The Power of Moving Meditation
Rooted in Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies, meditation has been on the rise in the Western world for the past few years. In the last 10 years, “mindfulness” has exploded as a Google search term (see below), and Amazon’s shelves are stocked with books on the topic. Oprah has teamed up with Deepak Chopra to create the 21-Day Meditation Experience, meditation rooms are now mainstream at Silicon Valley companies, and people in New York are “having a sit” versus having a beer after work at swanky places like Ziva Meditation and The Path.
I’m wholly on the mindfulness bandwagon and have experienced its benefits firsthand and witnessed the calming presence that simple meditation techniques have on my kids. I’m sold that it’s effective, both in terms of short-term stress management and attention training, and in terms of long-term well-being. But I worry sometimes that the essence of mindfulness and the vast range of ways it can be practiced are getting lost in stylish images of candles, pillows, fancy studios, and beautiful women sitting still and cross-legged on glistening mountaintops. These images are gorgeous, but so very limiting.
Simply put, mindfulness is about living in the moment. Wikipedia defines it in a bit more detail as “the intention, accepting, and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts, and sensations occurring in the present moment.” Based on this, mindfulness can take an infinite number of forms, most of which have nothing to do with candles and incense.
In my experience, sweat can keep us in the present moment just as well as stillness can. Meditation can be just as impactful from the seat of a kayak as it can be from the seat of a pillow. You can visualize the air drifting in and out of your body while you run up a hill at sunrise just as clearly as you can count your breaths in a dimly lit studio. An ecstatic dance experience can lock you into the present just as much as a group chant can.
I’ve personally found and stayed in the present moment while descending a steep, curvy hill on my bike – feeling the ocean mist on my face and listening to the cadence of my breath against the backdrop of my tires on the road. As a teenager, I remember thinking the trails I ran on in my rural Wisconsin hometown were the closest thing to heaven I could imagine; the sunlight dancing through the trees and the rustle of wood chips underneath my feet locked my mind into the present. And a few weeks ago in spin class, the teacher snapped my attention away from the hectic day that lay behind me and into the room where we were together, delivering a message on mindfulness over the pounding bass of the class’s techno soundtrack: “It’s a hard world out there right now, guys. Guns, war, hatred, global warming….on and on. But inside this room…right here, for the next precious hour of our lives, in this sweaty little space, it’s a beautiful world. A spectacular world filled with friends. Be here. Stay here. Soak it up. And give yourself the energy and strength to leave this room and make that world outside a little bit better.”
These images – of whizzing wheels and trails and sweaty gym clothes…of strength, sweat, noise, exertion, individuality, and community – belong alongside those of flowery gardens, yoga mats, and closed eyelids. They make the picture more complete, reminding us that it’s up to each of us to define our own practices, build them into our days, embrace them for what they provide, and eliminate judgment about what they should be.
Together, we can paint a bigger, more colorful, and more diverse picture of what mindfulness is and can be. What practice works best for you?