The many benefits of mindful body scan meditations

Mindful body scan meditations can help relieve pain, depression and anxiety, as well as improve the quality of your sleep. Learn how to practice your own body scan and access other mindfulness resources from MSU Extension.

A man closing his eyes and practicing mindfulness outdoors.
Photo: Pexels/Kelvin Valerio.

Taking a few minutes to practice a brief mindful body scan meditation can be a great way to relieve stress, reduce pain, and help you get better sleep. So, what is a mindful body scan? This type of scan does not involve any sort of medical equipment, like an x-Ray scan does. In fact, you don’t need any equipment at all! All you need is a calm environment and a few moments of your time.

Following along to a guided meditation, like this brief five-minute body scan meditation, that walks you through the process is a great place to start. 

Body Scan Basics

A mindful body scan meditation involves the following steps:

Find a calm and relaxing environment. You may practice this body scan while standing; however, it may be more comfortable to be seated or lying down.

  • Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so. If you prefer to keep your eyes open, pick one spot to focus your vision on so you don’t become distracted.
  • Notice your breath. You may choose to take a few deep breaths — in through your nose and out through your mouth — relaxing any tension as you exhale.
  • Begin shifting your awareness from your breath to either the top of your head or the tips of your toes. Where you begin your scan is up to you.
  • Slowly shift your awareness to the opposite end of your body from where you started, pausing briefly to notice any sensations in your calves, knees, thighs, hips, stomach, back, shoulders, neck, and anywhere else you may be holding tension.
  • Simply notice any feelings or thoughts that come up without trying to control them. Keep breathing.
  • As you reach the end of your scan, gently bring awareness back to your surroundings, take a final deep breath, and slowly open your eyes.

With these steps in mind, you can build your own body scan routine that works best for you.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Research suggests that mindfulness meditation practices, such as body scanning, can help improve depression, anxiety, pain symptoms, and overall quality of life for people living with chronic pain. Through modern brain scan imaging, neuroscientists have been able to demonstrate that mindfulness meditation practices can lead to lower self-reported pain, less emotional reactivity and even less social pain.

Mindfulness practices provide these benefits by activating our body’s parasympathetic nervous system in a unique way that calms different structures in the limbic system (including the anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala, and connections with the medial prefrontal cortex). The limbic system is responsible for processing pain and emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, and depression. A review of evidence found that mindfulness meditation practices may also improve quality of sleep. The next time you are struggling with negative thoughts, difficult emotions, or getting a restful night of sleep, give mindfulness a try.

Mindfulness with MSU Extension

Michigan State University Extension is here to help. MSU Extension provides health programs covering a variety of topics, including managing stress, chronic pain, and improving sleep.

These programs include:

You can find out more about these programs (and many others) by visiting

Additional Resources

You can also learn more about other mindfulness practices by checking out these articles written by MSU Extension educators:

You can also visit our library of guided meditations from MSU Extension here:

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