Noble Living, Noble Caring, Noble Dying

Body Scan Practice: Awareness of Our Physical Situation

Body Scan is a mindfulness practice which has been shown to be effective at bedside, in stressful environments (like healthcare institutions) and as a tool for coping with chronic pain. Although the practice was originally designed to strengthen awareness it is also effective in re-teaching people how to relax. In this way, many people find the body scan practice helpful in restoring the lost ability to sleep.

When working with a patient or client who is experiencing pain or anxiety it is always best to meet with them (and family) first to get an overall view of the condition and where the focus on the suffering is. It is also helpful to have a sense of a patients belief system about their symptoms and what their felt experience is.

Body Scan: Be Flexible With Application and Know How to Adapt

We need to be practical with the practice and not cause more stress to the patient as we instruct them in this practice. When we are dealing with patients experiencing chronic pain, at first give the patient permission to avoid the physical area of concern. But after sometime, and once we have established a relationship with the client, experiment with going into the pain. Once you’ve moved to that region, you may even ask the patient to describe the pain or discomfort in detail. If they are willing, you can then invite them to use this practice to track and trace the pain to its source. As you move through these stages, always listen deeply and be sensitive to where your client wishes to stop.

Body Scan: Meeting Pain From a New Perspective

Ultimately, there is the potential to establish a very different relationship to the pain, a life enhancing one. If done properly, the client develops a new relationship to their experience. They can begin to create new pathways in the brain that by-pass the pain altogether—or chase it away.

If the client is open to the experience, it can also be very effective to dedicate the pain that one is experiencing for the benefit of others. In this practice, one thinks that any suffering is being taken on voluntarily so that others may be free from that similar illness or pain. This also can be a transformative step as it can bring a sense of meaning to being present to the suffering.

Notes on the Transcript for the Body Scan Meditation

The pauses indicated in the script between each step of the Body Scan are there to allow the patient/practitioner time to absorb and apply each stage of the practice. This can be longer or shorter depending on the time available and how quickly the patient/practitioner can apply them. Thus, the length of any session can be left to the discretion of the caregiver/facilitator.

Similarly, the audio recording can be put on pause to allow for longer time within the session to apply the guided steps.

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.