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How can I use a body scan to reduce stress?

Edward Phillips
Physical Therapy
Plan a body scan once a day, several times a week, and whenever you're especially stressed. The key is to concentrate on one part of your body at a time. As you do, picture that muscle in your mind. Imagine it open, warm, and relaxed. Feel any tension melt away. Then move on to the next portion of your body and repeat. As an example, these steps are adapted from Dr. Herbert Benson and Aggie Casey's book Mind Your Heart:
  • Sit or lie down comfortably. For a few minutes, just breathe deeply. Allow your belly to rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Now concentrate on your right big toe. Imagine the atoms in your toe and the space between each atom. Imagine your toe feeling open, warm, and relaxed. Now visualize each of the other toes on your right foot, again noticing sensations, first imagining atoms and space, then envisioning each toe as open, warm, and relaxed. Slowly shift to your foot, moving mentally from the ball of your foot to the arch and heel, then the top. Work your way up your ankle, calf, knee, thigh, and hip, taking your time. Allow your right leg to fully relax, sinking down softly.
  • Turn your attention to your left big toe and repeat each step until your left leg is fully relaxed, sinking down softly. Now become aware of your back. Focus on each vertebra, then the muscles. Slowly move on to your abdomen and chest. Now turn to your right thumb, then to each finger. Relax your palm, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder. Now scan and relax your left thumb and each finger, then your left palm, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder. Think about your neck and jaw. Yawn. Allow each part of your face to relax, easing through your jaw, eyes, and forehead, then your scalp, and the back of your head.
  • Let your whole body sink deeper and deeper into your chair or bed. Do you feel light? Relaxed? Imagine you are breathing in calm and peace. Imagine releasing any remaining tension as you breathe out. Sit or lie quietly, still inhaling and exhaling, noting lightness and spaciousness. Slowly, open your eyes and take a moment to stretch, if you like.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.