How-to: 'Body Scan' - Release Tension. Increase Mindfulness.
In this post, I'd like to share with you all a very powerful tool that will help you perform at your best. That tool is called "body scanning". It's a very simple mindfulness technique that takes only a few minutes to do but the impact it can have on your stress levels and overall demeanor is profound.
Simply put, body scanning is a way of systematically moving your attention from one part of your body to another and consciously releasing tension while you're there. I find that it's very useful for someone like me who is task-oriented and easily distracted. It allows me to pay attention to my body and consciously get it to relax, while still giving my mind something to do.
Another thing I enjoy about body scanning is that it's very easy to feel its' positive effects. After a body scanning session...you feel relaxed! You will notice how your body has less tension and you are more calm. Meanwhile, it has only takes five or ten minutes to achieve these effects.
There is a lot of research to support the positive benefits of mindfulness practice, too! One 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that mindfulness practices significantly improved sleep quality (as well as sleep-related daytime impairments) relative to another form of sleep improvement training. In 2009, a group of researchers discovered through the use of MRI that people with a long term mindfulness practice have more gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex and hippocampus areas of the brain, which are implicated for emotional regulation and response control.
There are even some claims that mindfulness practice can lengthen your lifespan. (article) Through the research of Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, we have learned that an increase in chronic stress is associated with the shortening of telomere length. (Telomeres are essentially caps on the end of chromosomes. It has been shown that longer telomere length is correlated with longer life span, shorter telomere length with shorter life span.) Acknowledging the large body of research that connects mindfulness practice to a large reduction in chronic stress, it is no leap to suggest that mindfulness practice may indeed increase lifespan.
How-to: Body Scan
Body scanning is very easy. To begin, find yourself in a comfortable seated or lying position in a place without a lot of noise or distraction. Begin to become aware of your breathing and search for sensations in your body. Then work from either your feet to the top of your head, or the top of your head down, and systematically move your attention from one part of the body to the next. Stop at each area to consciously feel sensation there and then feel tension release. Map out your whole body and then try to focus on the sensations of the entire body at once. When you're ready, begin reawakening the body with small movements and open your eyes.
It's just that easy! This practice is a go-to of mine not only because it is so effective and pragmatic but also because it only takes five or ten minutes out of my day. Set up a time in your schedule that you do this every day, maybe in the morning or after lunch. Perhaps there is a time that you know you will be dealing with a lot of stress and it would be nice to have a level head. Use body scanning as a tool to keep you present and in the game.
Five Minute Guided Body Scan
Here is a free five minute guided body scan led by Leilani Galvan. Download or save the link to this audio file so you can go to it as you need. All you have to do is put your headphones in, press play, and follow along. Enjoy!