You've been having a long and busy day - a new project at work that requires learning new skills, a lunch with your friends that although pleasurable still burdened by the physical tiredness you feel. You come home and you just don't have enough energy to do anything productive or fun. All you want to do is just lie down and sleep.

It doesn't have to be that way. The mindfulness exercise Mental body scan is a practice that can help you with three things: 1) it will provide muscle relaxation and stress relief, 2) it will help you reconnect with your body so you better recognize what it needs, 3) you will feel more mentally calm and refreshed. So instead of worrying about your cold that you caught just yesterday, you will choose to calmly take care of it.

DBT Mindfulness: Mental Body Scan.
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Learn to relax by scanning through your body and listening to how everything feels. (15 minutes) Repeat daily for a week.

This exercise is divided into three parts, based on three different parts of the body: the lower body, the upper body and the head. To prepare, sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the floor. Choose a place that is quiet and where you wouldn't be interrupted. You will need 15 minutes to do the exercise. The exercise is best done with closed eyes, so before you start with the mental body scan, close your eyes. Do this exercise every day for one week. If you find it useful, you can continue doing it whenever you want to.

Step 1: Become Aware of Your Lower Body

Spend about 5 minutes on the first step. As you sit in the chair, start to feel how your feet touch the ground. Be aware of the contact that they make with the floor beneath you. Notice how your feet feel. Start with the toes, then bring your attention to the soles, up through the ankles. Are your feet tired? Do your soles hurt from a busy day? Or are they perhaps rested and they feel just fine? At this point you might get distracted with different thoughts or emotions. Gently accept that maybe you're thinking about what you want later for dinner and go back to focusing on your feet. Where you feel tension, just breathe in and as you exhale slowly release part of the tension.

Next, bring your awareness above your feet, to the lower parts of your legs. Be aware of any sensations that you might experience there. Does this part feel energized? Or does it feel heavy? Slowly move your attention to your knees. Feel how the back of the knee touches the chair that you sit on. How do you knees feel? Keep on moving your focus upwards and feel your thighs. How do they feel? Do you feel like you need to present them with a well-deserved work out session? Feel the sensation of your thighs touching the surface of the chair. If your mind starts wandering around, acceptingly bring your attention back to doing the exercise. Move your attention to your pelvic area and buttocks. Be aware of how your body makes contact with the chair.

Step 2: Become Aware of Your Upper Body

Spend 5 more minutes on this step. Start with your torso. Feel your stomach. How does it feel? Is it calm or is it nervous? Maybe you will realize that you feel slightly hungry. Notice any sensation that might be there, no matter how small. Then, move your attention to the lower back. Feel how it touches the back of the chair. The lower back is one of the body parts that may accumulate tension and tiredness. How does your lower back feel? Does it hurt? Is it relaxed? If you feel any tension or negative sensation just breathe in and breathe out. Accept whatever sensations your lower back might be experiencing at the moment and keep doing the exercise. If your mind starts to get distracted, gently shift your focus back to your body.

Continue upwards, scanning the front and the back of your chest. Feel how the upper back makes contact with the surface of the chair. Feel how your whole back supports your body on the chair. What sensations can you feel? If you start thinking about other things, just be aware of it and softly bring your attention back to the body. Now, bring the awareness to your hands. Start with the fingertips, through the fingers, through the palm of your hands. Be aware of any sensations that you may feel. Are your hands resting in your lap or on the chair? Feel the contact between your hands and forearms and your lap or the chair. Move your attention up towards your forearms, through your elbows and the upper part of the arms.

Step 3: Become Aware of Your Shoulders and Head

Spend 5 minutes on this step. The shoulders and the neck are parts of the body that often become tense because of stress. Bring your attention to the shoulders and the muscles of the neck. Be aware of how that region feels. Do you have tension in the muscles? Do you have neck pain because you were sitting in a chair throughout the whole day in your office or at school? Move your attention up on your head. Be aware of your chin, your mouth, your nose, eyes and then ears. Do you have any physical sensations or any type of tension? Be aware of how your head feels. Do you perhaps have a headache? Or does it feel relaxed and energized? Don't worry if your mind starts wandering, just gently redirect your focus back on the exercise.

Step 4: Write Down Your Experiences on the Printable

Use the outline of the human body to write down where in the body you had the most notable physical sensations, what parts were the most tense or the most relaxed. This step provides better insight into how the exercise went. Maybe you will discover that some part of your body is tense even if you haven't realized this before. When you do this exercise for a week, you may realize that you repeatedly have tension in a certain part of the body, and that you haven't realized that before!

Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Area of Focus Feet (toes, soles), ankles, legs, knees, thigh, pelvic area Stomach, lower back, chest, upper back, hands, elbows, arms Shoulders, neck, face (chin, mouth, nose, eyes, ears), head
Duration 5 minutes 5 minutes 5 minutes
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Use the DBT Mental Body Scan to help you keep track of what you need to do, and to journal what you feel as you do the exercise.

DBT Mindfulness: Mental Body Scan Worksheet

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The exercise seems too difficult for me. I can't do it.

At first it might seem like the exercise is too difficult to do, especially if it is the first time that you ever do a mental body scan. Try to relax and to perceive this exercise like a calming practice that will leave you more calm and energized. Do as much as you can. If you can't succeed doing the whole body, do what you can. Next time you do the exercise it will be easier.

I can't concentrate on my body, because I start thinking a lot. What should I do?

This is a normal reaction. It is normal for the mind to wander and for you to get distracted by thoughts or other stimuli. Non-judgmentally accept the thoughts or other stimuli and keep doing the exercise.

During the exercise I became aware that my shoulders are actually tense, but that didn't help me to completely relax them.

It's a normal reaction to start getting frustrated and impatient if you notice that a certain part of your body is tense. Although the exercise to some extent will help you relax the tense body parts, it's also important that you became aware of a tension that you previously didn't notice. So, now you can choose to do something about the tension - working out, stretching, taking a nap, massaging the place.

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Comments About Mental Body Scan

  1. Thank you for taking an often expensive or hard to access skill set and making it accessible and free. After I did a DBT course and was able to apply the skills my life and relationships improved dramatically. Now I advise everyone I know to learn the DBT skills because it is useful for all. Thanks!

  2. I tired to do this and relax but its hard in my house to get any quite time, my roommates are always watching fake news with the volume so high. So I have to try to get to an better environment Look forward to practicing this method.

  3. Dont worry !Do how much you can. Try headphones with rainfall sounds or seawaves. I use these videos a lot and I try to focus on the sound.

  4. Stomach felt a little hungry my chest was tense then some shape pains went though seemed to relax my chest a bit

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