Body scan gone bad

I have a problem with savasana or more precisely the flat-on-my-back position that I take in order to do a body scan, following the audio instructions of Jon Kabat-Zinn. This exercise is part of a process to increase awareness of the body and sensitize the mind. In effect, I focus my attention on specific parts of my body progressively — my toes, ankles, knees, thighs, hips, etc., up both legs, both arms, through my torso and up to the crown of my head. Kabat-Zinn recommends that a novice to meditation do this exercise for at least two-three weeks before actually starting to meditate in a seated practice.

What happens? After I settle prone onto my mat for five minutes, I start feeling really fidgety, antsy and with a strong desire to get out of there. My leg muscle become jittery and I feel tingling in my fingers. I feel as if there’s a little motor running inside me and I can’t turn it off. My mind becomes restless and all kinds of reasons for getting up bubble to the surface. I start paying more attention to this anxious sensation than to the narrator’s voice. I am definitely not at ease. I’ve cut the session off a couple of times and on some evenings, I’ve avoided doing the exercise.

It’s really disconcerting because I can easily maintain meditation in seated pose for 15-20 minutes. After a good yoga session, savasana is a welcome respite and I do not have the urge to bounce up. When I go to bed, I usually drop off into sleep immediately and do not lie in bed twitching. In this case, with the CD, I actually have a voice to listen to and explicit instructions to follow. I don’t have to purge my head of mental processes or zone out everything but my meditative focus.

Three years ago, when I got my first Kabat-Zinn CDs, I tried to do the body scan and I had the same edgy feeling to the point that I did the exercise seated in a chair, rather than lying on the ground. After a while, I stopped doing it. Since then, I’ve been practicing meditation and added yoga to squeeze out the pent-up energy in body and train the mind to spiritual disciplines. I thought I would have outgrown this reaction to the body scan.

A friend of mine said that I should not get too uptight about the whole thing, looking at the phenomenon as a symptom of some kind of disorder. It may be a natural way that the body has of venting energy or it could actually be something like restless leg syndrome that might need medical treatment. But I am not going to cure the problem by fretting about it — if anything, it will make it worse. I just need to observe dispassionately what’s happening as I move through the process.

2 thoughts on “Body scan gone bad

  1. Anonymous,
    If you want a more detailed explanation, e-mail me directly: gci275(at)

    When the mind is resisting easing into meditation, it can create all kinds of physical distractions. Some are spontaneous — itching, fidgeting, etc. Other times, there can be real physical problems: I now know that I probably have some kind of spinal condition that interferes with neurological functions in the lower extremities. For instance, the soles of my feet are insensitive to pin pricks while I feed in-existent pin pricks elsewhere on my foot. Other kinds of conditions, like ADHD and Learning Disabilities, can hamper stillness. My only advice is to keep plugging along: intention is the key. 30 seconds of meditation for one person can just as much an achievement as 30 minutes by a swami.

    Thanks to checking out the site.


  2. Hi, I know this post of yours is from years ago, but I just started practicing the body scan from one of Kabat-Zin's cds and I am experiencing the same jittery/restless body sensations as you talked about.

    Did you ever figure out a cause? Did it go away eventually? Just curious, thanks!

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