Seated meditation difficult for you? Consider shifting your focus to a movement mediation practice.
“Movement is medicine.”
How often have you heard someone say that? The link between movement and personal healing is so ubiquitous that you probably can’t remember where or when you heard that statement first.
But movement is, in fact, medicine.
Have you ever heard of “movement meditation?” The key to differentiating exercise and meditation from movement meditation lies in intention.
What Makes Movement Meditation Unique
Many forms of pre-established, still-form meditation exist for your exploration and consideration. I welcome you to investigate the quietude of zazen practice, the monkey-mind wrangling of Tibetan gom, and the wonderfully breathtaking experiences of Transcendental Meditation.
All of these practices allow you to observe sensations in your mind, body, and breath without judgment, allowing all experiences and emotions to surface—or not surface!
Moreover, everyone will approach meditation differently, with individual goals and perspectives of what is “right” for them. Others, of course, may infer that there is no such thing as “right” in meditation in general, which is a form of practice unto itself. (You go, rebel. Do your thing, and I will always support you.) Once you have a sense of what you like to achieve through meditation as a whole, then you’re prepared to apply that information to movement meditation as well.
The unifying elements in any mediation are the mind, the body, and the breath. Once you set an intention, then that’s when the ultimate magic of healing and wholeness happens. The combination of mind-body-breath is an incredible triad that can be applied to an infinite number of contexts. As long as you possess all three, you can use them in any meditative capacity.
Who Can Practice Movement Meditation?
Movement meditation can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time or circumstance of his, her, or their choosing. You have zero obligation to be a professional yogi or tantric practitioner—you don’t even need your own formal meditation practice to start a new one that includes movement.
How is that possible? Consider the following movement practices: dance, martial arts, gymnastics, calisthenics, and weight training—otherwise known as “load-bearing” or “resistance” training. All of these incorporate the unity of the mind, body, and breath—yes, even weight training!
As a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and martial artist, allow me to offer a few examples of moving mediations.
Movement Meditation #1: Dance and Martial Arts
These flowing practices stem from being able to create shapes with the body as many times or repetitions as desired, for as long or short a duration as desired, and as intensely as desired.
To do this, one must possess a sense of control over the body, driving the breath wherever it needs to go, with as much or as little force as necessary to achieve the intended result.
In dance, the forms are artful and creative, often for the sake of sheer beauty or expressing a narrative. You can compare the organic, angular forms of Bharatanatyam classical Indian dance with the graceful extensions of ballet; the twisting flow of Martha Graham-style modern or contemporary variations set against the vibrant beat of West African movement; the repetitive cresting rhythms of Slavic folk footwork held up alongside passionate salsa, tango, or merengue.
In each of these dances, there are accompanying emotions and patterns that the individual travels through in order to arrive at the finish line—and that finish line is as subjective as you could wish it to be. Just as in still-form meditation, movement meditation allows you to choose to be a public performer or a bedroom Zoom dancer, with no fear of expectations or judgment from the audience—if there even is one at all, right?
Martial arts—examples including tai chi, taekwondo, karate, kung fu, Muay Thai, and Brazilian jiujitsu—require the same commitment to mind-body connection, the difference being that you may choose to have a combative or functional intention for your movement meditation instead of a purely expressive, artistic one. It’s up to you!
Movement Meditation #2: Gymnastics and Calisthenics
Many people who start with the gentle, free-flowing sensations of dance are often called to more conscientious forms of strength training. This is because dance on its own builds only a relative amount of muscle to the exertion of the movements being performed, which does not necessarily reflect or address the strength level of the dancer or practitioner.
That means, in order to maintain or build strength, one may choose to become involved in forms of movement that require putting force or pressure on the body that encourage it to adapt and become stronger for future movements.
Calisthenics are a great entryway into movement meditation because they require no equipment, and as such may be classified as unweighted strength movements, which include squats, lunges, dips, planks, pushups, and pull-ups. Calisthenics are based on the soothing solace of focusing on one movement at a time in distinct repetition, executed for the specific type of strength and muscular development that will follow.
Once an individual achieves proficiency at the basic movements within the realm of calisthenics, natural progression of advanced calisthenics, like gymnastics, encourages the acquisition of abilities that will challenge balance, coordination, and fine motor skills in the acts of executing more advanced feats, such as rings, parallel bars, aerial silks, and tumbling.
When one applies the mind, breath, and body to achieving these skills—whether it’s calisthenics or gymnastics—that person’s practice intensifies; suddenly the goals of your movement meditation practice become so much more definable and concrete. For example, a goal of 10 pushups a day means that the individual must press their arms and torso to and from the ground in concert, breathing decisively with each press.
Movement Meditation # 3: Weight Training
This may come as a surprise, but weight training can absolutely become part of your meditation practice. If you take a look back at the necessary elements of movement meditation that we discuss here—mind, body, and breath—you will notice that they are present in weight training as well.
This means that any form of strength exercise with load or weight-bearing equipment—including barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells—counts, as well as workouts with fabric or rubber resistance bands.
A kettlebell swing, for example, requires the same hip hinge and explosive breathing that a calisthenics or gymnastics practitioner will endeavor in the act of their own training. And that power is similarly part of the world of dance and martial arts when performing at high levels. It just comes back to that one, simple word: intention.
I encourage you to set your intentions clearly and experience the feeling of movement meditation practice.
Want more mindful movement? Learn how to practice qigong for anxiety.