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Body scan meditation is a type of meditation in which the mental focus is typically turned towards experiencing the physical sensations of the body itself. Advocates of this type of meditation say it can help relieve the physical symptoms of stress, improve mental well-being, and even provide some relieve for physical pain. Performing a body scan meditation usually requires a peaceful, quiet environment free of interruptions. The practitioner is generally advised to assume a comfortable position that allows for total relaxation. The practice itself usually involves focusing the attention on one body part at a time, sequentially, until attention has been given to each part of the body.
People practicing body scan meditation are usually encouraged to lie down or sit in a comfortable position. Most body scan meditations begin with the toes or feet, though some instructors recommend beginning with the head. The practitioner generally begins by focusing the attention on the toes or feet.
Instructors generally encourage their meditation students to observe the physical sensations occurring in the toes or feet for a moment or two. Attention is then generally moved up the body, to the ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, and so forth, until each part of the body has been given the practitioner's attention for a few moments. At the end of the body scan meditation, practitioners are usually encouraged to give some attention to feeling the sensations of the body as a whole.
Focusing the attention on the body in this way is said to allow practitioners of body scan meditation to cope with stress and muscle tension. Paying attention to the physical sensations of the body can help many practitioners understand how stress impacts their bodies. Practitioners can begin to control their own stress levels by consciously releasing muscle tension from the body during body scan meditation. Some believe that this meditation technique can even provide some relief from pain, since it can allow patients to better understand which areas of the body feel painful and why.
Most types of meditation focus on cultivating a quality known as mindfulness, which means awareness of one's present situation. Practitioners of meditation in general are usually encouraged to observe the feelings, thoughts, and sensations that can arise during the meditation practice, without analyzing or worrying about them. Practitioners are typically encouraged to meet physical sensations with feelings of acceptance and calm, rather than judgment.