A personal script for a guided body scan “meditation” or attention exercise

By Stephen Hewitt | Published 28 December 2020 | Last updated 29 December 2020

Here is a twenty minute guided body scan “meditation” script which anyone can use to make their own audio recording.

This is a personal synthesis from diverse sources which I have been using for over a year, presented here with a few minor edits, for anyone who finds it useful.

The reason for inverted commas on “meditation” is that for the purpose of this article such exercises would be better called attention exercises and divested of the modern connotations of cannabis and eastern mysticism which “meditation” might conjure up. Also, the word in this context could be considered a misnomer, as could the word “mindfulness”. The word “meditation” implies thinking, which is the opposite of my intent. For example, the philosophical writings of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius have traditionally been titled “Meditations”. In contrast, the aim of this exercise is to temporarily inhibit the verbalising, thinking part of the mind that is used for abstractions such as philosophy and to become mindless, paying attention to sensory experience without words.

This particular script is the result of experience using similar body scan recordings available on the web, each with good features but all lacking in some different way, and attending some public groups. It was made by shamelessly copying words, phrases and concepts of what I considered to be the best features of all of them.

Included features in this script are the following.

The idea of the script is that you read it aloud to make your own recording, optionally modifying it as you wish. To help with this, the script below contains time marks (eg “4:05” meaning four minutes and five seconds since the start). Using a stopwatch and such time marks, after a couple of short trials, I found it easy to record an mp3 in one take with no subsequent editing. It came out slightly longer than the intended twenty minutes but this did not really matter. Timing is not critical.

This article will not rehearse the motivations or techniques for doing such an attention exercise but I would mention my motivation for using a recording instead of doing it entirely in my head. I have found that the effort of making decisions - especially where there is indecision - inhibits being able to pay attention well. Using a recording removes decisions about when to move to the next part of the body, or even, in a bad day, the decision of whether to go back and repeat part of the body because you did not do it well enough and were really half thinking about something else (in general going back should be resisted in all cases). Importantly, it takes away responsibility for keeping a sense of time.

An example of one of the recordings that helped to inspire this one is a UCSD (University of California at San Diego) 20 min body scan recording. After trying a few, this is the one I chose to use the most before eventually creating my own. One important feature was that it did not aim to change anything in the body, explicitly saying that the aim is not necessarily to relax. However, like a lot of recordings, it contained general instructions on how to use it, which are a distraction.

Body scan attention exercise

This is a twenty minute body scan attention exercise. 0:00 Lying on your back on the grass, pay attention to the whole body, where it contacts the earth and there is pressure and those parts that are not in contact where there is no pressure. 00:17

Pay attention to the backs of the heels whether they are in contact with the grass. Pay attention to the buttocks and whether they are supporting weight. 00:31 The shoulders and whether they are supporting weight. The back of the head where it might be resting on the ground.

00:50 Feel the rise of the stomach on breathing in, and then the sinking of the stomach on exhaling.

1:04 Pay attention to the face and the temperature of the air on it, whether there is a cool breeze, maybe there is no sensation at all. Maybe the sun is shining on you, on one half of the face. 1:18

1:23 Pay attention to your hands, all the way into your finger tips and whether they in contact with the earth ... your palms whether they are upwards and any feeling of coolness or warmth or dampness. 1:41

Keeping the attention broad like a floodlight, try to feel all these at the same time, the contact points with the earth, the heels, the buttocks the shoulders, the back of the head, the fingertips ... and at the same time the rise and fall of the abdomen with the breath.

2:06 And now, narrowing the attention like a flashlight, notice the back of the head and any pressure on it and moving the attention down the body, through the neck, through the rib cage and through the abdomen, where the breath may be rising and falling, and down the left leg, past the left knee and any tension in it, into the left foot and down to the tips of the left toes. 2:43

Resting in awareness of solely the left toes, to the exclusion of everything else. Notice the toes, any tingling, are they are hot or cold, 3:01 or is there no feeling at all.

3:07 And now expand awareness to the rest of the left foot, the ball of the foot ... the arch ... the sole of the foot ... the heel of the foot on the sole of the foot ... 3:32 and then round to the heel at the back of the foot where it might be in contact with the ground, and there might be a feeling of pressure 3:42 ... the outside edge of the foot, all along the foot ... the top of the foot and into the ankle at the front where there might be some tension ... now the ankle itself, right inside the joint.

4:05 Moving up to the lower leg away from the ankle notice any general sensation of heat or cold any air blowing on it ... the calf muscle at the back of the lower leg, notice any pressure on it from contact with the ground ... the inside of the lower leg 4:32 ... the front of the lower leg and any feeling of clothing or something resting on it ... the outside of the lower leg and any tension in it and feeling of cold or warmth. 4:52

4:58 Moving up to the knee, the back of the knee and any tension in it or pressure from contact ... feel the outside edge of the knee... the inside edge of the knee... the front of the knee and any feeling of clothing or contact... feel right into the front of the knee so the joint and any feeling of tension in the muscle or tendon inside.

5:35 Moving up into the upper leg, the feeling of the thigh at the front of the leg and any tension in that muscle, feeling of contact with clothing, warmth or cold ... the inside edge of the upper leg and any tension... back of the leg any pressure from contact... buttock and pressure on it.

6:13 And now moving the attention across the stomach and down the right leg past the right knee which may have tension at the back, into the right foot, and down to the tips of the right toes.

Resting in awareness of solely the right toes, to the exclusion of everything else. Notice in the toes any tingling, notice whether they are hot or cold, whether they are numb.

6:48 And now expand awareness to the rest of the right foot, the ball of the foot... the arch... the sole of the foot... the heel of the foot on the sole of the foot... now moving round the corner to the heel at the back of the foot where it might be in contact with the ground and there might be some pressure... the outside edge of the foot all along its length ... and then the top of the foot ... and into the ankle at the front where there might be some tension ... now feel the ankle itself right inside the joint.

7:40 Allowing the ankle to dissolve in the mind's eye move up to the lower leg. Notice any general sensation of heat or cold, movement of air on it ... the calf muscle at the back of the lower leg, notice any pressure on it from contact with the ground ... feel the inside edge of the lower leg... the front of the lower leg and any feeling of clothing or something resting on it... the outside edge of the lower leg, any tension.

8:35 Moving up to the knee, back of the knee and any tension in it or pressure from contact from the ground ... the outside of the knee, the outside edge of the knee... just resting in total awareness of the outside edge ... of the right knee... the inside of the knee ... the front of the knee and any feeling of clothing or contact ... right into the front of the knee and any feeling of tension in the muscle or tendon inside 9:27

9:31 And allowing the knee to dissolve in the mind's eye, moving up into the upper leg, the feeling of the thigh at the front of the leg and any tension in it, feeling of contact with clothing, warmth or cold... the inside of the upper leg and any tension... the back of the leg any pressure from contact with the ground... the outside of the leg... and now feel the buttock and any pressure on it.

10:17 And now expand your awareness to both buttocks at the same time ... the whole of your pelvis... the lower spine as it emerges from the pelvis ... the lower abdomen at the front, the lower belly ... and the rise and fall of the stomach with each breath simply experiencing it as the air moves in and out ... the rising of your stomach on the in breath, and the falling on breathing out. 10:53

And moving the attention up to the stomach and its contents and any feelings from digestion ... and moving upwards into the rib cage and the back of the rib cage, where there may be sensation of contact with the earth ... the sides of the rib cage and any feelings of clothing or warmth ... the front of the chest ... the heart beating within the rib cage 11:36 ... the rise and fall of the chest with each breath.

11:48 Now move the attention to the left shoulder and all the way down the left arm, past the left elbow, where you may notice some tension and contact pressure, and into the left hand and into the finger tips of the left hand... resting in pure awareness of solely the left fingertips, to the exclusion of everything else. 12:20 ... and now expanding awareness to the whole of the left fingers, and the left thumb ... the ball of the thumb and notice any contact pressure if it is resting on the ground 12:39 ... the rest of the hand, including the palm which might be warm or damp and the difference to the top of the hand where there may be contact pressure from clothing or not. 12:56

And the left wrist ... the forearm, any tension in the back of the forearm, or contact pressure on the bottom of the forearm... And the left elbow, any feeling of contact from the extensor side 13:31 any tension in the joint, right inside the joint, on the flexor side 13:40

Allowing the elbow to dissolve in your mind's eye and moving up the upper arm, the biceps and any tension transmitted upwards from the flexor elbow or no feeling if there is none ... the triceps and any feeling of tension or warmth or no feeling at all ... the sides of the upper arm and any contact with clothing.

14:13 Feel left the shoulder - any sensation of contact from what it is resting against, any tension along the top towards the neck, a muscle that often may have tension... 14:40 and move the attention across the shoulders, feeling the tension, passing the neck to the right shoulder, and all the way down the right arm 14:51, past the right elbow where you may notice some tension and contact pressure, and into the right hand and into the finger tips of the right hand, 15:02 resting in pure awareness of solely the right fingertips, to the exclusion of everything else. ... and then slowly expanding awareness to the whole of the right fingers, and the right thumb 15:18 ... the ball of the thumb and notice any contact pressure between the ball of the thumb and the earth ... the rest of the hand including the palm which might be warm or damp and any difference in temperature to the top of the hand where there may be contact pressure from clothing or not.

15:46 and moving attention to the right wrist ... the forearm, any tension in the back of the forearm, or contact pressure on the bottom of the forearm... and the right elbow is there any feeling of contact from the extensor side... is there tension in the joint ... feel right inside the joint,on the flexor side.

16:29 And moving up to the upper arm - notice the biceps and any tension transmitted upwards from the flexor elbow or no feeling if there is none ... the triceps and any feeling of tension or warmth or no feeling at all ... the sides of the upper arm and any contact with clothing 16:48 ... the shoulder - resting in awareness of purely the right shoulder, any sensation of contact with the earth - any tension along the top between the shoulders. Feel into the right armpit.

17:17 And now, moving from the shoulders to the back of the neck. The back of the neck and any feeling of tension in the muscles or the pressure of clothing at the top of the neck... feel right into the attachment of the muscles and tendons where they join the skull ... feel the front of the neck ... the sensation of air passing through the neck as you breath 17:56 ... any sensation from swallowing inside the neck.

18:09 And now allowing the neck to dissolve in your mind's eye feel the back of the head, where it may be in contact with the earth... moving to the jaw and the jaw muscles, whether the jaw is clamped and any sensation of tension in the jaw muscles 18:37 ... move your attention to the cheeks ... the lips ... the nose and the tip of the nose 18:53 ... now pay attention to the eyes 19:02 is there any feeling of tension, around the eyes, any sensation of the eyes if they blink, ... the eyebrows and the forehead, any sensation of coolness or warmth or air movement on the forehead. 19:27

19:33 And now, widening the attention like a floodlight, feel from the top of the head, down past the back of the head, through the shoulders and their contact points, the rib cage and maybe the heart beating inside it, the buttocks and their contact points, the backs of the legs, the heels and their contact points.

20:00 Keeping the attention broad like a floodlight, try to feel all these at the same time: the shoulders, rib cage, abdomen, legs and notice also at the same time the the fingertips, the elbows and at the same time the rise and fall of the abdomen with the breath.

20:24 And keep noticing, resting in simultaneous awareness of all the body: the neck and the face, the shoulders and the back, the elbows and the fingertips, the rib cage and the breathing. Notice the rising of the chest and belly as you inhale. Notice the legs down to the heels. 20:51 ... [30-second pause]

The voiced part ends here.

A note on terminology - “inside” and “outside”. For clothes, the inside leg measurement traditionally is the measurement you make of your leg length between your legs. In some places the script uses these words in this sense referring to a leg or a foot. So for example, the inside edge of the left leg is the right side of it. The outside edge of the left leg is the left side of it.

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