Mindfulness of the body—noticing our physical sensations—can be a useful tool for stress management and greater resilience. In a research study, participants who noticed their physical state sooner were able to reign in the stress response before it escalated. This is because it’s much easier to settle ourselves when mildly stressed rather than after fight-or-flight overwhelms our nervous system. If we can notice early warning signs such as our racing heart or thoughts, we can learn to pause and redirect ourselves in healthy ways.
The body scan practice is a helpful tool for developing our capacity to notice our physical experience. Begin by lying down on the bed or floor, letting your arms and legs relax and fall to your sides. Then take a few moments to notice the sensations of the movement of the breath. There’s no need to make anything happen. Simply observe and let things be. Expect your mind to wander, and when it does, gently return your attention to your body and the movement of breathing.
First bring your attention to your feet. Notice the pressure against the bed or floor, the temperature, itches, comfort or discomfort. After a few minutes, move your attention to your lower legs and notice the feel of your clothing or the pressure on the bed. Experience whatever you feel for several minutes, then shift attention to your upper legs for a few minutes. Then to the abdomen, and then your chest. Notice the rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and out.
Continue, spending several minutes on your hands, then your arms, and up to your neck and shoulders. Is there any pain or tightness? If so, send the breath to that part and let it melt the obstruction. Finally notice your face and head, especially the areas around your mouth and eyes. Do they feel relaxed or tense? Take a moment of stillness before you conclude and return to your day. ~ adapted from the article Manage Stress by Listening to Your Body by Dr. Mark Bertin in Psychology Today.
The more you practice sensing into your body, the easier it will become throughout your day. When you notice tension in your body, or racing anxious thinking, or difficult emotions, getting therapeutic bodywork at Massage Therapy Center Palo Alto is one of the most healthy, helpful ways to calm your stress response and restore balance to your nervous system. And while you’re getting massaged, try using your attention to mindfully breathe slowly and deeply. This will increase the benefits of your bodywork by further activating the parasympathetic nervous system, to support relaxation and healing.