Eastern philosophers have always stressed the importance of living in the “present moment”. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in his book, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living, that “to live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now”.
Being in the “present moment” is a state of mind that enables you to be fully immersed in the activity you’re doing. You are in tune with all your senses, you don’t think about the past or the future, and you don’t use your mind to describe what is happening to you in the “present moment”.
Although most of us can understand the importance of living in the “present moment” from an intellectual standpoint, only a handful of people seem to have the ability to experience this state of mind on a daily basis. So what can we possibly do to be more “present”?
An easy way to become more “present” and stop being in our “heads” all the time is to do what we call a “body scan”. A “body scan” is a form a meditation where you focus your awareness on the sensations in your body. This type of meditation exercise has been linked to improvements in the tendency to describe one’s experience, rumination (repetitive thinking), self-compassion, and psychological well-being (Sauer-Zavala et al., 2013). Moreover, Kaufman and colleagues (2009) found that a mindfulness training program, which included “body scan” exercises, enhanced athletes’ flow, mindfulness, and aspects of sport confidence.
Below are the basic instructions on how to properly perform a “body scan”:
- Practice this exercise every day
- Set your timer for 5 minutes
- Sit down in an armless chair
- Place your feet firmly on the ground with your knees at 90 degrees
- Keep your back straight
- Place your hands on your thighs
- Relax your arms, shoulders, neck, and jaw
- Close your eyes
- Take 3 deep breaths
- Focus your awareness on the “sensations” in your body (e.g., sensations in your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and organs such as tightness, suppleness, pain, spasms, energy levels, pressure, vibration, heat, and weight)
- If your mind wanders (e.g., you are thinking about the past or future, you feel anger or boredom, you label your sensations), simply recognize it (you can tell yourself, “my mind is wandering”), and then bring your awareness back to the “sensations” in your body
- Scan your body parts in the following order: toes, feet, calves, thighs, pelvis, glutes, lower back, stomach, chest, upper back, shoulder, arms, forearms, hands, fingers, traps, neck, jaw, mouth, nose, eyes, top of the head
- Once you are done going through each body part, focus your awareness on the sensations in your “whole” body.
To be effective, meditation needs to be practiced consistently. For instance, you will reap many more health benefits if you do a 5-minute “body scan” 7 days per week, rather than a 60-minute “body scan” once in a while. Therefore, make sure that you pencil in your meditation sessions into your schedule!
Once you feel comfortable with a 5-minute “body scan”, you can increase your total time by 2 minutes and 30 seconds if you desire. However, if increasing your total time means increasing your chances of not doing it, then keep your sessions short (around 5 minutes). If you have the time and enjoy this meditation exercise, try going all the way up to 20 minutes!
A “body scan” is a great introduction to the world of meditation. There are many other types of meditation exercises out there, as well as important concepts to keep in mind. However, you don’t need to worry about that right now. I will cover these different exercises and concepts in future blog posts. Just stay tuned!
Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.
Kaufman, K. A., Glass, C. R., & Arnkoff, D. B. (2009). Evaluation of mindful sport performance enhancement (MSPE): A new approach to promote flow in athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 3, 334-356.
Sauer-Zavala, S. E., Walsh, E. C., Eisenlohr-Moul, T. A., & Lykins, E. L. B. (2013). Comparing mindfulness-based intervention strategies: Differential effects of sitting meditation, body scan, and mindful yoga. Mindfulness, 4, 383-388.