aka Body scan for pain relief
I have been having weird pains these last couple of days. It all began with my right wrist. I noticed it during yoga. There was a sharp pain whenever I had my wrist at an angle. It wasn’t intolerable, but it was also far from being pleasant.
The next morning I woke up with tension in my sternum whenever I pushed my neck and shoulders back. This has been an issue for a while, most likely due to a bad posture and crouched seating positions. Usually, I simply bend my torso backwards, feel an audible crack in my chest and get temporary relief. That particular day, however, the sensation was different. The discomfort was deeper and stronger. It felt like something was pressing on my sternum whenever I tried to fix my posture. It was also apparent when falling asleep. The moment I pushed my head more to the back, I could feel this pulling in my chest. To be honest, it is still there.
The third hit came as sharp pain right under my left breast. I have had those sharp pains before. They are usually somewhere in the lung and go away very quickly. This one, though, did not want to go away. I was forced to do short shallow breaths so as not to trigger the pain.
What a great time to practice the body scan meditation from the chronic pain chapter!
I put on the guided meditation track, lay down on my bed, found a somewhat comfortable position, closed my eyes and tried to relax.
It started with mindful breathing – focusing on your breath and how it moves the body. Even this is a challenging exercise for a novice as the mind tends to wander extremely easily. There was a constant flow of random thoughts whooshing through my mind, from images of rats to earworm songs. That is normal and one should not punish themselves for getting these thoughts. After all, the moment I realised that I was not focused on breathing anymore, I was actually back in the present moment! I just had to concentrate on my belly rising and lowering again.
This was still easier said than done because breathing out completely is rather scrutinising when it is accompanied by some pain. Doing these half breaths, however, felt like cheating. Plus, it created tension in my shoulders and neck which was definitely not helping. I put both of my hands on the left side of my chest in hopes of warming or covering the pain away and left them there. I acknowledged the pain and the tension created by it and simply let them be – either one or the other.
After that, the actual body scan started. The audio instructions told me to direct my attention to my feet, my legs, my hips, back, hands… At first, it was difficult. I still had all those random thoughts in my head. There were sounds outside and my eyelids did not want to stay completely shut but had this small gap through which light pushed through.
I felt the coldness of my feet, even though I had thick warm socks on. It contrasted greatly with my warm head. I felt the softness and thickness of the blanket under my calves, the bare thighs and a gentle pulsating in my groin. When the audio guidance had reached my lower back, I got a rather funky sensation of my legs melting and bending away. As if they were soft spaghetti curling themselves into a backwards C-shape, even though I knew that I was lying flat on the bed and that there was no way my mattress had suddenly decided to twist itself towards the ground. It was an interesting boneless feeling, similar to this scene from Harry Potter:
As the attention was directed upwards in my body, I shifted my arms from my chest to my side. I always struggle with the corpse position in yoga because I remember an instructor once telling the palms should be directed upwards for a better flow of energy, yet mine simply do not stay upwards, but flip to the side or even towards the ground. I did not pay much attention to that this time and just let them be as they wanted to be. The pain in my chest kept pulling the most attention.
It was around that time when I think I actually fell asleep. Not very recommended during meditation, but what can you do when everything comes together so nicely. I remember hearing something about mouth and tongue and off to dreamland I was. From that moment onwards, I was transitioning between reality and dreams. Whenever he spoke I was pulled back. Whenever there was a longer period of silence, my brain was out. No directed attention, no rogue thoughts, no focus on breathing.
When I woke up at the end of the 30 minutes, I heard the sentences about thanking myself for taking the time and a bell indicating the end of the meditation.
It is safe to say that this practice did not go as intended. One is not supposed to fall asleep during a body scan. However, I did wake up with no pain in my chest, so I still consider it a great success!
Stahl, B., & Goldstein, E. (2019). A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. New Harbinger Publications.