When it comes to meditation, I’m a hardgainer. I’ve continuously tried and failed to train my brain to sit quietly, slowly striving closer and closer towards nirvana.
I’m a yoga teacher. This sort of thing is supposed to come easily to me, like putting both feet behind my head while balancing at the edge of an infinity pool, but I’m a bad yogi, more influenced by gurus like Tim Ferris than Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.
For a long time, meditation eluded me. Like a lot of people, I was thrown off the scent by the promise of enlightenment.
Successful meditators make bold claims about the power and efficacy of meditation, many of which are probably legitimate. However, as with yoga, there are countless different styles and techniques designed to achieve different objectives.
In order to manage your expectations, I need to tell you now that the method I’m going to show you is unlikely to lead to spiritual transcendence, unshakeable emotional stability, a massive jump in IQ score, Hemingway-like powers of creativity, inexhaustible willpower, rapid weight loss, superhero strength, boundless empathy or immunity from illness and disease. But better orgasms? Potentially. More on that later.
This technique is a game-changer if you’re anything like me – keen to give meditation a shot, but armed with a healthy dose of scepticism, an appreciation for efficiency, and an intolerance for time-wasters.
It’s for those of you who listen to podcasts at double speed and pull out your phone during breaks in conversation. It’s for people so excited by life that we sometimes race through perfectly good moments to get to better ones in the future.
This style of meditation is a warm bath for your body and mind. It’s quick, easy, non-religious, and instantly gratifying. It’s not more work for you to do; I’m sure you train hard enough. It’s a simple practice that takes just 5 minutes and rewards you with:
1. Lie on your back in a comfortable position. Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing up. You may want to put a pillow under your knees.
2. Watch the video below and I’ll guide you through a 5-minute Body Scan Meditation, methodically drawing your attention to physical sensations all the way from the soles of your feet up to the crown of your head.
3. Be curious and try to notice any areas of tightness, pain, discomfort or asymmetry. Breathe into these areas, consciously allowing your muscles to let go of tension.
4. If your mind wanders from the direct experience of observing sensations in your body, gently bring it back.
The Body Scan Meditation is effective on a number of different levels, but let’s focus on the mental and physiological here.
Thinking is clearly essential; your mind is a thinking machine.
We’re rewarded for coming up with original and brilliant ideas by the release of dopamine, one of the brain’s most potent pleasure chemical, and it’s our ability to plan and reason that sets us apart from other mammals. But on closer inspection, you’ll notice that the majority of your thoughts are repetitive, unjustifiably critical and not all that useful.
It’s not thinking but stuck thinking that’s the problem: redundant thoughts that are blocking new and creative ideas from coming into your consciousness and preventing you from switching off and resting properly.
The Body Scan Meditation allows you to let go of these thoughts, move on and make space for new material.
The human brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Sure, you can listen to music while you’re working out but you can’t be fully present with both activities at the same time. You’re essentially sharing your attention between the two tasks.
In this technique, directing your focus to sensations in your body gives your mind something to concentrate on other than your thoughts.
Unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Thoughts are going to pop up in your mind uninvited and you’ll have to resist the urge to engage with them – letting them go and bringing your attention back to the sensations in your body.
So when you notice your mind wandering to thoughts about what you’re going to have for dinner or that stupid comment you made to the hottie at the gym this morning, realize that these thoughts aren’t useful to you.
Simply let them go and dissolve into the ether.
Some days you’ll notice that you’re more easily distracted and other times you’ll observe Jedi-like powers of concentration. This will give you insight into how the way you’re feeling affects your state of mind.
Body awareness is a phrase that’s thrown around, especially in yoga circles, recklessly and without sufficient explanation, but I’ve found it to be a beneficial outcome of meditation.
This particular technique has a unique focus on the body, as opposed to the breath, a mantra, or an object. With consistent practice, you’ll train yourself to become increasingly attuned to your direct experience of physical sensations.
We have a tendency to numb unpleasant physical and emotional feelings with highly-stimulating and distracting activities like drinking, taking drugs, watching porn, working out, shopping and eating to excess. We fill in the spaces to drown out anything we’re not ready to deal with.
When you consistently take 5 minutes to slow down, get out of your head and listen in, you’ll be able to tune back into these signals to get greater enjoyment from subtle indulgences like eating a peach, walking barefoot in the sand, watching the sunset and long, slow, unhurried sex – ramping your natural pleasure dial back up to 11.
Relaxing might be harder than you imagine.
It takes massive discipline not to fidget and you’ll probably be restless at first. It feels wrong not to be doing something. We’re so used to constant stimulation that just lying there focussing on subtle sensations in your body is bound to feel boring.
Unfortunately, there’s no way around this. Your mind will not be still if you’re twitching and moving about. But as with every new skill, it gets easier with practice.
Here are a couple of ideas for when the Body Scan Technique can be most effective:
The effects of meditation are cumulative, so consistency is the key. The more you practice, the easier it will be to drop into a calm and clear state when you need to.
It’s like lifting heavy or doing sprints. However good it feels in the moment, it can be hard to find the motivation to get started – so commit to making it a habit. Practice for 5 minutes every day and track how you feel.