A large part of recovery involves letting go of your fear, and the storylines that accompany it, when it arises. It also involves mapping your fears. Learning where they reside in your body, and for what purpose, what reasons.
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, a lot of my fear comes from memories that occurred in my past. Part of my recovery is about recognizing the fear as being something of a memory that’s experienced in different parts of my body, which is why I engage in body scans when I start to feel panicked.
I had done a bit of yoga in a class earlier in my recovery, and when it was time to lay down for the final rest, we did body scans, and I usually felt a sense of calm right away. I cottoned on pretty quickly that body scans are a useful way to calm myself during periods of flashback panic.
They don’t always work, but when they do, they’re worth it. And with more practice, they have a cumulative effect; in other words, practice can make perfect or near perfect.
What does a body scan involve?
There are lots of variations of the body scan. In my recovery, I’ve tailored it to suit my temperament and my needs. I start by taking one or two deep breaths to start to get my body and my mind to relax. By doing this, I start to take the power back from the fear. It’s akin to slowly but surely turning down the volume of the anxiety.
Then, I focus on my left hand. I notice the back of my hand, my knuckles, and each individual finger slowly. When I find myself drifting off in to the future, worrying about what happens next, I simply return my attention to the left hand. Some people give up at this stage when they realize that they’re not able to focus for long periods. It’s important in recovery to have a certain degree of stubbornness about what might work; you just gotta keep returning to it in spite of yourself.
When I have returned to the awareness in my hand, I try to imagine that the point of awareness is like a spotlight illuminating these areas. I move my attention to my palm, then across my lap to my right hand, and do the same thing there. Then, I focus on my left ribs, and across the top of my stomach to my right ribs.
You get the picture. You do it for as long as you need to and you can focus on the body parts that you intuit require more attention. The process of doing body scans exercises a part of your brain that helps to regulate emotions and to stay calm during periods of heightened stress.
If anxiety activates our ‘Fear Brain’, doing a meditative exercise like a body scan activates our ‘Higher Functions Brain’: the part of us that appreciates art and music, that has a spiritual connection with something greater than ourselves, and that can see the bigger picture and delay gratification in the pursuit of our goals.