Body Scan Meditation
The instructions below are intended for your own use, with a child’s body scan available separately below.
When doing this meditation, remember that, as always, there’s no need to strive to make anything happen. Simply observe what you find and practice letting things be for a while. When something uncomfortable grabs your attention, like pain or an itch, observe it first and see if it changes. If you find you need to address it, that’s fine. Noticing that, pause and make an adjustment. In this way, the body scan provides an opportunity to practice responsiveness.
Begin by lying down or sitting in a comfortable chair. If lying down, let your arms and legs relax and fall to the sides; if seated, find a balanced and stable position.
Take a few moments to notice sensations of breathing.
Expect your mind to wander, and when it does, return your attention to your feet without judging yourself or giving yourself a hard time.
Draw your attention to your feet. Notice the pressure of your feet against the floor or bed, the temperature, comfort or discomfort, itches, or anything else. Expect your mind to wander, and when it does, return your attention to your feet without judging yourself or giving yourself a hard time. Let your attention rest with your feet in this way for a few minutes.
Move attention to your lower legs. You might feel the touch of clothing or a blanket, and you might feel nothing at all. Sustain your attention without rigidly exhausting yourself. Whatever you experience, that’s what you’re supposed to feel right now.
After a few minutes, shift attention to your upper legs, observing them in the some way
Pacing yourself turn this some kind of attention to your abdomen and then to your chest. Notice physical sensations, such as breathing, internal feelings like hunger or fullness, and the resonance of any emotions—physical manifestations of happiness, sadness, tension, anger, feeling open or closed, and so on.
Continue turning attention to the rest of your body in the some way, spending several minutes each on your bock, then your hands, then your arms. Then bring attention to your neck and shoulders, releasing tension when you’re able without fighting what remains.
Finally, bring attention to your face and head, noticing expressions and reflections of emotions that occur around your mouth and eyes in particular.
Whether you feel relaxed or tense, restless or invigorated, pause before concluding. Take a moment of stillness, and then, with intention, choose when to move on with your day.
Loving-kindness (compassion) Meditation
So often, we lose track of the fact that we would give someone else the benefit of the doubt in a particular situation but not ourselves. Whether we’re on autopilot or even when giving a situation our full attention, we can make mistakes. Yet our desire is for happiness, and we’re trying to find our way there—we don’t intentionally make a misstep. And really, the same goes for everyone around us: extended family members, our children’s teachers and therapists, a hassled clerk or waitperson, and certainly our children. Even when we completely disagree with others or how they’re acting, their intent is still happiness.
You love your child, but sometimes it may seem like he chooses to be a pain—resisting bedtime, forgetting his backpack, or whatever else gets under your skin. When you’re caught up in the struggle of trying to keep him on track, frustration may sometimes mask your larger wish for his well-being. He’s seeking happiness and, as happens to everyone, something has gotten in the way. It can, unfortunately, be easy to lose track of his side of the story.
You may wonder how you can make strong decisions, protect yourself, and still acknowledge others’ perspectives in this way. You may feel vulnerable when extending compassion to both yourself and others, as if you are in some way condoning their perhaps inappropriate actions. It can feel much easier and often safer to defend, withdraw, or shut others out. But if you fall back on these kinds of reactions repeatedly, it may affect both you and those around you.
Compassion-focused mindfulness practices can guide you past these habitual barriers. You can take care of yourself, or take firm action to protect yourself from someone, and yet still maintain this larger perspective. With effort and repetition, it’s possible to hardwire new neural pathways that reinforce compassion in interactions with yourself, your child, and the world.
In this compassion practice, there’s no aim to force anything to happen. You cannot will yourself into particular feelings toward yourself or anyone else. Rather, the practice is simply to remind yourself that you deserve happiness and ease—no more and no less than anyone else—and that the same goes for your child, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and everyone else in the world. Everyone is driven by an inner desire to avoid suffering and find a measure of peace.
This unbounded affection, deeper than any surface emotions, has traditionally been encompassed within four phrases: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you feel safe. May you live your life with ease.”
Find a comfortable, stable position, either seated or lying down, and observe several breaths. Notice how you’re feeling while letting go of striving or effort to feel otherwise. You cannot force yourself to feel relaxed, nonjudgmental, or anything else in particular. Let yourself simply feel whatever you feel.
Next, picture your child. Imagine what you most wish for him. This unbounded affection, deeper than any surface emotions, has traditionally been encompassed within four phrases: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you feel safe. May you live your life with ease.” Use these phrases or any that capture your deepest wishes, and silently repeat them at a comfortable pace, timed to your breathing.
Continue repeating these wishes for your child, reminding yourself of your deepest intentions: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you feel safe. May you live your life with ease.”
After several minutes, move on to yourself. Your inner critic may resist. Yet in spite of all your seeming mistakes, you have the same rights as anyone: “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I feel safe. May I live my life with ease.” Without any sort of demand, offer yourself the some wishes for well-being you extended to your child.
After several minutes, imagine a close friend or someone unconditionally supportive, a person for whom you have almost entirely positive feelings. This person also desires happiness, whether going through a stretch of relative ease or more acutely in need of your emotional support. If no one comes to mind, that’s fine and quite common; just continue with the practice for yourself
After a few minutes have passed, move on to a neutral person, a stranger, someone you see around but don’t really know—maybe someone at a local store or gas station, or who works nearby. Extend the some wishes to this neutral person without judging whatever you actually feel or aiming to push yourself. You’re simply paying attention in this way.
Now think of a difficult person—not the most difficult, but someone you’ve disagreed with in a smaller way. Your perspectives differ and you must firmly take care of yourself, yet this difficult person’s actions are also driven by a wish for happiness. If this person found relief from his own suffering, it’s likely that his behavior would change. If it’s easier, include yourself: “May we both be happy. May we both be healthy. May we both feel safe. May we both live our lives with ease.”
Next, picture your entire family for a while: “May all of us be happy. May all of us be healthy. May all of us feel safe. May we all live our lives with ease.”
Finally, if you like, extend the some wishes to everyone in this world. In an unforced way, send this compassionate wish for well-being to anyone you imagine, anywhere.
As this practice becomes comfortable for you, you can use it to combat everyday stress. If you feel unmoored, lost, or pulled in different directions, take a moment to wish yourself peace, just as you’d comfort a friend. If your child frustrates you and you lose your temper, briefly practice this meditation for his sake and your own. Remind yourself of your child’s desire for happiness and your own wishes for the same, whatever he may have done.
Awareness of the Breath
This practice will help you guide your attention more often to what’s going on in the present, rather than being caught up elsewhere in your mind. The sensation of breathing is often used only because your breath is with you all the time. The practice isn’t about trying to change how you breathe; your breath simply provides a focus for your attention.
With mindfulness, the only intention is to attend to the moment as best you can. You aren’t striving to transcend anything, get anywhere, or block out anything out. There’s not even a goal of relaxation. That often happens, but you can’t force yourself into feeling it.
You also cannot be good or bad at meditation. You’ll never fix unwavering attention on your breath. Some days meditation allows you a few moments of peace; other days your mind will remain busy. If you’re distracted almost the entire time and still come back to one breath, that’s perfect. And if you practice, you’ll find yourself focusing more often on life with less effort.
Below, you’ll find instructions for practicing this type of focused awareness.
Sit comfortably, finding a stable position you can maintain for a while, either on the floor or in a chair. If not using a guided audio track, set a timer to avoid clock-watching.
Close your eyes if you like, or leave them open and gaze downward toward the floor.
Draw attention to the physical sensation of breathing, perhaps noticing the always-present rising and falling of your abdomen or chest, or perhaps the air moving in and out through your nose or mouth. With each breath, bring attention to these sensations. If you like, mentally note, “Breathing in… Breathing out.”
Many times over, you’ll get distracted by thoughts or feelings. You may feel distracted more often than not. That’s normal. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking or anything else. Without giving yourself a hard time or expecting anything different, when you discover that your attention has wandered, notice whatever has distracted you and then come back to the breath.
Practice pausing before making any physical adjustments, such as moving your body or scratching an itch. With intention, shift at a moment you choose, allowing space between what you experience and what you choose to do.
Let go of any sense of trying to make something happen. For these few minutes, create an opportunity to not plan or fix or whatever else is your habit. Exert enough effort to sustain this practice, but without causing yourself mental strain. Seek balance in this way; if you find yourself mostly daydreaming and off in fantasy, devote a little extra effort to maintaining your focus.
Breathing in and breathing out, return your attention to the breath each time it wanders elsewhere.
Practice observing without needing to react. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back over and over again without judgment or expectation. It may seem simple, but it’s never easy.
Body Scan for Kids
This is a body scan for children. If you’re a parent, you might choose to do this with your child, or feel free to use the audio as part of bedtime or at any other time of the day. Lie down on your back. Let your legs and your arms relax and fall to the sides. Settle yourself in a comfort-able position and close your eyes.
Start by taking two or three gentle, large breaths. Pay attention to how that feels. Your belly rises and falls. Air moves in and out of your body. If you like, place a hand on your belly and feel it move with each breath.
Now we’re going to pay attention to the other parts of the body. Start with your feet. They might feel warm or cold, wet or dry, relaxed or restless. It’s also okay if you feel nothing at all. If you can, relax your feet now. If that’s hard to do, that’s fine. Take a moment and notice how that feels too.
For these few minutes, let yourself be still. There’s nothing to do. Pay attention as best you can. You might feel a blanket or socks on your feet, or you might feel them pressing against the bed or the floor. When your mind gets busy, gently bring your attention back to your feet again.
Now move your attention to your lower legs, noticing whatever is there. Do they feel heavy, light, warm, cold, or something else? Let go of frustration and trying to do anything. Just do your best and give yourself a few moments of rest.
Next, move your attention next to your knees and relax them. Feel the front, back, and sides of your knees.
After a few more breaths, move your attention to your upper legs. Whatever you feel, or don’t feel, is fine. Notice your legs and let them relax. If you feel restless or wiggly, that’s okay too. That happens.
Now move your attention to your belly. It always moves when you breathe, rising and falling, like waves on the sea. You might feel something on the inside, like full or hungry. You might notice the touch of your clothing or a blanket. You might even feel emotions in your belly, like happy or sad or upset.
Next, bring your attention to your chest. Notice it rising and falling as you breathe. If you feel that it’s hard to focus, that’s normal. Gently practice coming back again and again to how your chest feels when you breathe.
Now turn your attention to your hands. There is no need to move them or do anything with them. They may be touching the bed, or the floor, or somewhere on your body. Relax them if you can, and if not, simply paying attention to your hands for another moment.
Move your attention up into your arms. Maybe notice if you can find a moment of stillness inside you, like the pause at the end of each breath.
Next, move your attention around to your back. How does it feel against the bed or the floor? Notice how it rocks with each breath. When your mind gets busy or angry or scared, you can always come back to how your body feels in this way for a moment.
Now move attention to your neck and shoulders, letting go and relaxing them. If your mind wanders, that’s fine. No one can pay attention all the time. Just keep returning to noticing your body whenever you find yourself thinking of something else.
And now feel your face and head. What expression do you have right now? What would it feel like to smile? What else do you notice in your face, your head, and in your mind?
Finally, spend a few moments, paying attention to your whole body. If it is easier, continue to pay attention to your breath. If it’s time for sleep, let that happen, remaining still and continuing to pay attention to your breath or feelings in your body. And if it’s time to wake up, open your eyes and sit for a few moments before deciding when to move again.