The mind leads and the blood follows.
Taking meditation off the cushion.
After opening my eyes from just a short seated meditation, I feel lighter, with a focused clarity and often reorganized priorities that are more aligned with what I’m after. Though the grip of that refreshing mindfulness vanishes quickly as I carry on with tasks, conversations, and of course the inevitable monkey brain chatter.
So with a taste of the benefits of meditation, I’m eager to learn how to better engage with this mindfulness throughout the day. Which perhaps is why I’ve had a growing interested in a moving meditation practice. Perhaps applying the same methods from a seated meditation to a moving meditation can help bridge that gap and further cultivate mindfulness in daily living.
30 Day Meditation Podcast (3 of 4)
Here to help is Richard Gilbert, an expert on moving mindfully. He brings over 25 years of a committed daily practice of yoga and tai chi (among other martial arts) along with his seated meditation practice. It’s also well worth mentioning that he’s my uncle and I’ve been fortunate enough to learn tai chi with him as our paths cross. Each time, I’m amazed at how such a simple practice can provide such a profound framework for perceiving and living life—let alone moving mindfully.
Listen closely because much like his movements, Richard’s wisdom comes from an experienced background and is chocked full of meaningful methods in becoming intimately engaged with this beautiful life.
How to meditate by moving mindfully.
During a still meditation, it’s common to focus on the movement of the breath, the beat of the heart, and sensations throughout the body as an anchor to help cultivate present moment awareness. Just as sitting in silence gives the mind a chance to be present with what is, so too does intentional movement cultivate awareness.
Get familiar enough with a series of movements (e.g. yoga sequences, tai chi forms, washing the dishes, etc.) and the body begins to naturally and effortlessly flow with less and less need to focus on what’s next and how to do it. This is where the opportunity for meditation comes in because the mind is less and less needed and free to think about other things. By being intentional about where that freed mental space is directed, mindfulness can be cultivated. Just as we do in our seated meditation, by recognizing when the monkey mind chatter takes over (because it will) and reconnect with the subtle movements of the body, we can develop and enjoy experiencing the benefits of meditation.
Here are just a few benefits that Richard mentioned he has experienced after 25 years of his daily meditation practice:
- Enhanced mindfulness while engaging with daily life.
- Heightened sensitivity and a better understanding of your bodily structure.
- Increased awareness of the whole body, mind, spirit system.
- Develops a better sense of clarity, kindness, compassion and appreciation for the precious nature of each moment.
A simple moving meditation exercise.
Want to give it a shot? Here’s a simple exercise you can repeat to experiment with cultivating mindfulness while moving:
- Slowly lift your arms overhead.
- Gently release your arms to your side.
- Repeat – this time concentrate on the micro-movements of your hands as they flow through space.
- Repeat – can you lift and lower your arms while only focusing on the movements? Yeah, it’s hard.
As you may have noticed, repetition is key here. At first, I might feel boring or pointless. I’m with you. After a month of practicing Tai Chi, I still only repeat the first 12 forms of the full 108 form tai chi set. Fortunately, I’ve had wise teachers who have instilled in me the importance of building a strong foundation.
Joshua Watzkin, author of The Art of Learning and chess prodigy who becomes Tai Chi master unpacks the importance of this challenging and daunting lifelong pursuit:
We have to be able to do something slowly before we can do it quickly. By delving with laser-like focus into a basic set of concepts or practices over a period of time, we can gradually internalize the knowledge. The process of reviewing and creatively exploring these basics over and over again leads to a very refined, nuanced understanding of them. We eventually integrate the principles into our subconscious mind where we can draw on them instinctively and rapidly without conscious thoughts getting in the way. This deeply ingrained knowledge base can serve as a meaningful springboard for more advanced learning and action.
By studying discrete pieces of information thoroughly and practicing their application repetitively, they eventually shed their technical, nitty-gritty character. This happens because the process of digesting small chunks of knowledge over and over again shifts it from the conscious mind to the unconscious mind where it can connect with other chunks of internalized knowledge and manifest as the sudden burst of insight we experience as free-flowing intuition. This high level of knowledge integration is what we should aim for—it allows us to access what we have committed to learning in a fluid, precise, and improvisational manner.
Paying attention to slowing down helps you be mindful during the day. Try brushing your teeth or washing dishes more slowly and see how that brings your mind into the present. Slowing down a helps draw you into a dynamic flow of sensation, breath, and awareness.
A fascinating paradox emerges when you allow yourself to become absorbed in the small details of any physical action. Embracing movement, you are inexorably drawn to the stillness within.
Here’s another moving meditation exercise created by one of my favorite author’s Thich Nhat Hahn:
A Framework for a Life-Long Meditation Practice
There is something to be said for the disciple required in a long-term commitment to cultivating mindfulness through repetitive motions or sitting in silence. It’s not easy. But building a platform to be more intimately engaged with life seems to be a worthwhile pursuit.
So let’s review the advice Richard gives us to conquer resistance and stay committed for the long haul:
- Be patient and enjoy the journey. It takes a deal of time to learn these new skills and to teach the body to move differently.
- Any expectations or a preconceived end result will only get in the way of enjoying the process. Recognizing when these arise and choosing to trust the learning process will make for a more enjoyable and long-lasting practice.
- In any moment that we want life to be different that it is, some degree of suffering and stress comes along with it. When something is pleasant, we want to hold on. When something is unpleasant, we want to push it away. In these moments, we are trying to manage how things are which makes it difficult to see life clearly and enjoy the ride. Learn to be content with just the way things are with a lucid perspective on life as it is.
- Striving to not be judgemental is crucial, yet a challenge in itself. With the help of a meditation practice and mindful attention, one can practice releasing control of the reality of life, and simply enjoy it for what it is. It may not come easy, but it’s well worth it.
The best meditation is the one you’re going to do most often. So experiment, find what works for you, and enjoy the ride!