you find that any sensations become too uncomfortable, try relaxing into the pain. See if the ebb and flow of your breathing affects the pain. Often the breath will help dissolve the pain. You can also try changing your position or whatever will make you more comfortable. If the pain is too intense, try to let it go and move on to the next section of the body.
- Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms relaxed, eyes open or closed. Focus on your breathing. Allow your stomach to rise when you inhale and fall when you exhale. Breathe deeply until you start to feel relaxed.
- Turn your focus to the toes of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel while continuing to focus on your breath. Imagine each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on your toes for a minute or two.
- Move your focus to the sole of your right foot. Tune into any sensations you feel. Imagine your breath flowing to your right sole. After one or two minutes move your focus to your right ankle. Move your focus to your calf, knee, thigh and then your right hip. Repeat the sequence for your left leg.
- Now move up the torso, through the lower back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and the shoulders. Pay close attention to any area that causes you pain or discomfort.
- Focus on the fingers to your right hand. Then move up to your wrist, forearm, upper arm, and shoulder. Repeat for your left arm.
- Then move through your neck and throat, and finally all the regions of your face, the back of the head, and the top of the head. Pay close attention to your jaw, chin, lips, tongue, nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, temples and scalp.
- When you reach the top of your head, let your breath reach out beyond your body. Imagine hovering above yourself.
- After completing the body scan, relax for a while in stillness and silence. Note how your body feels. Open your eyes slowly. Take a moment to stretch if you need to.
There are several variations of the body scan meditation. It is helpful to listen to a guided meditation script. Personally, I listen to the audio track that came with the book: You Are Not Your Pain: Using Mindfulness to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Restore Well-Being.
Once you understand the underlying mechanisms of pain, you can begin to lessen its power and the hold it has over you. You begin to understand how thoughts and emotions affect physical pain and illness and vice versa.
Body Scan Meditation is designed to help you feel and bring awareness to sensations that occur throughout your body. By practicing this meditation, you reconnect your mind and body. You discover where you are feeling and holding on to stress and tension. The body scan soothes the mind’s perception of pain and lessens secondary suffering.
I was surprised to discover that my pain is not constant, unchanging. I thought it was, but it’s more like liquid. It ebbs and flows. I also started to become aware of the automatic thoughts that come to my mind in response to the pain. Thoughts such as: “I can’t deal with this NOW.” or “Can’t I just have one day with no pain.”
Even as I am going about my day, I have started to become aware of when automatic thoughts occur and how they create tension in my body. When I can let go of these thoughts, the intensity of the pain diminishes.
What do you think about body scan meditation? Have you tried it? Does it help you?