The Body Scan

The body scan is another meditation that can help you deal with panic, anxiety, or fear by
first sensing or feeling into the body with mindfulness. By practicing the body scan
you’ll learn to bring your attention directly into your body, part by part, to feel and
acknowledge whatever’s present—physically, emotionally, and mentally.
As you scan your body you may discover physical tension or pain, as well as strong
emotions of panic, sadness, or anger. The practice is to be mindful and nonjudgmental
and to acknowledge whatever you’re feeling. If you have sensations of tightness, see
whether you can allow them to soften, and if you’re unable to do so, then let them be—
let the waves of sensations ripple or resonate wherever they need to go. Just as the sky
gives room for a storm, make space for what you’re feeling physically or mentally. By
acknowledging your body, emotions, and thoughts rather than suppressing, denying, or
repressing them, you’ll become less burdened by them.

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Start Your Morning with Mindfulness

Start Your Morning with Mindfulness

 

Mornings can be a time of rush and panic. The anticipation of the entire day buried under an
avalanche of commitments and responsibilities stretched out in front of you may be daunting,
even terrifying. You may experience an acute feeling of impending doom. You may feel
paralyzed by fear, literally unable to move or get out of bed. Your heart may pound. You may
have a sensation of choking or being smothered and start to hyperventilate. And yet, you
somehow do eventually struggle out of bed and reluctantly start your day.
Most people’s morning routine is fraught with potentially mindless tasks, such as brushing their
teeth.

When you wake up with feelings of impending doom, make up your mind to brush your
teeth with mindfulness. Mindfulness will help you move more gently through your morning panic
and restore a sense of calm and order in your body for the rest of your day.
1. Before you pick up your toothbrush, take a few deep breaths. Take several full breaths, tuning in
to the cool air passing through your nose on the inhale and the warm air passing through your
mouth or nose on the exhale. Be mindful of each breath and notice how it feels in your body.
2. Set your intentions aloud or to yourself for brushing your teeth mindfully. State what you would
like to gain by this practice. You may say: May this practice bring me more closely connected to
my body. May this practice restore balance to my mind and body. Feel free to fill in your ownwords of what you’d like to experience as a result of your application of mindfulness.

3. As you begin your tooth-brushing routine, move slowly, methodically, and consciously. Pick up
your toothbrush and notice all the tiny bristles. Notice the weight of the toothbrush and how it
feels in your hand. As you hold your toothbrush under the running water, notice whether you
prefer warm or cold water. Notice whether you leave the water running or shut it off when you’re
done. As you apply the toothpaste, notice something about it too. Is it mint or some other flavor?
Does it have a scent? How much toothpaste is left in the tube?
4. Remember to return to the present moment by returning to your breath.
5. If you notice some doubt emerge, or a little voice saying This exercise won’t work. It can’t help
me with my panic, simply acknowledge and observe these feelings of doubt, without making any
judgments about them. Doubt is a normal mind state that occasionally springs up and tries to
steer you away from the present moment. This is simply how you feel in this moment, and each
moment is passing, just as everything in life is continually changing.
6. Begin to brush your teeth, paying attention to how you maneuver the brush and what sensations
you feel in your mouth. Do you brush in small, circular motions or just back and forth across
your teeth? Notice the feeling of the toothpaste foaming. Remember to stay present and
connected to your breathing.
7. When you’re ready to rinse your mouth, turn your awareness to the water and how it feels
swirling and swishing in your mouth.

Kick Off a Good Day

If your morning starts off with the news, like mine does, a barrage of negative headlines can inch
your body toward panic without your even being aware of it. The weather reports a storm heading
your way, someone was murdered, and somewhere a war has broken out. Chronic bad news can
have profound effects on your body—your neck and shoulders tighten, your stomach churns, and
your whole being goes on heightened alert.

You don’t have to give up your daily dose of morning news, but we recommend that you start each morning with the following version of the S.T.O.P. practice, in order that you might have more balance and ease in your body as your day begins.
1. Upon waking, with your eyes open, take this moment to stop and pause. You can be lying in your
bed, sitting up, or standing. In the pause, just let your body relax and be still. Give yourself
permission to just be here, floating adrift for a minute or two, before you rush into your hectic
day of endless to-dos.
2. If you’re experiencing panic at this time, take a breath. Tune in to your breathing. If you’re
holding your breath, take this time to gradually let the air flow freely in and out of your belly.
Notice the air in your nose, in your chest, and in your abdomen. When your mind starts to drift,
return to your breath again, and be mindful of each inhalation and exhalation—the rhythm, flow,
sound, and sensation in your body.
3. Observe your body and whatever feelings or sensations are stirring in it. Where are you feeling
tension or tightness? Where are you feeling relaxed and at ease? Where are you feeling panic?
Take this time to acknowledge what you notice. Whatever your body is feeling—tension,
stiffness, dry mouth, shortness of breath—let it just be. Pay attention to your body’s experience.
4. Discover what you may need right now to take better care of your body and connect more fully
with your life. You may need a drink of water. You may need a morning of music or silence
instead of grim news. You may need a longer shower than usual. Think of how you can gain a
sense of inner balance and anchor yourself in this balance throughout the rest of your day.
5. Proceed with your morning and be present. Remember to reflect on what came up for you during
this application of mindfulness and what you learned about your body.
Feel free to repeat daily or at any time to help you maintain balance and ease in your body.

How to Practice the Body Scan

The body scan is an important meditation to help you get in touch with your body
and mind. This is great training for dealing with panic and to gradually begin to feel
more acceptance and ease within yourself.
As you practice the body scan, there may be at times a feeling that it’s counterintuitive at first to acknowledge what you’re feeling physically, mentally, and
emotionally. In time, you’ll gradually come to know the skillfulness and efficiency of
this. You’ll recognize that acknowledging your feelings becomes a powerful mechanism
of emotional discharge and release. You’ll begin to gain confidence that the best way to
straighten out is to turn in the direction of the skid. Perhaps you’ve noticed that the more
you try to avoid your feelings, the more they return—again and again—just as when you
turn away from a skid, the car spins out of control. The body scan teaches you to
mindfully go with what’s happening rather than fighting it.

See what happens when you do this in your own life. By doing the body scan once (or maybe even twice) a day, you’ll learn how to work with a whole range of sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Try to make time to do the
body scan when you can; even a short period will benefit you as you get in touch with
your body. Feel free to use an alarm clock or timer, but always try to find a quiet place
where you can be uninterrupted for the duration of your practice.

Some people like to do the body scan in the morning before getting out of bed, while others prefer mid-morning,
the lunch hour, or before or after dinner. Some prefer to practice right before going to
bed. There is no right time other than the time you pick to do it.
Let this be a part of your practice of mindfulness you look forward to doing, a gift to
yourself and a way to become more balanced within your being.

How to Practice Mindful Breathing

Give yourself the gift of formally practicing this meditation every day, even for a
short period. It might be helpful to start off practicing mindful breathing for five minutes
once a day and build it up from there. Maybe you’ll find that you can add a second or
even a third five-minute session, practicing mindful breathing at different times of your
day. You can get additional benefit if you gradually extend your mindful breathing to
ten, fifteen, twenty, or even thirty minutes at least once a day.

Let this be a part of your practice of mindfulness that you look forward to doing, a special time for you to center
yourself and “return home” to your being. Feel free to use an alarm clock or timer; you
can download free meditation timers from the Insight Meditation Center
(http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/meditation-timers/) that feature a pleasant sound.
Like other meditations offered in this book, mindful breathing can be incorporated
into your daily activities too. As far as where to practice informally, just about anywhere
works. Take a few minutes at home, at work, at the doctor’s office, at the bus stop, or
even while waiting in line to bring a little mindful breathing into your life. You can also
make it a habit to take a few mindful breaths right after you wake up, when you take a
morning break, at lunchtime, in the afternoon, at night, or right before you go to sleep.
Once you’ve practiced mindful breathing at these times, you can experiment with using it
when you’re feeling some angst, to help you calm the rush of panic in your body.

How to Deal with Challenges

When you formally practice mindfulness, from time to time you’ll experience
challenges that are considered hindrances for your growing practice. You may wonder
why you’d want to bring awareness to your panic in the first place, because all you’ve
ever wanted is to get away from it. You may even have fears that your panic could get
worse if you pay attention to it. Although it’s normal to feel this way, you may be
surprised to discover that as you gradually turn toward panic with greater awareness,
acknowledgment, and compassion, it will subside—just as turning in the direction of the
skid straightens you out on a snowy or icy road. Even though it feels counterintuitive at
first, the seeds of possibility are there if you’re open to them.
Let’s look at other predictable challenges that will arise when you practice
mindfulness. When you begin to meditate, you’ll soon notice how frequently your mind
wanders or is consumed with wanting, avoiding, restlessness, sleepiness, or doubt.

WANDERING MIND


One of the first insights you’ll experience when you first begin a formal practice of
mindfulness is how busy your mind is and how much it wanders. Rest assured that it’s
always been that way—you’ve just never been very mindful of its activity. Although you
may think that an inability to focus means you’re no good at meditating, most everyone’s
mind inevitably wanders during meditation. It can even be helpful to notice your mind’s
activity when it becomes distracted. You may discover that your thoughts and emotions
are often preoccupied with either rehearsing the future or rehashing the past. This insight
into the workings of your mind will give you important information. You may realize,
for example, that you need to deal with an unresolved relationship or other unfinished
business.
In dealing with your wandering mind, you’ll begin to understand more about your
mind-body connection. When you come back to the present moment after wandering off
with various worries, you may notice that your jaw is clenched or your stomach is in
knots. You’ll begin to realize that these physical tensions are connected to your thoughts
and emotions.
Another use for the wandering mind is concentration training. The way to build and
sustain concentration is to repeatedly bring your mind back to the present after it has
wandered off. Just like lifting weights again and again to grow muscle, when you bring
your mind back again and again to your breathing or whatever you’re meditating on, you
increase your capacity for attention.
As your practice of mindfulness deepens, you’ll understand that (a) the only changes
you can ever make are in the here and now and (b) the moment you realize you’re not
present, you are in fact present. This is “where the rubber meets the road,” starting in this
moment.

Establishing an Informal Practice of Mindfulness

As previously mentioned, mindfulness is a way of life that can be practiced both formally
and informally. We want to invite you to begin incorporating mindfulness into your daily
activities as a way of decreasing panic.
Bringing mindfulness into your life is very important in dealing with panic. As with
formally practicing mindfulness, you can do this every day. Daily mindfulness brings
awareness into your body, emotions, and thoughts in the varied experiences of everyday
living. You can bring mindfulness to chores, work, walking, driving, brushing your
teeth, folding laundry, waiting in line, sitting in the doctor’s office, your interpersonal
relationships, and all aspects of life. The only moment you ever really live in and the only
place you can ever make any changes is right here and now, so why not be mindful of
this moment?
To begin an informal practice of mindfulness, you can start with any of the
suggestions below. The more you do them, the more they’ll become integrated into your
life. Accomplish at least one task each day mindfully. In other words, while you’re doing
something, just be doing that one thing, fully present and attentive to what you’re doing.
There’s no need to be a perfectionist here—it won’t be possible to be mindful of all of
these activities all the time—but slowly you can do more activities mindfully. Remember,
the moment you realize you aren’t present, you are. It’s that close and yet that far. Let
there be a spirit of levity, kindness, and self-compassion with this practice of mindfulness
—this is why it’s called a practice. Don’t feel as if you have to “get it right” every time.
When you wake up, take a mindful breath and then notice and acknowledge how
you’re feeling in your body and mind.
-While getting dressed, be mindful of the clothes you’re selecting for the day.

Notice how they feel when you put them on.
-While brushing your teeth, just be brushing your teeth.
-While preparing and eating breakfast, be mindful of the preparation and how the food tastes.
-While washing the dishes, just be washing the dishes.
-While folding the laundry, be mindful of the folding and how it’s feeling.
-While walking, just be walking. Notice each step.
-While driving to work, drive the speed limit, turn off the radio, and be aware of driving your car. Notice the way your body feels while driving,
-At work, be mindful of your work duties and your interactions with others.
At least once a week, eat a meal in silence, without distractions— radio, TV,
newspaper, and so on—using the time to just experience eating