Last Updated on March 19, 2021 by Paul Farrell, MRP, JD, PhD
“Body scanning uses your inner awareness, rather than your eyes, to examine your body …
Body scanning is very much like looking in a mirror; but the mirror is the awareness in your mind. You can use this inner awareness to check whether you have collected any unhealthy muscle tension …
with time and practice, scanning can easily become a habit as automatic as looking in the mirror.”
– Dr. Charlesworth & Dr. Nathan, Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide To Wellness
In today’s fast-paced and demanding business environment most of us hate waiting, it wastes precious time and makes us anxious. But it happens all the time. A traffic jam. On hold for an important telephone call. Waiting for a deal to close. Client late for lunch. Airport lines. You name it. Waiting is stressful.
Mind / body scanning has a specific purpose – find out where in your body you’re holding the tension, creating the stress, causing your pain. Where is it in your body? Shoulders? Neck? Forehead? Fists? Clinching your teeth? The problem is that for many executives, the head and body don’t communicate! When I was on Wall Street it took a few years of therapy to figure that one out!
Body Scanning Reconnects the Body to the Endlessly “Talking Head”
Why the disconnect? Because most executives work in their heads – thinking, analyzing, dealing, planning, negotiating, organizing, designing, scheduling. We spend so much time in our heads, our heads get disconnected and isolated from our bodies and emotions, as well as the rest of our lives. It’s as if we are two separate people.
In many ways the television news term, “talking heads,” is an accurate description of so many business executives, not by choice but simply because we work in a fast-paced, high-tech world with its 24/7 demands for more and more performance.
This separation of mind and body creates stress. And scanning the body is a simple meditation technique that can help any executive improve the connection between brain and body – and ease the stress. And scans can take a little as a few seconds. For example, in Stress Management, A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness, Dr. Edward Charlesworth and Dr. Ronald Nathan describe a Type-A business executive who had a habit of clenching his jaw. His anxiety was so distracting he needed help from these stress management consultants.
Corporate America’s “Clinched Jaw” Execs Need to Get Back in Touch with Their Bodies
This uptight executive would clench his jaw all the time – whether he was running late for an appointment or headed off for a quiet family vacation. His habit was so bad it seriously affected him physically, emotionally and on the job. Their “Executive Scan” technique had the executive turn all of his annoying waiting periods from negative to positive experiences by using body scans to focus on the source of the stress.
After this executive got the hang of scanning, he began using stop signs and street lights as opportunities for scanning, turning the negative of waiting into a positive – a few brief moments at a time – and he even taped reminders to his speedometer.
The exercise was simple and effective. The goal is to become totally aware of and focused on the physical location of the stress in the body and away from the impatience, anger and stress that had been isolated in his mind. The simple process of reconnecting his brain with his body gave this executive the power to deal with his stress consciously – both in the head and in the body, effect and cause. Before long he was able to reduce the tension in the jaw and relax.
The Basic “Body Scanning Meditation” Technique with Jon Kabat Zinn
You‘ll find examples and scripts for body scanning in most of today’s books on meditation, usually involving more time and a more relaxed environment than a few brief moments waiting for a street light to change. I’ve used them for years, you’ll adapt your own style after you try a few. So try it for a while and see if they’re right for you.
Here’s one from Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts and another pioneer in the field of stress management. He says this “Body-Scan Meditation” is a “very powerful technique we use to reestablish contact with the body … because of the thorough and minute focus on the body in body scanning, it is an effective technique for developing concentration and flexibility of attention simultaneously.”
“Foot Bone Connected to the Leg Bone …”
Here is Kabat Zinn’s prescription for one very simple body scan, from his classic, Full Catastrophe Living: Using The Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. He suggests you start by lying on your back and slowly move your mind through the different regions of your body.
Of course if you’re in your office and a bit self-conscious about lying down on the floor or a couch, you can just lean back in your chair and close your eyes. Or go for a walk at lunch and lie down on the grass in a local park. Whatever you do, relax and treat the whole exercise lightly – in fact, I strongly suggest you might even silently hum that lively ol’ tune, Dry Bones! “The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the thigh bone…” and so in up the body. Here are the simple how-to steps:
Body Scanning – A How To
“Start with the toes of the left foot and slowly move up the foot and leg, feeling the sensations as we go up and directing the breath in to and out of the different regions. From the pelvis, we go to the toes of the right foot and move up the right leg back to the pelvis. From there, we move up through the torso, through the low back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and the shoulders.
Then we go to the fingers of both hands and move up simultaneously in both arms, returning to the shoulders. Then we move through the neck and throat, and finally all the regions of the face, the back of the head, and the top of the head. We wind up breathing through an imaginary ‘hole’ in the very top of the head, as though we were a whale with a blowhole.
We let our breathing move through the entire body from one end to the other, as if it were flowing through the top of the head and out through the toes, and then in through the toes and out through the top of the head.”
Reconnect Head with Body – Then “Let Go!”
Meditation books often describe body scanning as a “letting go.” For example, Kabat Zinn says, “by the time we have completed the body scan, it can feel as if the entire body has dropped away or become transparent, as if there is nothing but breath flowing freely across all the boundaries of the body.” That is, by reestablishing contact between the talking head with the body, you naturally let go of the tension between the two – the lack of connection causes the stress.
Finally, “as we complete the body scan, we let ourselves dwell in silence and stillness, in an awareness that may have by this point gone beyond the body altogether.” Then after a time you gradually start moving your body and slowly return to the everyday world, refreshed, with a sense of wholeness.
Meditation is about increasing your awareness – of the world within you and around you. A scanning meditation makes you aware of the incredible body you inhabit and what you’re doing with it – where, when, how you’re using it. And once you’re aware, you can use that feedback to your advantage and do something to correct the situation, relax and enjoy some peace of mind.
About the Author
Dr. Farrell is a Behavioral Economist. His books include The Millionaire Code; The Millionaire Meditation: Stress Management for Wall Street, Corporate America & Entrepreneurs; The Zen Millionaire; The Winning Portfolio; Expert Investing on The Net; Mutual Funds on The Net; and The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing.
He also published 1,643 columns on DowJones-MarketWatch and for years was their #1 traffic-generating columnist. Before the Internet, he edited & published FNX: Future News Index, a financial newsletter for stock market traders. Earlier he was a Wall Street investment banker with Morgan Stanley, Executive Vice President of the Financial News Network; and Associate Editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
He has a Doctorate in Psychology, Juris Doctor, Masters in Regional Planning and Bachelor of Architecture. He worked on the Esalen organic farm and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as Staff Sergeant in aviation computer technology.