Medicate or Meditate

Have you ever wished you could snap your fingers and make pain go away? What if you could use your mind to find relief?...

Have you ever wished you could snap your fingers and make pain go away? Or get rid of stress by clicking your heels? What if you could use your mind to find relief? Well, you can!

Health experts have long realized that meditation can be very healthful. Along with quieting the mind and reducing stress, there is evidence meditation may reduce blood pressure, ease anxiety and depression, and help insomnia.

A type of meditation called body scanning may be useful in relieving tension and even chronic pain. A body scan combines focus, breathing, and observation as a means for getting to know and accepting pain so it can be managed. This easy-to-do exercise helps you tune into your body with a more positive attitude.

Body scan meditation benefits

Body-mind connection. How stress and tension show up in the body varies from one person to the next. You may feel tension as neck or shoulder pain. For others, stomach aches or headaches may be the signs.. Body scans help you to become fully aware of your physical sensations.

Insomnia. Body scans done at night often help you relax so you can slip into and enjoy better sleep.

3 ways body scans help with chronic pain

Most people want to resist pain in whatever way they can. Body scans offer a different approach by changing your relationship with pain.

  1. Remove resistance. Body scans start by locating and sensing pain without resisting it. We resist pain by trying to cover it up, distract ourselves from it, avoid or deny it. As the saying goes, though, “What you resist persists.” A handy equation you might want to remember is: Suffering = Pain x Resistance. Instead of resisting, become aware of where and how pain appears in your body.
  2. Understand reactions. Once pain is located and experienced, the next step is to notice your reactions. Reacting to discomfort with unhealthy emotions (self-pity) or negative thoughts (“I’ll never find relief!”) only make the suffering worse.
  3. Change your attitude. After noticing the pain and your reactions to it, the next step is changing your relationship with it. With continued practice, body scans help you stay in the present and live one moment at a time. Body scans slowly help unhealthy reactions to slip away. You will begin to greet pain with a more accepting attitude.

How to do a body scan

The body scan can be done in several different ways. You can devote as little as 5 minutes to the practice, or enjoy longer sessions of up to 45 minutes. A recording or another person can guide you through the exercise, or you can do it on your own.

YouTube has a number of guided body scan meditations of varying lengths. Whatever method you use, aim to become aware of and embrace sensations throughout the body – without judgment or resistance.

Body scans can be performed while sitting, but most teachers prefer that you lie down. Plan to spend at least 30 minutes for a body scan. Find a quiet place, and turn off your cell phone and other distractions.
Here are the steps of a body scan.

  1. Stretch out on your back in a comfortable place. Lie on your bed or a mat on the floor.
  2. Become aware of what parts of your body touch the mat or bed. Try to soften those areas before you begin your scan.
  3. Relax areas that may be holding tension, such as your neck and shoulders, jaw, or legs.
  4. Set an intention to let go of the past and future. Let your surroundings fade away so you can focus totally on your body. Agree to greet in a friendly manner whatever you find in your body.
  5. Begin the scan by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Notice how your body behaves as you breathe in and out – inhale and exhale.
  6. Next, focus on your left foot, becoming aware of any sensations or pain. Try to relax into the bed or floor a bit more with each exhale.
  7. When you notice your mind wandering, gently return your attention to your foot, without judging yourself.
  8. If you feel any pain, become aware of it, along with any thoughts or emotions that come up. Gently breathe through the pain, along with any reactions, and try to help your body relax. Rather than trying to make the pain go away, just observe it in the present, without resisting it.
  9. Slowly let go of focusing on your left foot, move to the left ankle, and repeat the process as you move to each body part. Traveling upward until your reach your head.
  10. Finally become aware of your skin covering your whole body, noticing the temperature, and texture, as well as any sensations.

Many people living with chronic pain may find some level of relief with the body scan. As with any exercise, the more regularly you practice body scanning, the better results you’ll have. Do talk to your care provider about your chronic pain. There are pain management specialists and other resources to help with depression, anxiety, and stress that often accompany chronic pain.


Photo credit: Copyright: bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo

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