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- What is movement
meditation is ideal when we feel energetic.
bodies can provide a "spiritual path."
guidelines for movement meditation.
techniques of movement meditation.
What is movement
meditation? Simply, it is any type of meditation in which we are
moving. "Movement meditation" (or "moving meditation") includes a
wide range of techniques. Any movement can be performed as a
meditation, if we apply mindfulness and a slow pace.
meditation is ideal when we feel energetic. Some people are so
vigorous or restless that they cannot use sitting meditation; thus,
moving meditation is a productive alternative. In some monasteries
and retreats, participants alternate between sitting meditation and
moving meditation (usually walking meditation) in order to
give the physical body some exercise and to release physical tension
and stimulate blood circulation.
bodies can provide a "spiritual path." Most people accept the idea
that the mind can be a tool for spiritual exploration; we use the
mind in most types of meditation, and in our reading of religious
literature. The emotions (particularly love) are another mode of
spiritual inquiry; consider the devotional approach of some
religions. The concept that the body, too, can provide an arena for
spiritual exploration might seem ludicrous, particularly in cultures
and religions where the body is considered to be the soul's "enemy,"
along with sexuality, the feminine principle, the physical world, and
our humanness. However, some religious practices -- especially tantra
-- view the body as a means by which we can study and express our
psychological and spiritual nature. We can consider these ideas:
- The body lives in a world which is free from concepts, so our
observance of it automatically takes us to the non-conceptual
state which is sought by practitioners of sitting meditation.
- Because the body is a part of the physical world, movement
meditation helps us to understand the nature and sanctity of this
- The body is neither more nor less "defiled" or "illusory" than
our mind and emotions. On the contrary, it too has a connection to
- We can learn about the ever-changing, ever-moving,
ever-interacting nature of life through the body, because the body
is always in motion. (Even when we sit or sleep, there is action
in the heartbeat, the breathing, and the small adjustments of
- The slow movements create a calm mind, which is one of the
goals of sitting meditation.
guidelines for movement meditation.
- Be attentive. We can be mindful of the motion of muscles, our
contact with external surfaces (such as objects or the floor), the
movement of energy within the body (and the interchange of that
energy with the external world), our body's natural responses to
stimuli (such as the rhythm of music), the spacial position of
individual body parts (particularly the spine), sensations
throughout the body (e.g., warmth, cold, pressure, pain, pleasure,
etc.), our breathing (which can be allowed to occur in synch with
our movements, or independent of them), or the state of stillness
which exists in the heart of activity, or another aspect of our
- Be aware of all parts of the body. In some types of movement
meditation, we focus on a particular part; for example, a yoga
posture might be loosening the leg muscles so we would naturally
be attentive to those muscles. But during other sessions of
movement meditation, we can direct our attention throughout our
body, to notice the parts which we generally ignore; for example,
we are all aware of our hands (because we use them almost
constantly), but now we have an opportunity to regard other parts
such as our individual toes, or our elbows, or the top of our
head. While moving, we can shift our attention to every part, and
appraise its state; for example, a part might be numb or even
disliked, as in a belly which does not match the ideal which has
been established by magazine centerfolds. When we locate these
disowned parts, we can offer them our love and acceptance and an
invitation to re-join the "family" of our body. As we do this, we
might feel a warm vitalization of that part, and its
re-integration into the general functioning of the body.
- Enter the world of the body. To an extent, the body is not
"our" body; it is a living organism in its own right, with its own
needs, its own pleasures, and its own "consciousness." (Consider
the fact that the cells, in their organic world, know nothing
about our day-to-day life.) Enter that world of bodily sensation,
vitality, chemical processes, warmth, breathing, and moving (in
contrast to our usual world of concepts). We can enter this world
more easily if we do some of the techniques with our eyes closed
(to block our sense of sight), or our hands over our ears (to
block our sense of hearing).
- Let the body move in its own manner. Try this motion: lean to
the left while keeping the body rigid and the muscles tight. Now
return to the upright position. This time, simply think
about leaning, and initiate the motion, but let the body move into
the leaning position in its own way and at its own speed --
probably very slowly. When the body controls this movement, we
might notice the following phenomena:
Move slowly. Slowness allow us to perceive more of the
individual motions within a larger motion; for example, if we
quickly raise an arm straight up, we probably notice only the
single upward movement -- but if we do it slowly, we perceive many
separate events within the body. Try that now; take approximately
30 seconds to move an arm into the straight-up position. Be aware
of the contractions of various muscles, and the adjustments in the
joints as they adapt to the changing positions, and the constant
physical balancing (through the shifts in weight and the muscular
contractions in other parts of the body), and the heat which is
generated in the muscles, and the gentle stretching of tissue to
allow for the arm's movement. Movement meditation is usually done
slowly; for example, walking meditation might be only slightly
slower than our regular pace -- or we could spend an entire minute
for each step.
Focus on the motions themselves rather than any practical goal
(e.g., walking to a specific destination).
Have a sense of lightness. When the body makes its own
movements, at its own pace, we experience lightness,
effortlessness, gentleness, and softness. Allow the body's energy
to uphold you and propel you easily; let it come to terms with
gravity and then overcome it with natural vitality.
- We feel many individual adjustments in the muscles and
internal tissues as the body leans.
- There are rhythms and brief pauses in the movement.
- We feel a constant seeking of pleasure and comfort in each
increment of the leaning.
- There are changes in our breathing in response to the
slight exertion and the repositioning of the lungs.
- We feel the cooperation and feedback among the body parts
as they coordinate their efforts in this engineering feat.
techniques of movement meditation. While doing these individual
techniques, we can use the guidelines -- particularly the idea of
moving slowly, and being attentive. Other techniques are presented in
chapters regarding specific types of movement meditation, e.g.,
- For five minutes, make every movement in synch with your
breathing. (Breathe at the natural rate or at a slow, controlled
- Put your palms against your chest. As you slowly inhale, let
your arms extend outward in front of you; as you exhale, let your
arms return to the chest. While doing this, feel that the energy
of the breath is projecting the arms outward and bringing them
- From a sitting position, slowly stand up with a sense that the
body is "lengthening" into the upright position. The neck extends
upward, the back becomes longer, and gradually the entire body has
lengthened into a standing position. Now walk forward, with that
same sense of lengthening in the legs as you put each foot
forward. Finally, sit down again in a lengthening motion.
- While standing or sitting, move the spine and the rest of the
body in subtle motions while you seek "perfect posture" -- one
which is thoroughly comfortable and relaxing for all parts of you.
Scan your body for areas of discomfort and move to adjust their
position, until your body comes to rest in its ideal posture.
- Starting with one toe, spend about twenty seconds at each
joint in the body, and let it move back-and-forth slowly. Feel the
sensations in that joint as vividly as possible.
- Move in a rhythm which is synchronized with your heartbeat.
- Experiment with different degrees of mental "supervision" in
controlling your body's movements. We can find a new balance
between the mind's willful control of the body, and the body's own
preferences. For example, try this in the movement of raising your
arm slowly straight up:
Pretend that you are a monkey, free from the human concepts
about your body and how it should move. While walking around,
allow this "monkey" body to find its own manner of moving and
gesturing. Be aware of the sensations in your body when they are
not being analyzed by a "human." (You may do this same exercise as
a different type of animal -- perhaps a lion or a dog.)
We take for granted our ability to move our body. But now,
while we very slowly open and close a fist, marvel at the ability
of the mind to control the body. Our thoughts create motion. Many
people are skeptical about the possibility of "mind over matter"
or telekinesis (also called psychokinesis), but our mind performs
this feat every time we move the matter of our body. Try to sense
the link between the thoughts and the moving hand.
Lie down. Now imagine that you have just been born into this
body. It is all new to you -- the sensations, and the control over
this physical form. What does the body feel like? Now start to
crawl, as though you have never crawled previously. Now start to
walk. How would you walk if this were your first time, and you had
never seen anyone else do it?
Move in the rhythm of a spoken mantra or a prayer (e.g., "The
Lord's Prayer") or a memorized religious text (e.g., the 23rd
Psalm). Allow the body to move in that rhythm, expressing the
feelings which accompany the words. Variation: Let the body
express a single concept, such as beauty, love, peacefulness,
freedom, or spirit. Use all of your body, and the expressions on
your face. Another variation: Express these ideas with only one
single part of the body, e.g., your hands.
While walking, be aware of the flexibility of your spine. Move
as though the spine is a snake which bends and curves in every
direction. Feel these snake-like wave-movements as they extend
throughout the body. Notice the increase in energy in the spine
and the rest of the body as you do this.
Give a gentle massage to your feet (or another part of the
body), being attentive to the movements of your hands and feet.
And notice the pleasure which is created.
Slowly walk around your home, touching the objects -- the
chairs, the curtains, etc. While being observant of your
movements, also notice the energy which passes from your hands
into the objects. Experience this energy transfer as a part of the
- First, do it willfully, keeping the muscles tight.
- Now raise the arm again -- but this time, let the arm stay
relaxed, and be aware of the feedback (e.g., comfort or
discomfort); respond to this feedback to move the arm in a more
- On your third time, simply "intend" that the arm should
rise, and then -- while maintaining a gentle will -- let the
arm slowly "float" upward; let the arm be creative and playful
as the upper arm, forearm, hand, and fingers gradually find
their way toward an upright position, while perhaps turning,
twisting, and bending, like smoke rising on a delicate breeze.
If allowed, the body turns every movement into a graceful dance
-- but these subtle movements occur from the body's own
expressiveness and sense of pleasure, not from a
self-consciousness, mentally conceived artistry.
Lie on the floor. Now curl into a fetal position and hug
yourself. Roll gently on the floor -- to the left and right --
while you continue to hug (with your hands moving into different
positions). Feel love for yourself and your body. Notice the warm,
relaxed sensations throughout the body.
In a standing position, let your body express its sexuality.
Through movement, communicate the body's sexual longing, joy,
pleasure, assertiveness, etc. We experience the body's sexuality,
not the mind's concept of it.
Dance as though the world around you is your partner. As you
move, respond to the objects in the room: twirl around with a
chair, stroke the wall as you walk alongside it, embrace a
curtain, dance with the air as though it were dense enough to
embrace. Notice the sensations in your body, and the energy which
passes between yourself and the objects.
In a standing position, slowly move the pelvis in various
motions -- left and right, front and back, circular clockwise or
counterclockwise, or in a figure eight. Be aware of the
Lie on the floor, on your back. Imagine that you are a flower
which is responding to the early-morning sunlight. Very slowly,
raise your arms as though they are being drawn upward by the sun.
Then gradually move to a standing position, constantly being aware
of the imagined sunlight and of the feelings which it creates in
In a standing position, become aware of gravity's influence on
your body. During a period of a few minutes, allow it to draw you
very slowly from this position to a reclining position as you
calmly surrender your body's mass to the planet beneath you.
Dervish dancing. When we were children, one of our first
experiences with an "altered state" was to spin like a top until
we became dizzy and fell to the ground. The Sufi Mevlevi Order
(i.e., the "Whirling Dervishes") has institutionalized this
activity into a style of group meditation; they are able to spin
without becoming dizzy. (Before you begin whirling, place cushions
around yourself to fall upon -- and be certain that your stomach
is empty, to minimize nausea.) Start by extending your right arm
upward (with palm directed toward the ceiling -- toward the sky),
and your left arm downward (with palm directed toward the floor --
toward the earth); a different technique is to start with arms
across your chest and then slowly extend them to the side while
spinning (with the right palm upward and left palm downward).
Slowly begin to turn in a circle -- most people turn
counter-clockwise -- and keep your eyes open but not focused.
While spinning, the Dervishes meditate upon spirit, and they chant
a holy phrase (i.e., a "wazifa" or "zikr") such as "Allah Hu" or
"There is no god but God"; we can use a different phrase or
mantra. Feel that you are centered in the quiet, motionless core
of an energy vortex (like in the middle of a hurricane). After 20
minutes, start to increase your speed. The Dervishes continue to
spin for hours, but we can do it for a shorter period of time.
Eventually, we might fall to the ground; if this occurs, lie there
for ten minutes or more, relaxing and grounding your energy with
the earth beneath you.
Experience "time" in the way in which your body experiences it
-- independent of clocks and calendars. Select a simple task to
perform -- e.g., walking, or a household chore -- and allow your
body to perform it at its own speed. Feel the body's sense of
progression and flow, in contrast to the analytical function's
stressful division of time into seconds and minutes.
Experience the body as an inherent part of the physical world.
While our mind develops melodramas regarding status and insecurity
and worry, the body is totally comfortable in its own world. The
body is at ease in our house; it neither knows nor cares what our
friends think of our remodeling. When we are in a crowd of people,
it is looking at the other bodies with interest, not judgment or
timidity. Feel this physical body interacting with the physical
objects of its world -- and notice the directness and simplicity
of this interplay. Move throughout the room as though the body
were simply one more physical object within it (instead of being
"your" body). See how it instinctively responds, through movement,
with other physical objects.
Cathartic dance. (If this exercise releases energy and
emotions which are too intense, stop immediately.) For ten
minutes, be totally wild. Jump, and roll, and twitch, and shake.
Let your breath be erratic. Hit pillows. Allow your voice to
scream and babble, if it wants to do so (and if you have privacy).
Don't be self-conscious or disturbed by anything which you do;
just express the chaos and repressions which we all carry beneath
our polite persona. Use these actions to express something real
which is within you; they aren't just random actions or an
exhibition of your concept of "wildness." This is a
catharsis of energy which we haven't been able to express, so it
is likely to include both our "negative" emotions (e.g., anger)
and some "positive" emotions (such as our longing for love). After
this catharsis, walk around calmly, to gradually "put yourself
back together." Then do a sitting meditation, if you want to quiet
yourself even further. Catharsis is not a long-term solution to
any problems; the energy which we are releasing would have been
better spent in direct mediation with those problems -- but,
because we don't always have the situations or skills with which
we can fully express our energy, we might need to do some
catharsis occasionally to release the remnants of that force.
- Feel the energy which causes the arm to extend outward.
- Feel the energy traveling down your arm as you touch the
- Feel the energy flowing into the object.
- Feel some energy from the object flowing back into the