Body Scan Relaxation Exercise
This is one of the most effective exercises for encouraging progressive relaxation, and also for increasing self-awareness.
Often referred to as a PMR or Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise it can be used for meditation and mindfulness.
With a little practice it is possible to do this exercise almost anywhere.
Make yourself comfortable in whatever position suits you best; this exercise can be practised lying down or sitting in a chair. However, do maintain an ‘open’ posture with no restriction to breathing.
If you are lying down you may find it more comfortable to support your head with a cushion. People who have back problems may find it easier to bend the knees.
Imagine sending your consciousness on a journey around your body. As you travel around the body allowing it to relax, you will also become increasingly aware of those areas where you habitually carry tension. This knowledge alone is useful since once you know about it you can do something about it.
Choose a starting point for the ‘scan’. It could be your head, your hands, or your feet. Personally I like to start at the feet and work up. The important thing is to become aware of as much of your body as you can, thinking about each individual muscle in turn and allowing it to relax.
People encountering this exercise for the first time often say afterwards that they tried very hard to relax but couldn’t. My advice is always the same “Don’t try at all. Just allow it to happen.”
Body Scan Exercise
So first take a couple of nice long, slow, deep breaths and allow your eyes to close.
Then think about your toes, each individual toe in turn; when you are happy that they are relaxed work your way along the foot, thinking about each muscle on every side.
Concentrate on your ankles moving up your lower legs relaxing your calves and shins to your knees, then from your knees to your thighs. From the thighs to the hips, the waist and lower back.
Picturing each part of the body as you progress, just allowing each part to become relaxed.
Move on up the torso thinking about the muscles at your side, your chest and upper back, paying attention to the long muscles that run either side of the spine. Then the shoulders. Many people habitually carry tension in the shoulders and the back of the neck.
Progressing down both arms picturing the upper arms, down to the elbows, the forearms and wrists. Then relaxing the hands and fingers thinking about each finger in turn all the way down to the tips.
Up the neck to the face progressing up through the jaw, allowing the teeth to part slightly and the tongue to sit soft and comfortable in the mouth. Then imagining all the tiny muscles around the face, around the mouth, the cheeks, the eyes and eyelids, eyebrows and up through the forehead to the scalp.
Give yourself enough time to travel around the whole of the body.
You will probably encounter areas of tension. If you find it difficult just allowing certain muscles to relax, then you may find it useful to tense them first, and then relax or ‘let go’. This gives you a contrasting sensation to compare with.
If you relax on an out-breath, and synchronise the relaxation of muscles with your breathing, you may find the effects are heightened; but the most important thing is not to get stressed out by trying too hard!
The Body Scan can take anything up to 20-30 minutes to complete, and like the Three Minute Focus, can be practised at home or the office. You might just need to take the phone off the hook while you are doing it, though.
There are several useful variations to the body scan: you might like to imagine a warm golden light slowly travelling downwards from your head to your toes, or imagine a warm, comforting mist creeping up from your feet. On a cold Winters day I pretend I am sinking slowly into a nice warm bath. The good news is they all work!
Relaxation exercises, meditation and self hypnosis can be especially useful for hypertension and insomnia.