Throughout my last decade of teaching yoga and meditation, I’ve been blessed to work with thousands of people, of all types of backgrounds, from more than 40 countries around the globe, and everyone says the same things: “I’ve tried meditation, but I can never stick with it,” or “I just can’t get my mind to slow down,” or “I don’t believe in meditation.” And I understand why.
The reason why so many people try meditation and it doesn’t stick is because they’re practicing the wrong kind of meditation, a kind based on renunciation. This makes meditation feel like doing a chore or even being punished. It can feel like your mind is going crazy with random thoughts and you have to force yourself to sit still and stop thinking. Sound familiar?
I’ve been on a mission to take meditation out of the spiritual echo chamber and bring it to everyday people like you and me. I believe all people, of all backgrounds, deserve to have access to the truth. So I started asking big questions: How does meditation loosen the grip of our toxic habits, especially when it comes to things like porn, drugs, alcohol, social media, sex, and the incessant need for validation? How does it fit in if we’re stressed out, overwhelmed, stretched too thin, and don’t have extra time? How does it help us get shit done? How does it impact social justice? Productivity? Relationships? Money? Trauma? Healing? Entrepreneurship? Creativity? How does it help us overcome the obstacles that hold us back from our inherent greatness?
Moving Into Meditation
One of the ways we can find a meditation practice that works for us is to incorporate physical movement.
I remember the first time I ever went hiking. I was 23, and my boyfriend at the time had been trying to drag me on a hike for months, but I always scoffed at the idea and told him, “Black people don’t hike” (toxic belief, anyone?). But one day, after making every excuse in the book (“I have asthma,” “I don’t like bugs,” “I’m too hot”), I finally agreed to go on a hike for his birthday. We drove along the ocean up the Pacific Coast Highway, all the way to the trailhead of the most beautiful hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s called Paseo Miramar and is about a ninety-minute round-trip hike with stunning panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
Guess how long I lasted?
I thought I was in shape. I thought I was athletic. Hell, I had been doing yoga, Pilates, and weight lifting for years, but after just a few minutes on that trail, I damn near had to call a helicopter to come rescue us (and it wasn’t even that hard of a trail!).
It doesn’t matter how much you train or how in shape you think you are: when you try a new type of movement, muscles get activated that you didn’t even know existed. The same thing happens when you add physical movement to your meditation practice. Mental pathways get activated that you didn’t even know existed. Physical movement is an essential and delicious ingredient to add to your meditation recipe.
Movement can enhance your meditation practice. In fact, it is essential for most people. Yet many meditation styles ignore the body completely. What I know to be true is that your physical body is just as important a part of your practice as your mind—the health of your body is scientifically proven to impact your mental health. It has become widely known that even light physical movement has the power to relieve stress, boost your overall mood, alleviate anxiety, cure insomnia, slow the aging process, and treat depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. When you read that list, you might notice that physical movement and seated meditation actually share many of the same benefits, so imagine how much more powerful it is when you combine the two.
Stillness is overrated. Nothing in the universe is still. Not your body, not your mind, and not this planet. So why would we ever expect to find complete stillness in meditation? It’s unnatural and unnecessary.
I want to be clear here: I’m not suggesting that you force movement into your practice or that your meditation become a dance routine. All I want is for you to give yourself permission to move when and if it feels natural to you. You might allow your body to gently sway from side to side, pulsing with the rhythm of your breath for your entire practice. Or you might sit completely still for a few minutes and then pulse for a few and return to stillness again. In Freedom Meditation, we are breaking free from the bondage of rigidity and confinement. I encourage you to welcome movement to your practice. It will help you connect to the natural rhythm of your life.
Practice Pulse Meditation: For Meditators Who Hate Sitting Still
The goal of this guided practice is simple: to experience movement during meditation. As your practice develops, you can explore more dramatic movements, like walking or even dancing, but for now, I want you to start by sitting, because too much movement can turn into a convenient distraction when you’re first getting started.
Time: 5 minutes
STEP 1: As usual, use the Freedom Trinity to get started.
STEP 2: Welcome your mantra to your practice.
STEP 3: Start to deepen your breath. Notice how on the inhales, your body gets larger and takes up more space, and on the exhales, your body contracts and gets just a little smaller.
STEP 4: Now exaggerate that. As you inhale and exhale, allow your body to expand and contract. Let it sway and pulse, forward and backward and from side to side, with the rhythm of your breath.
STEP 5: Exaggerate your movements even more. Start to move your arms. Allow your torso to sway and rock. Try both dramatic and subtle movements to see how they shift your experience.
STEP 6: Move even more. Be spontaneous. Allow your body and arms to sway, pulse, and move as if you are doing a slow seated dance through water with your breath as the soundtrack. Don’t think about it too much—there’s no right or wrong way to do this. Give yourself permission to look like a complete fool for a minute.
STEP 7: When your timer rings, come back to center, sit up tall, and open your eyes. Take a moment to pause and reflect. How was this experience for you?
Be honest. If you loved it, onward!
If not, you aren’t alone.
I used to judge myself, worry about looking silly, and be totally afraid to express emotion with my body. Movement can be triggering for many of us. If that’s the case for you, it’s okay.
Welcome whatever emotions arise. You’re opening a new pathway, like I did on my first hike. As you get more seasoned in your meditation practice, you can try adding movement again if you want. Up to you!
Excerpted from Stay Woke: A Meditation Guide for the Rest of Us © 2020 Justin Michael Williams. Reprinted with permission of the author and the publisher Sounds True, Inc.