A Simple Body Scan

One simple way to calm mind and body is to do a body scan. You can start from your head or your feet and can think this through in greater or lesser detail, depending on how much time you have.  It’s a simple way to tune into the body at any time during the day.  It’s also a great way to help settle down for a good night’s sleep as Chris Holt’s insomnia body scan describes. Here is a simple scan that you can run through; do adapt it for your own body:

  • Feet: Become aware of your feet and include the sense of space between your toes
  • Ankles: Think of olive oil trickling through your ankles
  • Lower legs: Allow your calf muscles to relax, and the muscles at the side of your shins
  • Knees: Our knees have fronts, backs and sides. Time for some more olive oil or WD40 to trickle through
  • Upper legs: Tune into the front, back and sides of your thighs and release any tension
  • Pelvis & hip joints: Think of some undoing in the ball and socket of your hip joint, untighten any tension in your buttock muscles
  • Front of torso: Let your belly and solar plexus relax, think of opening across the belly and chest
  • Back of torso: Think of the back lengthening and widening, releasing tension and tightness
  • Arms: Allow the arms to flow out from the torso, thinking of them being long and lithe. Soften in the biceps and forearms
  • Wrists and hands: Think of the wrists as being wide, the palms as being open and the fingers and thumbs being long
  • Collar bones and shoulder blades: These have a natural width. If you’re upright, think of these as floating on top of the ribs
  • Neck: Release any tension in your neck, imagine space between the bones and remember the neck has a front, back and sides
  • Head: Visualise space at the head neck joint. Allow the head to be poised and balanced on the neck – still but not stiff
  • Face: Soften and widen between the brows and bridge of the nose, soften the lips and think of space between the back teeth. Relax your tongue towards the base of your mouth, rather than pressing against the roof of the mouth.

See if you’re able to continue with this awareness and relaxation as you continue with your day.

Good posture in bed

Baby sleeping - very relaxed unlike adults who sleep with tension
Baby sleeping - very relaxed unlike adults who sleep with tension

Let’s look at sleeping positions. Do you wake up with neck pain or back pain and feel stiff and achy in the morning? What is a good pillow height? Do you sleep on your back, front or side? Here are some ideas to experiment with.

Pillow Height

The height of the pillow makes a difference. You need to find a height where your neck is in neutral. Your neck needs to be aligned with your spine rather than bent down or up.

If you sleep on your back, you many need a different height pillow than if you sleep on your side or front. Below are ideas for each position:

Sleeping on your back

Have the pillow height so your neck is comfortably aligned. If the pillow is too low, your chin will poke up in the air and the back of your neck will be shortened. If the pillow is too high, your throat may be constricted and your neck may be pushed up at the back.

Some people like their neck to be supported but others prefer just their head on the pillow. See what works best for you.

Experiment with a pillow under your knees and see what effect this has on your lower back pain.

Sleeping on your side

Find a pillow height so the neck is in neutral. It’s not advisable to tuck the chin into the body, as this can cause neck strain.  You may need a slightly more pillow height on your side than when you are on your back.

Try a pillow between your knees. This opens the hips up and doesn’t pull on the back so much.

If you have a longer pillow or a V-shaped pillow, you could also have one end of the pillow between your ankles.

If your arms feel bunched, hug a pillow (or a person!) to open up more in the chest.

Lying on your front

Depending on your body, you may not need a pillow at all – experiment to see how the pillow affects your neck.

Sleeping on your front can cause back strain for some. If it causes low back pain but is the only way you can sleep, try putting a slim pillow under your pelvis and/or lower abdomen.

Pillows – normal, V-shaped and small

Pillows are a personal choice and it is hard to gauge the pillow’s height as they sink and move under the head weight. Some shops have beds that you can lie on to test out pillows so this can help avoid an expensive mistake.

For pillows between the knees, you can use a normal pillow. A smaller pillow or a cushion can be easier to manage, especially when you turn over. Another option is a V-shaped pillow, where the point of the V goes between the knees and the long lines sit between the ankles and thighs. This is very comfortable. Breastfeeding pillows that have a curved shape work well too.