Mindfulness Meditation Body Scanning
One of the challenges of modern life is balancing the stress response with the relaxation response. Mindfulness Meditation Body Scanning, found in Yoga, Tai Qi, and Mindfulness Meditation (Buddha was, after all, a Yogi before becoming an Awakened One) is a fabulous way to take your body and its nervous system out of the fight or flight response into a state of deep calm and repose.
Mindfulness Meditation Body Scanning is a valuable component of a healthy lifestyle, and really useful for people with nervous system related functional disorders like IBS irritable bowel syndrome, IC interstitial cystitis or bladder pain syndrome, Gastritis, Migraines, Diverticulitis, Ulcerative Colitis, and Tension headaches, all of which can involve a somatic expression of life’s conflicts and stressors triggering the nervous system beyond its capacity.
There are two parts to the way I teach mindfulness meditation body scanning.
First is a brief series of physical exercises, like making a fist with your hand and isometrically squeezing your hand and arm all the way up to your shoulder as hard as you can for a count of 1,2,3, and then letting go completely with a deep exhalation, that creates a sensation of muscular relaxation, and that with practice conditions you to respond with mental and physical relaxation to this process.
Second, is the mindfulness meditation body scanning itself, a mental, meditative practice in which you scan your body from toes to head or head to toe for zones or areas of tension, in which you let yourself feel, softly, gently, and without judgment all the tension or other sensations in a particular area, such as the toes, or the space between the toes, seeing things as they are, in which your mindfulness itself acts to both connect areas of pleasurable relaxation, and also to disperse tension. You will find that as soon as you bring your awareness to your body, small area by small area, you will become aware of the tension held there, but the miraculous thing is that within seconds it begins to soften and dissipate. And the longer you stay with the deeper and more profound the relaxation, physical and mental, is. Some days you might practice body scanning for a whole hour, other takes pretty quickly, like ten minutes. I recommend doing it nightly, before bed, especially for folk with insomnia or light sleepers. Its a critical piece of the puzzle in the treatment of anxiety disorders, and personality disorders such as OCD or Borderline Personality Disorder.
How To Do Mindfulness Meditation Body Scanning
Lay down on your back on a mat or blanket in a quiet, well ventilated place, wearing loose comfortable clothing. Remove your shoes, belt, necktie, brassiere, or any other restrictive tight-fitting garments. It is possible to do this exercise in bed also.
Take a couple of deep abdominal breaths and exhale forcefully through the mouth.
Gently rock your head and neck sideways back and forth and allow your head to end up wherever it wants to. It may be at the center position, or it may be to any degree of the left or right. Bring your awareness to the condition of the muscles in the back of your neck. Are the muscles tense? Are they tight? Gently maintain your awareness in the space of the back of the neck for a few minutes. By staying consciously present in the space where the tension is, the tension will dissipate. Your effort should be soft and gentle, your goal is simple awareness of the muscles in the back of the neck. If you become distracted by some outside sound, thought, or inner sensation, just return to where you were. Do not push the distractions away, nor rush back to the neck. The method of awareness is gentle and light. Just turn back to where you were before. As we move down the body, you will use this method to bring any tension anywhere in the body into conscious awareness, and by so doing, letting it go.
Next open your mouth as wide as you can, open your eyes very very wide, hold for a second or two, let go, and relax. Scrunch your face up in the opposite direction, close your eyes, purse up your mouth, and squeeze your face into a ball as tight as you can, hold for a second or two, let go, and relax. Let your face melt.
Make a fist with your dominant hand.
Squeeze and tighten your fist, forearm, and upper arm all the way to the shoulder and hold
this voluntary tension as hard as you can without straining (keep breathing!) for a count of 1-2-3. When you reach three completely let go of your hand arm and shoulder. Repeat once or twice. The greater the tension when squeezing, the greater the relaxation when letting go. Repeat the process with your non-dominant hand.
Gently raise the forearm (hand up to the elbow) an inch off the mat, an let it drop to the floor with a thud like a ripe fruit dropping from a tree.. (Do not do this if you have any injury to the arm) Then raise the entire arm ( hand to the shoulder) an inch and let it drop like a dead weight. Do this once or twice for both arms. Scan the shoulders, arms and hands briefly for tension. Let it go.
Suck in the muscles of your stomach for a moment, hold, let go, and relax. Let the abdomen go. Squeeze your buttocks together as hard as you can, and let go. Repeat 2 or 3 times. Scan the abdomen, low back, sacrum, pelvis and buttocks for tension. Release it.
Wiggle the toes of your dominant foot. Flex the toes all the way forward and stretch them all the way backward. Relax the ankle by making clockwise and then counter clockwise circles with the toes. Repeat the process with your non-dominant foot. Let the feet go.
Rock your legs from side to side in and out vigorously a few times. Allow the legs to fall wherever they want to, most likely to the outside. Let the legs go. Allow your fingers and toes to droop like thirsty plants. Scan the legs from the buttocks to the toes.
Let your body go. Let it sink into the floor, heavy like ripe fruit on a tree. Feel gravity pulling your body downward. Sink into the mat or carpet you are lying down on. Feel your body’s heaviness as it sinks into the ground. Heavy like a stone sinking in water.
Feel the weight of the air on your skin as your body relaxes. Listen to the sound of your own breathe. Feel your abdomen rising and falling with each breath. If you like, repeat the phrase, “Om…relax.”
Allow your thoughts to go and come. Don’t force them out and don’t hold onto them.
When you become aware that you are engaged in thinking, gently and effortlessly withdraw from the process. Let the thought go and return to silence or to the sensations of relaxation in your body. Now you begin to feel light, unaware even of your body.
If you like you can chant out loud the Sanskrit non-denominational peace mantra,
Aum, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Draw out the vowel sounds. Open your throat by singing the words loudly, smoothly and slowly. Let your mind experience peacefulness. Auuuuuummm. Shaaaaannti, Shaaaaaaannti, Shaaaaanntiiiiii. Relax. Relax your face again.
The above is referred to in Yoga as Poorna Sava Santi Asana or the Complete Corpse Pose of Peace. In this process you become so relaxed and free of cares that your body resembles a corpse. You are no longer a part of this material world. Your body is so heavy it becomes light as a feather. In Sufism it is suggested that when one does this pose one should adopt the attitude of a dead person whose funeral has just ended and all the mourners have gone. Alone before God, in that moment, nothing else matters. This is not meant to be morbid, rather to help us let go of our temporal worries and remind us how to be “in the moment,” by remembering the big picture. Let someone else be in charge for a while. Let go of your worries for a few moments so your battery can recharges itself for another day. Your body is the temple of your soul. Thank you.
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.”
Moulana Jalaludin Rumi, Mystic Persian Poet
Mindfulness Meditation Body Scanning in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine
Lifestyle and Diet have a huge impact on health. But when you say the word lifestyle to most folk, they think they are doing a good job if they run the marathon and don’t smoke. But in Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda lifestyle includes what is called “Mental Culture.” Mental culture includes not only psychological insight and honesty, not only the ability to process negative experiences and emotions without developing psychological illness, but the ability to enter into deep relaxation on a regular basis naturally, via meditation, tai qi, authentic yoga, which is very different than relaxing because there is a glass of red wine or tequilla in your hand. This is so important because there is absolutely nothing that takes you out of the fight or flight stress response that permeates the modern lifestyle and into its counterpart, the relaxation response, like mindfulness meditation body scan, tai chi chuan, authentic yoga, and meditation.
In my San Diego Acupuncture practice I specialize in the treatment of skin disorders like acne and eczema; in disorders like anxiety, insomnia, and interstitial cystitis, and in digestive disorders like Gerd, Irritable Bowel, Colitis, and Gastritis. The common thread that runs through all these disorders is the hyperactive nervous system, that is, the nervous system that is turned on into the stress response, or fight or flight response associated with high blood pressure, blood sugar, and elevated levels of adrenalin. Western MD’s treating digestive disorders now know about the science behind the “Gut-Brain Connection.”
One of the best ways to flip the switch out of the sympathetic nervous system drive and into the relaxing parasympathetic associated with all the good hormones and neurotransmitters like endorphins and serotonin and dopamine, is the Mindfulness Meditation Body Scanning.
Ayurveda and Body Scanning: Vata and Pitta
Vata is said to be the gateway to most diseases in Ayurveda. My teacher Robert Svoboda says that 70% of diseases themselves are due to elevated Vata. Vata is the expression in the human mind-body of Wind and Space in Nature and the Universe. Vata is cold and dry, like the wind, but, most importantly in this case, fast, irregular, mobile, and when elevated characterized by nervousness, restlessness, fear and anxiety. Vata diseases like insomnia, anxiety, and interstitial cystitis IC, involve movement where there should be calm. Insomnia and anxiety the mind is constantly moving, like the wave on the sea brought on by wind. In the bladder pain or IC there is frequent movment of the urinary urge, even though urine is not there. Pain is also a Vata symptom, sensation where there should be calm.
In an Ayurvedic lifestyle prevention for Vata dosha types involves regular warm sesame oil massage and regular mindfulness meditation body scanning. It very very valuable because in body scanning all which is sped up slows down, and Vata is nothing if not sped up when elevated. Slowing down pacifys Vatta. Even making the decision to speak, walk, and eat more slowly. And because wind fans the flames of fire, when you pacify Vatta you in turn pacify Pitta if its elevated.
Pitta is fire. Pitta diseases like Acne, Eczema, GERD and anything with the word Itis in it involve inflammation, heat and intensity. Elevated Pitta often is associated with hyper-intensity, irritability, frustration, anger, and tense muscles of the face, neck, shoulders and arms, all the muscles one uses for fighting (aside from kicking of course!). One of the best ways to pacify Pitta and reduce its manifestations of tight, tense muscles and an over-intense mind is with the mindfulness meditation body scanning, because as soon as you pay attention to a tight muscle its tendency is to relax. Its that easy, all you need is the commitment to do it, and a little practice.
copyright eyton j. shalom December 2015 san diego, ca, usa all rights reserved use with permission