The Body Scan: Connect to Yourself, Release Trapped Emotions and Reset Your Nervous System


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You’ve probably heard that emotions and stress can delay healing but you’ve never learned a practical way to deal with your feelings. If there’s one thing that can help, this is it.


The body scan exercise is the simplest way to start to connect with yourself and reset your nervous system. You’ll learn to move energy in its most obvious form—sensations.


It’s the first exercise I recommend to clients and the starting point for building my own intuitive awareness.


When you practice this regularly, you tap into your body’s innate intelligence and may start seeing improvements in your health, energy and everyday decisions.


What we’ll discuss:



Your Body Remembers Everything

Your body is an intelligent feedback system that stores all your thoughts, memories and emotions. Your story is literally held in your posture—your muscles, organs, spine, and the keys to living a fulfilled life are held inside just waiting for you to unlock them.

Feeling uncomfortable is how your body says “You’ve gone a bit off course. Let me remind you how to get back to alignment.”


I discovered this first hand because I had eczema for two years that showed up exactly where my wrists were strapped to a gurney as a baby and vanished overnight when I opened up about a traumatic childhood secret. You can read my story here.


I also sense the body’s intelligence as a massage therapist working with many different bodies who’ve had a variety of experiences. It never lies. As my hands meet them, what I hear from the body is usually more pure and simple than what my client tells me.



How trauma blocks the flow of energy


Trauma is anything we experience too quickly to process. Ideally when something happens, we acknowledge it, feel it completely, and let it go. If you were taught this growing up you were the minority! When we think of trauma we usually think of big events but it’s often smaller repeated experiences.


Every feeling and thought holds an electrical charge. When we experience trauma we hold onto the emotion somewhere in our body. This charged energy is like a kink in a garden hose that prevents energy from flowing freely. It also draws more of the same energy towards it so we keep attracting experiences that trigger the same emotion.


Over time we start to see the world through a distorted lens. For example, if you were punished for speaking up then your world view might be “It’s not safe to speak my truth.” Over time, this buildup of charged energy blocks the life force that nourishes our body.



What is the art of witnessing?

To witness something is to be fully present and objective, meaning we observe the scene without judgment or labels. We take it in as a fascinated observer with no intent to change things. This is what babies do naturally!


Most of us have felt impatient while recovering from an illness or injury. Feeling vulnerable is the first necessary step in your spiritual evolution but this is where most people become stuck because we see discomfort as an inconvenience rather than a life lesson.

Witnessing your highs and lows without judgment is a lost art. It’s about being honest with yourself, developing a relationship with yourself, and as a result, connecting with the rest of the world more deeply.

The body scan exercise helps you release the emotional charge around your daily triggers and what you’re holding onto at this moment.

Here are some healthy side effects of learning the art of witnessing:

  • Heightened intuition

  • Finding your creative spark

  • Deeper connection with others

  • Inner confidence

  • Self-forgiveness

  • Ability to receive more

  • Ability to quickly recenter yourself

  • Healthy boundaries

  • Greater respect for your body


Shift Your Mindset Towards Healing

Start viewing discomfort as areas your soul is challenging you to grow. Discomfort isn’t really a problem. It’s a challenge served up by the universe inviting you to shed the parts that are holding you back from a fulfilling life.


There are no accidents in life. We can waste so much energy regretting injuries or feeling betrayed by our bodies. We can channel all that energy into more constructive thoughts, feelings, words and actions.


Remember, our posture and vitality are the sum of all our thoughts and feelings. You may think, “but I don’t seem that negative”. If you dig deep enough, I guarantee there’s some old programming that’s influencing your daily decisions and interactions.



You Are Not the Feeling


Imagine you’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix. The actors draw you in with emotional scenes. You’re entertained but you know it’s just a show and you’re still on the couch.


If we aren’t familiar with what being “centered” feels like—as in we know we’re on the couch watching a really good show, then most of us end up thinking we’re the actors. The actors are the emotions and thoughts, but we’re just here to be a witness to them.


We’ve been conditioned to stuff the “bad” feelings down. Maybe you heard the words “don’t cry” growing up. Emotions are just an energetic frequency your body is expressing. You’re not the feeling of “jealousy”, you’re only watching it play out.


We’re here to feel the full spectrum of human emotions but we’ve just forgotten how to acknowledge them, let go and move on.


And without further ado…



How to do the body scan to increase somatic awareness.


Find a comfortable, quiet place where you can sit or lie down.

Find a time when you won’t be interrupted for at least 10 minutes when you first start practicing. A great time to do this is in bed right before sleep because it helps to calm the nervous system and ease muscle tension. I also like to do this before I start my work day.


Close your eyes. Notice your left foot.

Without seeing your left foot, how do you know you have one? How do you know you have five toes? Notice each toe and slowly move your awareness along the entire foot, scanning around the arch then around the heel and up towards the ankle. You may feel a sensation like warmth or tingling.


Keep scanning all the way up to your head.

Move your awareness up the left leg to the pelvis. Then go back down to the right foot and repeat the process. Continue all the way up to the top of the head.


What you notice or don’t notice is right.

Notice areas where your awareness flows easily. Also notice body parts that cause you to pause a little longer. Maybe you feel more or less in this area. Stay in these areas a bit longer.


Drop the labels and simply witness it.

What you’ve labeled numbness, pain or tension is now just a sensation. Become a curious observer. Stay in this area of the body and just witness it. What happens to it as you hold a steady, non-judgemental awareness?


Observe T-I-M-E-S.

Be open to any thoughts, images, movements, emotions or sensations that arise. Again, don’t judge. If you feel uncomfortable, gently become aware of your breath to anchor you throughout the process. Allow TIMES to unfold until it all feels quiet. Move on to another area if you feel up to it or take a break.


End the session by feeling your entire body.

Get a general sense of how your body feels as a whole. Is it different from when you started?


This simple exercise helps you strengthen your connection to your body, build your intuitive awareness, and increase the flow of energy in your system.



Tips to enhance your practice


If an area is really calling your attention first, start there. This will help you be fully present for the rest of your body.


Don’t like starting with your feet? You can also start at the head and work your way down to your feet.


Knowing when to tune into your body.

Anytime you feel triggered is a good time to tune in. You may choose to do the scan later the same day when you have a quiet moment.


I also suggest using this practice to ground yourself before the start of your day, especially if you’ll be working with other people to help center yourself. I’ve found doing this before bed does wonders for clearing my mind and relaxing my body.

Deal with feelings or sensations in the present moment.

You don’t have to go digging around in the past because the present moment will always show you what needs healing now (though the root cause is likely from the past). What triggered or annoyed you today? Drop your label of a bad emotion or sensation and just notice what shows up.

Let your body do its thing.

If you need to shake, yawn, tremble, make facial expressions, sway, cry, etc. this is all normal. This is the nervous system discharging all that pent up energy. You may also feel pulsing, tingling, etc. Often, you’ll feel a calmness that follows this phase.



Add a healing intention to your body scan


If you find your attention lingering a bit longer in some areas, these are my favorite ways of sending more healing into the body.


Send your breath there.

Breathe into the area in whatever way feels natural. You may breathe a bit slower and deeper than usual.



Add the energy of a smile.

Everyone knows what a smile feels like. Tune into the frequency of a smile and hold that feeling in your heart. Surround the area that may feel like it’s NOT smiling with the energy of a smile without forcing into it or asking it to change. It’s as if you’re witnessing someone you care about saying “I see you. I’m right here when you’re ready.” It will take what it needs from that frequency.


Surround the area with light.

Just like the smile exercise, you can surround the “dark” area with light. Allow the dark to be there and let the light witness it. Let the dark take what it needs from the light when it’s ready.


With all these methods, notice if the sensation or feeling changes and just continue to watch until you feel a sense of completion. Once you feel good about the methods above, you may try combining two of them together.


Troubleshooting

I saw images but I don’t know what it means or how it helps me.

That’s great! Your body is speaking to you in a way your higher consciousness will understand, even though it doesn’t make sense at first. Take a moment to just witness the images. They’re often symbolic and not literal. What did you feel as you observed the scene? The feeling is more important than the images.

I found some parts overwhelming.

This is normal at first. What you’re experiencing are the visceral memories of times when you felt unsafe. Invite the emotion/sensation to fill your entire awareness for only one minute. You’re free to come in and out of the sensation over one or more sessions. Ground yourself by noticing your surroundings and your feet on the ground to teach your nervous system that you’re safe now.

My body feels numb. I can’t feel anything.

Part of coping with trauma is numbing an area. How do you know it’s numb? Touch it and allow the skin in that area to feel your hand. With your eyes closed, how do you know you have that body part?


Also is there an area that’s less numb? Try feeling the less numb area first and go back to the other area after. Remember that what you don’t feel is also valuable information and trust that the sensation will come back with a willingness to connect to your body.

Be patient with yourself.

Healing is a process. But with witnessing, you’re inviting your body to dialogue with you more each day. Usually as you’re working through some emotion or sensation, it represents outer changes that are happening in your life. And so, the healing is not instantaneous.


Discomfort can be there as a reminder until you have worked through the challenge it represents. I’ve personally experienced this many times. I still go through body challenges but now instead of frustration I’ve adopted a curious attitude of “what’s my body trying to tell me?”


That’s it! This exercise is the single most effective way to increase body awareness. The more you practice, the better you get at dialoguing with your body. Start with a two-minute daily practice and connect it with some part of your regular routine to anchor it.



Want to Explore Deeper Healing?


Further reading for self-healers

If you feel comfortable on your own I recommend reading Call of the Wild: How We Heal Trauma, Awaken Our Own Power, and Use It For Good by Kimberly Ann Johnson. She’s a trauma educator and somatic guide and this book reveals how trauma affects the body and simple exercises to rewire the nervous system.


Somatic therapy

If you’ve had very traumatic experiences in the past and feel that you need some support reconnecting with your body, I recommend working with a somatic therapist. Somatic practitioners use body-centred approaches to help rebalance the nervous system.


The body scan alongside having someone to hold that safe space for you will allow you to go deeper into your healing.


Look for a counsellor, psychologist, etc. trained in somatic therapy. Somatic Experiencing is a well-known approach with trained practitioners worldwide. You can view their practitioner listing here.


Bio-energy healing

As someone who experienced childhood trauma, my own experience with Bio-energy healing was pivotal. It helped me alongside the body scan. I initially had both numb areas and overwhelming areas.


If you’d like to explore a Bio-energy healing session with me to release the energy associated with a pent up nervous system, you can learn more here. My focus is helping parents and caregivers heal so they can be fully present for themselves and their kids.

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Hi! I'm Margaret.

I'm an energy healer and a Massage Therapist. I'm all about helping burnt-out guardians make space for passion. My hope is to inspire you to heal yourself and find creativity again. Grab a cup of tea, slow down and enjoy tips on self-healing, creativity, energy mastery. Find out how you can work with me.