Chronic Pain and Doing Body Scanning
Although doing body scans cannot fully relieve your pain, it may help you manage it better. If your pain is serious and chronic you need to work with a qualified pain management professional, who will use both psychological and medical interventions. Note that a recent issue of Consumer Reports reviewed research and suggested that addictive pain medications and surgery should be the last options for most people. I have modified and integrated body scan instructions presented by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh. I have also added my own body scan style and process. Kabat-Zinn noted that body scan meditations may be the most effective mindfulness meditation practice for management of physical pain. I would add that it may also help with psychological or emotional pain as well. For best results practice the body scan for 45 minutes every day. Strong practice brings better outcomes. Here are the instructions.
- While lying flat on your back on a soft surface, place your body in a comfortable outstretched position. Now just rest and breath gently.
- Close your eyes and get a “feel” for how your body is being experienced at this time.
- With your eyes still closed take a few long, deep, slow breaths and notice how the lower belly (hara) rises and falls on the in-breath and the out-breath. Notice the feel of interoception in your body.
- If your mind loses focus, gently bring attention back to the body.
- If you experience pain while doing this scan, go slow and easy as you accept it and breathe through it. If you experience too much pain, stop the body scan and seek professional advice.
- Bring complete attention to your feet, and as you focus and breathe allow your body to feel as if it is sinking a bit into the surface below you. Allow the surface to support your body and your mind.
- Pay strong attention to your right foot, and slowly move attention from the foot to the ankle, lower leg, knee, thigh, hip and into lower belly. Allow time at pass (4-5 minutes at each location) before moving to the next body area in this sequence.
- Now move attention from the lower belly up to the chest and the to front of the neck. Rest a while as you pay close attention to the emotional energies in the front of the neck. Notice.
- With deliberate action move your attention to the chin, lower lip, upper lip, nose, ridge of the nose, eye brows, third eye area, over forehead and all the way up to the top, center of the head. Again, spend 4-5 minutes at each area. Once at the top of the head, rest there for a few moments. Notice.
- From the top of the head, allow attention to drift to the lower back neck, and down the backbone slowly – bone by bone. Stop at the base of the back. Be sure you are still breathing deeply, slowly.
- Move your attention to your left hip, and slowly move attention down the lower body – from the left hip to the thigh, knee, lower leg, ankle and down to the left foot and toes. Rest there for a while. Breathe fully. Relax. Notice.
- Now return your attention to the top, center of your head. Notice the “feel” there again.
- Allow the movement of attention and interoceptive perception to slowly slide over the sides of your head and face – next to your eyes, the ears, down your cheeks, stopping at the sides of your neck. Rest there for a moment. Notice. Be sure to allow 4-5 minutes at each area before moving on to the next area. Energize your attention and prepare to use it in new ways.
- Notice how it feels when you move attention out to the shoulder tips, then slowly down the upper arms, to your elbows and lower arms. Stop and notice how you feel when you reach your wrists.
- Use your imagination to bring full attention to both hands and follow the sensations of awareness all the way out to your finger tips. Rest for a moment. Continue to breathe deeply and slowly.
- Once you feel the attentional energies in your fingers, place both hands over your heart area and rest. Remain in this position for at least five minutes, breathing deeply and slowly with both hands resting on your heart area. If attention wanders, gently bring it back to your heart area.
- In this position very gently and slowly rock your body side to side. Notice what you notice!
- To extend the time of your body scan, you may begin again in reverse direction. This time starting at the top, center of your head and slowly moving attention and sensation down your body all the way to your feet and toes.
- For your ending, simply breath slowly and deeply and rest fully. Rest in Yoga Nidra if you know how to do so. Simply be with your body and breath.
- Before rising, move your body slowly side to side and sit first. Be sure your legs hold you as you rise from the floor ever so slowly.
For more information refer to Harvard Medical School (2019). Pain Relief Without Drugs or Surgery: Natural and Integrative Ways to Reduce Your Suffering and Take Control of Your Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Medical School Special Health Report. See also various instructions on body scans by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh. You may appreciate his instructions on mouth yoga as part of this practice.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont and the Home of The Monkton Sangha
Author of Mindful Happiness