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Mindfulness mediation is scientifically proven to change brains.

Measurable improvements in your ability to direct attention kick in after just 5-10 half hour sessions. After 10-20 sessions the white matter (brain wires) in an area called the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) start looking different on MRI scans. By this point people often notice a distinct improvement in their mood.

It takes a month to create so many new connections between brain wires in this region that the grey matter becomes significantly denser. These changes, and others scattered throughout important parts of your brain, improve people’s physical health and psychological well-being. And for those more preoccupied with success than looking after themselves – it also boosts cognitive performance.

As someone who’s mind is always on the move I personally find it very difficult to just focus on my breath. The body scan meditation is much easier for me to stick with because somebody else’s voice guides you through each stage of the meditation process. As I found it really helped me to stay focused on the present moment, rather than mind-wandering endlessly into other thought patterns, I started using the body scan script to guide people attending my talks in their first steps into meditation.

I promised I’d make the Body Scan script I’ve been working with available in this month’s blog so that other people can read it out to those who want to give mindfulness a go, so here it is…

Kids can meditate too

It looks like a poem, but it isn’t. I structured it like that to help me get the appropriate pacing; to remind me where to pause before moving on. If the script is delivered at a reasonably slow pace, it should last about 20 minutes. Too long for many children, but just right for busy adults. It can always be shortened to suit kids of different ages by concentrating on specific body parts and skipping the others.

If some of the words are not the kind of language you’d normally use in your part of the world, please feel free to change it to make it sound more natural. But do try to keep the verb structure. Words like: “moving,” “shifting,” “accepting” – invite the listener to focus on different parts of their body rather than instructing or commanding them to do so. It can sound a bit wishy washy, but it’s important that people don’t feel like they’re being bossed around. Using non-confrontational language like this helps to avoid getting people’s heckles up.

Body Scan in action in Brighton

So, here’s the body scan meditation I’ve been working with:

“This body scan meditation is designed,

To bring greater awareness to body and to mind.

We’ll be doing this in a state of physical motionless,

So try to arrange a time and a place,

In which you’ll be comfortable,

And you won’t be disturbed

Dressing in loose and comfortable clothing

Which won’t restrict your waist or your breathing

This meditation is usually done while lying on your back

But can be done in any position that is comfortable for you

It can be done on a rug, a mat, or towel laid out on the floor,

Or even in a comfortable chair or lying on a bed.

If you are lying on your back

Position your arms so that they are lying alongside you

Palms up towards the ceiling, so long as that is comfortable for you.

Place both heels on the floor,

And allow your feet to fall away from one other.

And as you’re lying there…

Allow yourself to notice whatever pops up into your awareness,

Simply accepting whatever is happening in your body and your mind,

Experiencing it with clarity,

And as it is in the moment.

Noticing where your body makes contact with the floor, the chair or the bed,

You may feel sensations of touch or pressure

On your heels…

Your calves…

Your legs…

Your bum…

Your upper back…

Your arms…

And as you’re becoming aware of these sensations,

Bring your awareness to the fact that you’re breathing [extended pause]

Noticing the physical sensations of breath,

Just noticing the rhythm of your breath.

As it moves your belly,

Slight movements of your chest.

You may become aware of how the air enters your nostrils,

            And through your windpipe and into your lungs

Allowing that natural movement of your breath to continue,

Without really having to do anything about it at all.

There’s a tendency to want to control the breathing when we bring attention to it

Just noticing how it is, is just fine…

Whether it’s short and fast…

 Or long and deep…

Just allowing it to move at its own rhythm……….

And when you’re ready, on your next in-breath,

Allowing the breath that comes in to fill up your lungs, move your tummy up

Imagine that your entire body is hollow

…and accepts the air as it comes in through the lungs

accepts the air as it comes in through the nostrils

… in through the lungs…

… imagining that it goes all the way in, down into the belly, into the legs

… all the way down into the toes

You may notice tingling, or warmth, or coolness, or pulsing…

… or you may not be particularly aware of anything at all

If that’s the case, just be aware that that’s where your attention is…

And as you breath out, allowing your awareness to move from your toes

… to the balls of your feet

Allowing your awareness of the balls of your feet to dissolve…

… as you move your awareness to the whole sole of your foot

… all the way down to your heel

Spread your awareness across the whole triangular part of your foot…

… the areas that make contact  with the ground when you walk

 And noticing where your heel is touching the floor…

… and the floor is touching the heel, right now

And whatever you might be noticing,

Is just what you happen to be noticing right now.

There’s no right or wrong feeling or sensation to have.

And allowing your awareness to move to the ankles.

All the way from the surface of the skin to the inner parts.

The bones and tendons inside that support your body when you walk.

And on your next out-breath, moving your awareness to the calves of your legs

… including the part that is making contact with the floor

… and the muscles and tendons that run alongside the shin bone

And when you’re ready, moving your awareness to your knees,

… including the back of the knee

… the kneecap itself

… the joint inside

…. the skin around the whole circumference

And moving from your knees to your thighs

… the quads on the top, to the hams on the bottom

… bringing your awareness to the whole circumference of your thighs

The muscles and tendons right down to the bone…

… seeing what it’s like to have your awareness on this part

You may feel heaviness, or your pulse, or tingling, or pressure…

… whatever comes to awareness is right, there is no wrong…

And as you’re ready to do this, bringing your awareness higher to the hip

… the pelvic area

… buttocks where they touch the floor

And moving your awareness from the pelvic area to the lower back

… right the way round to your abdomen, all the way round the circumference

… & being aware of how your movement of breath affects this part of your body

On each in-breath your tummy expands a little

On the out-breath it flattens somewhat

And seeing if it’s possible to maintain awareness of your breathing through a whole cycle

And how it’s physically moving with your abdomen

All the way through the in-breath, to the pause between in- and out-breath

As you’re ready to go in the other direction – through the out-breath

Noticing how the expansion and contraction affects the sensations on your skin…

… from your clothes, or pressure from the floor…

Moving your awareness higher up your body..

…to the area of the diaphragm, deep inside the base of the ribcage

Including the areas both on top and below the diaphram

…where some of the internal organs are

…and bringing your awareness into rib cage … and your middle back

If, as we’re doing this, you’re noticing any holding or tension…

…in any part of your body…

…just noticing that that’s there

Letting your breath move through that part of your body…

… if your breath is affecting it

Imagining your breath going into that part of your body

Imagining it leaving – in it’s own rhythm

 And when you’re ready bringing your attention and your awareness

… inside the cavity of your chest

… your ribcage

… round to your upper back

… where it touches the mat or the floor

Noticing how the chest is expanding and contracting…

just slightly with each breath…….

Being aware of how the entire torso area moves ….

… very slightly during each in-breath and out-breath ….

… being aware of how your shoulders are affected by each breath….

… including the upper parts of your shoulders

…. the sides of your shoulders

… the upper back

Moving your awareness from the shoulders themselves

To where they attach to your neck

And sensing into those areas of connection

Starting from a broad base at the top of the shoulders…

… and narrowing to the neck itself

With your next in-breath,

… allowing your awareness to move back into your shoulders…

… through your upper arms

… through elbow to your lower arms

….. all the way down through your hands

…. to your fingertips

Imagining your breath moving in / out of that area…

… and shifting your attention now to the back of your hands….

…… and the palms of your hands

…. The base of the thumb, where it connects to the hand itself

…. And shifting your awareness to your wrists

Moving to your lower arms …

…. Extending all the way from your wrists to your elbows

And moving your focus from your elbows to your upper arms…

… and back up into the shoulders

And the base of the neck…

… and moving from the base of your neck round to the sides and the throat area

… and up into the jaw

… now including the sensations you might have in the inside of your mouth

When you’re ready shifting your attention into your tongue

… shift your attention into your gums and your lips

… and being aware that your lips have both an interior and exterior surface

… and then into the cheeks

To the nose…

… noticing how the cool air comes in through the nostrils

… and noticing the warmer feel of the breath as it passes back out again

Moving up into the eyes…

… and the muscles around the eyes …

… including the upper cheeks and the eyebrows…

… and the corners of your eyes

And moving to the forehead …

… and the surrounding scalp area

…. From the crown of your skull to the ears

…. And on to the back of your head where it makes contact with the floor

And when you’re ready, sensing into the entire body

From the top of your head

To the bottom of your feet

All at the same time.

Allowing and noticing whatever sensation may appear…

… as you include all of the body

Head and shoulders…

Arms, torso…

Bum and hips…

Thighs and calves…

Feet …

… allowing things to be just as they are:

Beyond the tendencies of the mind to want everything to be a certain way…

Beyond liking and disliking…

Seeing ourselves as complete… And whole …

Right here … Right now … Just exactly as we are…

Noticing and experiencing… the fullness of life

Acknowledging our ability to be present… with whatever presents itself

And as this meditation ends… you might want to wiggle your toes and fingers…

Stretch in whatever way feels comfortable to you right now …

If your eyes have been closed, allowing them to let the light in, little by little …

And as you’re ready, re-establishing contact…

… with the entire world outside your body.

Thus ends the body scan meditation!

I hope you find this useful.

I’ve also recorded an audio file of me reading out the script in case people would find it useful. I haven’t quite figured out how to upload it yet but as soon as I do I’ll update this post.

In addition to these monthly blogs I regularly tweet about any interesting neuroscience research that hits the press (@drjacklewis) and next month I’ll finally be launching my new YouTube channel BRAIN MAN VR!!

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Dr Jack
drjacklewis@gmail.com