Increase Somatic Awareness with a Body Scan Mindfulness Exercise

“Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.” – Voltaire

How tuned in do you tend to be to your physical sensations and sense of self within your body? In a world filled with distractions, to-do lists, and external demands, it can be challenging to feel truly connected with your physical self. Sometimes a prolonged period of disconnection from somatic awareness results in chronic pain, illness, or fatigue. It’s as if your body is crying out to you, “Pay attention!” Fortunately, mindfulness provides one way to increase somatic awareness and gain a clearer sense of your physical self in the present moment.

One way to increase somatic awareness is through a mindfulness exercise called a body scan. This mindfulness exercise requires a quiet space where you can sit or lie down comfortably for anywhere between 5 – 30 minutes. If you have the time, spending up to 30 minutes engaged in mindful exploration of your current physical state can be an excellent mindfulness practice. However, even if you only have a few minutes to sit or lie down in a comfortable position and check in with your physical sensations, you will still reap the benefits of mindfulness and making contact with the present moment.

Body Scan Mindfulness Exercise

The goal of the body scan mindfulness exercise is to cultivate greater somatic awareness with an attitude that is open, curious, and nonjudgmental. As you read each set of instructions, pause to become more attuned to your body without judgment, simply increasing curious awareness of your physical sensations and the experience itself. If you like, you can make an audio recording of these instructions to aid in a more comfortable, eyes-closed mindfulness meditation.

  • Find a comfortable position, seated or lying down, where your body feels at ease and supported by the ground, chair, or cushion beneath you.
  • First, bring your attention to your breath. Notice the sensation of the air as you inhale through your nostrils, and again as you exhale through your mouth.
  • Pause to make room for whatever you may be feeling, including tension or discomfort.
  • Now, start at your feet by bringing your awareness to the physical sensations present in your feet, calves, knees, and thighs. Notice the sensations in your muscles as you allow your mindful focus to slowly move upward.
  • If you notice any areas of tension or holding during this body scan, pause to mindfully attend to this tension, then deliberately allow the tension to dissipate and release.
  • Next, take a deep breath in as you bring awareness to sensations present in your abdomen, torso, and lower back. Notice your spine as you gradually allow your focus to continually move upward along your body, remembering to pause at any areas of tension or holding, allowing those areas to gently relax.
  • Maintain a focus on the rhythm of you breath as you slowly breathe in… and slowly breathe out… allowing any physical discomfort to be released as you slowly exhale… imagining the tension dissolve with each out breath.
  • Continue to allow your focus to continue upwards, noticing your hands, arms, elbows, and shoulders. Become awareness of any tightness, discomfort, or holding in these areas. Use the gentle flow of your breath to bring your awareness to these areas, and allow them to release as you slowly and gently exhale.
  • Finally, bring your attention to your neck, face, and head. Notice the sensations present in your jaw, mouth, and eyes. Allow any areas of tension to relax, noticing the tension melt away as your bring your mindful awareness to these areas.

How was it for you to engage in this body scan mindfulness exercise? Do you notice increased somatic awareness as a result of taking the time to engage in this mindfulness meditation practice? Ask yourself if taking the time to pause and mindfully check in with your physical state of being is something you can incorporate into your ever-growing mindfulness repertoire.

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Featured image: dreamer by chiaralily / CC BY-NC 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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