How to Use Body Scan Meditation in Recovery
Body scan meditation is a powerful tool used to experience deep healing throughout addiction recovery.
When going through addiction recovery, many uncomfortable feelings will come up.
Repressed emotions, overwhelming cravings, internal triggers, feelings that are difficult to even identify… all of these make their way to the surface during recovery.
But can you imagine being able to simply observe these unwanted feelings as they come up?
Can you imagine forming an alliance with your discomfort?
This is what a body scan meditation teaches us to do in addiction recovery.
What Is Body Scan Meditation?
Body scan is a form of meditation during which you conduct a full scan of your body from head to toe.
Whilst conducting the scan, you are fully present and acutely aware of any sensations, aches, itches, tingles, tension or feelings of discomfort within the body. The body scan fosters mindfulness by keeping you fully in your body and the present time, rather than in the chaos of your thoughts.
Oftentimes, we can hold onto stress and tension in our bodies without even realising it. The human body is truly incredible, and the brain and body are always working to protect us. However, sometimes when we are struggling, we can store pain and suppress traumas within our body. This can manifest as headaches and back pain, for example .
Practising body scan meditations to observe what comes up can help us form a deeper connection and awareness of ourselves and our bodys. It can also illuminate what may be going on within us emotionally.
Why Is Body Scan Meditation Unique?
The body scan meditation is unique because although it is used to relax and reduce stress, it also serves a function way beyond that.
When conducting a body scan, we are essentially encouraged to not only become aware of, and acknowledge discomfort within the body, but also to feel the discomfort. It is natural to try and push down pain, or engage in other activities that numbs pain or makes us forget, but during the practice of a full body scan meditation we will learn to lean into the pain.
This can sound scary, but it is truly liberating. We learn how to be present, alongside pain, but to not let it overcome or overwhelm us. Body scan meditation in addiction recovery teaches us that the pain will not kill us, and that we can continue on after acknowledging it.
There is much to be learned from doing body scan meditation that we can apply to our emotional development and growth, especially during the ongoing journey of addiction recovery.
Moreover, pain is an inevitable part of the human experience. Learning how to acknowledge it and not let it overtake you is an invaluable skill. To be aware of the pain and to not resist it or try to change it, but to simply observe it or allow it to pass, is nothing short of a superpower that can be harnessed after consistently practising body scan meditations.
The Benefits of Body Scan Meditation
Along with fostering mindfulness and teaching us how to come alongside our discomfort, body scan meditation offers many different benefits.
The benefits of body scan meditation for pain
One study showed that patients who practised body scan meditation in an 8-week trial experienced decreased levels of chronic pain . After just one session, the 55 participants reported lower levels of pain immediately after listening to a guided body scan meditation.
A review of 13 studies indicated that meditation also helps improve psychological perspective associated with chronic pain, and helps alleviate symptoms of depression. The review also stated that practising meditation creates a greater quality of life .
The benefits of body scan meditation for stress and anxiety
We often hold stress, anxiety, and tension in our bodies without even realising it, and body scan meditation does wonders for alleviating such symptoms.
Research shows that practising body scan meditation can relieve stress, reduce levels of anxiety, and encourage relaxation.
A study conducted in 2019 showed that students’ levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, had decreased after practising body scan meditation during the 8-week study. The students also reported decreased levels of mental stress. This is important as prolonged exposure to stress hormones actually causes long-lasting damaging effects to the brain (4)
Another study was conducted on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, of which body scan meditation plays an integral role. This study showed that people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, who practised body scan meditations for 8 weeks reported significantly reduced levels of anxiety.
Additional benefits of body scan meditation
- Helps improve sleep quality 
- Increases self-awareness
- Increases focus
- Fosters mindfulness
- Helps improve symptoms of PTSD 
- Great for beginners
- Helps build resilience towards stressors
- Creates grounding
- Helps us become more kind to ourselves
- Creates greater mental well-being
Step-by-Step Body Scan Meditation for Beginners
Below is a step-by-step outline to help you get started with your body scan meditation practise.
Choose a position.
First, either lay down or sit comfortably in a chair. When doing a body scan, laying down is preferable. Just be sure not to practise when you are sleepy or just before bed, so that you don’t accidentally fall asleep.
Take a few deep breaths.
Once you are comfortably laying down or sitting, take a deep breath inward. Hold your breath for a few seconds, and then slowly release the breath. A breathing pattern that you can follow is to inhale deeply for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and release your breath for 8 seconds. Take several of these slow, deep breaths.
Focus your attention.
Now, you will begin the body scan. When practising a body scan, you can either start at the feet and work your way up, or start at the head and work your way down. For this example, we will start at the head. Focus your attention on the forehead. Don’t think about your forehead, but simply feel what is happening there. Do you sense any tingling or buzzing? Do you feel pain or discomfort in any areas? Which areas specifically?
Acknowledge any tension.
Observe any discomfort that may arise in your head. Try your best not to analyze the discomfort or to think about it. Simply come alongside it and notice that it is there. It can be easy to have feelings of frustration, or to reflexively want to try and fix the pain, but try your best to practise non-judgement and to just observe.
Scan the body.
Now, continue to slowly and gradually scan the rest of the body in this fashion. From your head, work down to your eyes, your nose and ears, your mouth, tongue, and jaw, and your neck. Move down to your shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. Go back up to your chest, then down to your abdomen and your hips. Finally, scan your thighs, your lower legs, your feet, and your toes. With each body part, take time to truly be in your body and to feel what is happening. Relax each body part as you move through, releasing any tension.
Be easy on yourself.
Even though you’re focusing on the sensations within your body, it is inevitable that your thoughts will begin to wander. When this happens, just notice that it is happening. Observe the thought, and then let it go. You can then gently reorient your focus back onto whichever body part you were scanning. It’s important to be gracious with yourself and to not get frustrated when thoughts enter your mind. Rather, observe that it is happening, let the thought go, and continue with the scan. Everyone experiences unwanted thoughts while trying to meditate as a beginner. With practise, it will become much easier to maintain focus while practising the body scan.
After completing the body scan meditation, take some time to acknowledge how you presently feel.
- Do you feel calmer?
- Are you more relaxed?
- Do you feel more aware of anything happening within your body?
Then, take a few minutes to reflect on the body scan meditation itself.
- How did it feel?
- Was it difficult to maintain focus?
- Where did you notice any aches or discomfort?
- Were you aware of these before doing the body scan?
- Did anything come up emotionally?
Body Scan Pro Tips
- Try a condensed version of body scan meditation if you’re short on time. Simply sit in a quiet environment with your eyes closed and pay focused attention to your entire body. Notice if you feel discomfort anywhere, and observe it. This is a quick, condensed version of the body scan that still offers benefits .
- Keep practising even if you didn’t notice any immediate benefits the first time around. It often takes consistent practise over time to gain many of the benefits that body scan meditation has to offer.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to do anything “perfectly.” There is no inherently wrong way to meditate. It’s okay if you’re only meditating for a few minutes when getting started. It’s okay if you’re getting distracted. The important thing is that you practise self-compassion and that you keep going! 
Sources for Accessing Body Scan Meditation in Addiction Recovery
Remember, meditation takes time and practise to master, like any other skill. Be patient with yourself as you begin your practise, and if you find you aren’t enjoying body scan meditations, there are many other forms for you to explore including focused meditation and visualisation meditation.
Our Wellness Hub is dedicated to increasing your wellbeing through an abundance of on tap meditations, breath work, yoga and so much more. As always, Recoverlution is here to help if you have any questions!
Author - Thurga
- Body Scan meditation to Reduce Stress - https://www.headspace.com/meditation/body-scan
- Immediate Effects of a Brief Mindfulness-based Body Scan on Patients with Chronic Pain - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23129105/
- Does Mindfulness Meditation Improve Chronic Pain? - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28961631/
- Effects of an 8-week Body Scan Intervention on Individually Perceived Psychological Stress and Related Steroid Hormones in Hair - https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12671-019-01222-7
- The Contribution of a Body Scan Mindfulness Meditation to Effectiveness of Internet-delivered CBT for Insomnia in Adults - https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-019-01290-9
- The Body Scan and Mindful Breathing Among Veterans with PTSD: Type of Intervention Moderates the Relationship Between Changes in Mindfulness and Post-treatment Depression - https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-015-0453-0
- Body Scan Meditation - https://www.verywellmind.com/body-scan-meditation-why-and-how-3144782
- How to Do a Body Scan Meditation (and Why You Should) - https://www.healthline.com/health/body-scan-meditation#benefits