NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, April 4, 2020

How to Do the Body Scan Meditation to Reduce Stress

One of the tools that I usually teach clients in my psychotherapy private practice in New York City is doing a body scan meditation (see my article: Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy).  Breathing and doing a body scan meditation helps to reduce tension in the body and activate the parasympathetic nervous system to help you to relax (see my article: Coping and Staying Calm During a Crisis).

How to Do a Body Scan Meditation to Reduce Stress
There are many ways to do a body scan meditation.  

The Body Scan Meditation

Here's what I teach my clients to do:
  • Start By Taking a Few Deep Breaths:  
    • You can close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing this or you can find a spot on the floor to look at so you can begin to narrow your focus to your body.  
    • When you're breathing in, make sure that your abdominal muscles expand.  You can think of inhaling as taking in healing cleansing breaths.  
    • When you breathe out, feel your abdominal muscles contract a little so you're letting out all the air, and think of letting go of all the stress from the day.
    • Continue to do this until you feel yourself starting to become calmer.
  • Focus on the Crown of Your Head
    • After you have taken a few deep breaths, focus on the crown of your head as a starting point to begin scanning your body.
  • Move Your Attention Down From the Crown Slowly to Your Forehead
    • From the crown of your head, move your attention down to your forehead and sense if you feel tension in your forehead.  
    • We tend to hold a lot of tension in the muscles of our forehead, especially when we're stressed or anxious.  
    • If you sense the muscles in your forehead are tense, imagine that you could send your breath to your forehead to allow those muscles to relax. 
    • Continue to do that until you feel those muscles relax.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Eyes
    • After the muscles in your forehead feel relaxed, move your attention to your eyes.  We tend to hold a lot of tension in our eyes without even realizing it because while we're awake, we're using our eyes all the time.  
    • When we're under stress or looking at the computer, our eyes tend to be in a fixed position that can cause eyestrain and fatigue.  
    • Even though your eyes are closed, you can sense if you're holding tension in your eye muscles. 
    • Allow your eyes to relax and let them "drop" down in the direction of your lower eyelid.  
    • Allow the muscles around your eyes to relax.  If you're having a problem getting your eye muscles to relax, imagine that you can send your breath to your eyes so they can relax.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Nose and Checks
    • After your eyes relax, sense into your nose and check muscles, and follow the same steps as you've used above, including imagining using your breath to get those muscles to relax.
  • Move Your Attention to the Temples on the Sides of Your Head:
    • Become aware of any tension that you're holding onto in your temples.
    • Imagine sending your breath to your temples to relax them.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Mouth
    • Follow the same procedure as above. Notice any tension around the muscles in your mouth and allow those muscles to relax. Use your imagination to send your breath to get your mouth muscles to relax.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Tongue
    • The tongue holds a lot of tension.  Allow your tongue to relax at the bottom of your mouth.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Jaw
    • Allow your jaw to relax and follow the same procedures as above with imagining sending a breath to your jaw muscles to allow them to relax.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Face
    • See if there's any remaining tension in general left in your facial muscles.  
    • To help reduce that tension, scrunch up your face as tight as you can for about 20 seconds and then let go and feel the tension reduce.
  • Continue Moving Down Your Body
    • Your throat, chest, abdomnal muscles and use the same techniques as above.
  • Move Your Attention to the Back of Your Neck and Shoulders
    • Imagine that any tension in your neck and shoulders just slides off your shoulders, down your arms and out through your fingers.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Legs
    • Imagine that any tension in your legs just slides down your legs and out through your toes.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Shoulder Blades
    • Focus on your shoulder blades and notice if there is tension there. Imagine that there's a curtain rod across your back that opens up, and as it opens up, feel your shoulder blades opening up and relaxing.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Spine: 
    • Notice if you're holding attention in your spine both the upper, middle and lower level.
    • Imagine that your spine can float in the air and relax.
  • Move Your Attention to Your Hips:
    • We tend to hold a lot of tension and emotion in the hips.  Send your breath to your hips and imagine that your breath can dissolve that tension. 
  • Sense into Your Body and See If There's Any Remaining Tension: 
    • Even after you go through scanning the body parts mentioned above, you might still be holding onto tension somewhere in your body.  
    • Just sense into your body from top to bottom slowly and pay particular attention to any areas where you still feel tension. 
    • Use the same techniques used above, including imagining sending your breath to these areas to help them relax.
  • Bringing Yourself Back to the Here and Now: 
    • After you've gone through all the areas in your body, if your eyes were closed, open your eyes.  Whether your eyes were closed or not, orient yourself to the room where you are (look around) and feel your feet on the ground so you feel grounded.
    • If you still don't feel like you're back, get up, walk around, drink a glass of water or do whatever helps you to feel yourself back in the present moment.
You Can Do the Body Scan Meditation to Sense and Reduce Stress Whenever You Need to Do It
You can use the body scan and breathing exercise whenever you want and as often as you need it to reduce your stress.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you continue to feel overwhelmed even after your do the body scan meditaton and breathing exercise, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist.

An experienced therapist can help you to work through the stress and anxiety that you're unable to overcome on your own.

Many therapists, including me, are doing online therapy (also called teletherapy, telemental health or telehealth during the COVID-19 crisis due to the recommendations of physical distancing (see my article: The Advantages of Doing Online Therapy When You're Unable to Meet With Your Therapist in Person).

Rather than suffering on your own, get help from a mental health professional.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused Therapy therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.