When you are dealing with a health challenge, it is easy to get caught up in the what if’s and hop a ride on the worry train to nowhere good. Here is an excerpt from my book Kicking Sick featuring an exercise you can do at home to get you thinking about how to truly care for yourself wisely, reconnect with yourself, release tension from the body, and stay in the present moment.
Doing a body scan is like taking a deeply relaxing, restorative mini-vacation — right at home, for free, anytime you want! It gives you a chance to identify and release any tension you feel in your body, so that you can stress less. The focus required for a body scan keeps your mind from wandering to stressful thoughts, while at the same time brings your attention to the parts of your body that are holding tension.
To begin, put on some pleasant but nondistracting music or sounds of the ocean. Sit or lie down in a very relaxed but supported position and do simple meditative breathing. This helps you get centered and comfortable. I also recommend picturing yourself on a tropical beach, with foamy waves gently enveloping your feet, your thighs, and so on. Feel the warmth — luxuriate in it. Imagine you are bathed in a warm golden light.
Now begin a full body scan. Start by addressing the top, or crown, of your head. Do you notice any tension or tightness? If so, keep your attention there for a moment, and note what you are feeling. Focus on any uncomfortable sensations, and breathe into them using a simple breathing meditation technique. You may feel the tension or pain become more intense and then slowly dissipate.
Repeat this step for your neck; your shoulders; your right arm, hand, and fingers; your upper chest; and your left arm, hand, and fingers. Move down to your abdomen, then your hips, then your right thigh, knee, calf, foot and toes, and then your left thigh, knee, calf, foot, and toes. All along the way, notice any tightness, pain, or pressure. Breathe through the feelings, without judgment, and notice what happens.
If and when other thoughts start vying for attention (and they inevitably will), be polite and acknowledge them, but then send them on their way: I have to pick up my dry-cleaning before Saturday! Oh, that’s interesting. See ya! I wonder what my boss is going to say to me Monday about that report I wrote. We can wonder about that later. Bye-bye. Just acknowledge the thoughts, visualizing them floating away in front of you, and get back to being present in your body scan.
When you have completed the full body scan, you should be deeply relaxed but not asleep. (Well, you might fall asleep, and that’s okay too.) Stay there, with your mind clear.
When you are ready to end your session, slowly move or wiggle your toes and gently move your feet back and forth. If you are lying down, bring your knees up to your chest, move each shoulder up and down, and gently shake your hands out. Turn your head from side to side, gently stretching your neck. Open your eyes. Put your hand on your heart and feel it beating. Breathe deeply for a few seconds before standing up and moving into your next activity.