You know that meditation comes with a whole host of physical and mental benefits. But every time you sit down to do it, you’re immediately desperate to get back up. It'd be easy to assume meditation just isn’t for you. But not so fast! Contrary to the popular stereotype, physical stillness isn’t a prerequisite to entering a restful, meditative state. In fact, moving your body can help calm your mind.
“Movement meditation allows you to tap into the present moment in a very full way, and it can stop chatter happening in the mind in a way that a stationary meditation may not,” says Noelani Rodriguez, a licensed creative arts therapist who specializes in dance movement therapy. Just like traditional meditation techniques (which you can find on free meditation apps), a movement meditation can reduce blood pressure and stress, but it can also help you feel more centered emotionally, physically, and mentally, she adds. “It helps you feel alive through movement, breath, and connection to what’s happening around you.”
"It helps you feel alive through movement, breath, and connection to what's happening around you." —Noelani Rodriguez, creative arts therapist
Rodriguez says you can tap into a mindful state while doing just about any activity—cleaning, cooking, painting or other art-making, and even spending time with a pet or a loved one. However, if you don’t know where to begin, she recommends a simple exercise to get started:
- Start standing, or if needed, modify by sitting.
- Focus on feeling your feet and their connection to the ground. “Wiggle your toes and notice what textures you feel. Maybe your socks are on or off. Maybe you feel a rug, or a wooden floor, or grass beneath your feet,” says Rodriguez. “If you’re seated, feel the way your body is making contact with the seat. If standing, notice the space in front and behind you. Feel the temperature of the space around you.”
- Then, pay attention to your breath. As you inhale, raise your arms up to your sides. As you exhale, bring your arms down. “Notice any thoughts that arise. Typically, when we are moving, it’s harder for thoughts to break through. But if there are moments of judgment or questioning, notice that and try to find some self-compassion,” she says.
This form of meditation is easy to do at home, making it a great break from a stressful workday. But a moving meditation can also be a great way to get out of the house. “I teach a lot of walking meditations,” says yoga instructor Claire Baum. “Every time I step out the door to walk my dog, I could be on my phone. Or, I can put my phone away and notice my footfalls, the sensation of my feet meeting the ground, notice the trees in motion, notice the colors I see.” Tune into your breath and how it coordinates with your footsteps.
If you’re feeling stressed out, Baum recommends timing your breath to a set number of footsteps to calm your breathing and heart rate. For example, try inhaling for five steps and exhaling for five steps. Then, try extending your breath even further. Can you take a 10-step inhale, and a 10-step exhale?
If you’re having trouble getting out of your own head, try the stoplight game. “When you come to an intersection, whichever direction has a ‘walk’ sign, you choose that one,” explains Baum. “You’re not in charge, you do not have a destination. It’s a great way to stay in the present moment. Notice what feelings come up as you’re going far away from where you started. How does your body feel? What thoughts arise?”
Also a proponent of walking meditations, Rodriguez recommends taking advantage of outdoor environments to experience different textures. “If you’re at the beach, for example, take a walk down to the water. Feel your feet in the sand,” she says. Once you have practice tapping into this meditative state, it will be easier to access during everyday activities like cooking and cleaning.
If this still isn’t sounding like it could work for you, there’s one more thing you can try: upping the ante.
“I’m a yoga teacher, but my meditative practice that keeps me grounded is rock climbing,” says Baum. “I’m going to fall off the wall if I'm not conscious and aware of my entire body.” Some people, she finds, are better able to enter a meditative state when doing a highly demanding physical activity that requires total focus.
“It’s all about what feels accessible and manageable to you,” she says. “If you’re an extreme sport type of person, that may be the most accessible form of meditation for you, because it’s what you already like to do.”
Give it a shot with this yoga-based moving meditation:
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