When you consider a practice of meditation, you probably envision yourself with eyes closed, sitting cross-legged and immobile. Yet many spiritual exercises use postures and movement as paths to contemplation. “It’s multitasking, but in the best way,” says tai chi expert Bill Douglas. Try one of these tools to create your own natural rhythm.
Walk a Labyrinth
Walking a labyrinth is different from negotiating a maze: the only puzzles you’ll encounter are your own internal ones. “It’s not walking in circles; it’s a very specific and structured pattern. It’s a complex spiral, always clockwise to the center,” says Rev. Lauren Artress of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the author of Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice. “There’s no right way or wrong way to tailor the walk.”
When stepping into a labyrinth, Artress says, “the mind quiets and the inner symbolic path opens up to you.” She suggests, “Walk in, release, and come home to yourself. When you are in the center, you receive; stay as long as you want. Return in the opposite way.” Find a labyrinth near you at LabyrinthLocator.com.
Revitalize with Qigong
“Qigong is a 5,000-year-old Chinese health and longevity exercise that synchronizes the breath with the mind’s intention and graceful, flowing movements,” says Daisy Lee, a certified advanced qigong instructor. “Qigong’s focus is on self-healing and activating the subtle and smooth flow of energy throughout the body.” A regular practice can lower your blood pressure and boost your immunity, flexibility, and circulation.
For calm and balance, Lee suggests the showering qi movement:
1. Relax your body, imagining that your feet are sinking deep into the earth. Your hands are in front of your lower belly, palms facing each other, forming an imaginary ball of energy.
2. Inhale. Open your arms to the sides as if to expand the ball, while raising your arms;to shoulder height.
3. At shoulder level, turn the thumbs back and the palms up and exhale,releasing any tension from your body as you drop and relax your shoulders, elbows, and hands.
4. Inhale, as you raise your arms up over your head.
5. Palms facing down, deeply exhale as you lower them, “showering” the body with cleansing, revitalizing energy. Repeat three times.
Practice Peace with Aikido
The circular, flowing movements of the Japanese martial art aikido are meant to do as little harm to an opponent as possible, while still providing self-defense. “All the techniques are based on being able to receive the energy and lead it to something less dangerous,” says sensei Rick Butler, who has been practicing and teaching aikido since 1979.
When instructing his students, he focuses on breathing. “Relax your mind and body so they are fluid. There, you’ve added longevity. The stress and chaos within you, that’s a killer. You are rarely in a physical fight, but you are in a mental fight almost every day. Aikido is about mastering you.” If you want to try it, Butler suggests attending a beginner’s class at a local dojo and wearing sweats. “It’s ‘come as you are’ because you learn to work within your limitations and then to change your limitations.”
Ride the Wave with Tai Chi
You’ve probably seen people practicing tai chi in a park, but, says Bill Douglas, “That’s like you’re looking at the surface of the sea. Beneath is a huge ocean of inner awareness. Tai chi is an exploration of consciousness and the workings of the body.” Douglas has studied tai chi for 30 years and created the DVD Anthology of Tai Chi & Qigong.
Like qigong, tai chi is low-impact and accessible to nearly anyone, even people dealing with health issues. Flowing through the movements and visualizations, you become aware of where your body is holding on to stress, “untangling the physical energy and mental knots,” says Douglas. “You’re sinking from one leg onto another leg, breathing and relaxing; it’s a metaphor for going through the changes of life. But you’re constantly in the here and now.”
To get started, Douglas suggests, “A live class is optimum. Books fill in the intellectual parts, and DVDs are good for learning the physical motions.” Check with your local community or recreation center for beginners’ classes.
Originally published as "Move Your Body, Still Your Mind" in Spirituality & Health magazine's Practice issue.