Sometimes sitting down and focusing on your breath is all you need. Other days you need a little more and that’s where moving meditation comes into play. Moving meditation is any type of movement - running, biking, swimming, rowing, hula hooping – done with the intention of using the actions and sensations of the body to bring your attention to the present moment. This type of self-care comes in many forms, but this article will focus on three common types of practices: walking, yoga, and tai chi.
Walking meditation is useful due to its versatility and accessibility to many different fitness levels. It can be a formal practice or incorporated into your day when you walk from the parking lot to your office, the living room to the kitchen, or out to get the mail. You can walk fast or slow, long distances or short distances, on hilly or flat surfaces. Make this practice your own. The most important thing is to focus on your breathing and the sensation of your feet touching and leaving the ground. If you can, take notice of the small adjustments it takes to keep your body balanced. While this isn’t very practical for walking at the park or through the city streets, it’s great for practicing at home or in nature. Another nice place to focus on your walking is in a labyrinth. The patterns may vary slightly, but they all provide a clear, obstacle free path to a center point.
Like everything else in our life, when we just walk we tend to get lost in our head and caught up in a swirl of negative thoughts. Walking meditation can have positive effects such as improving mood or easing the physiological effects of mild to moderate depression.
If you haven’t practiced yoga before, it’s best to take a class with a qualified instructor first to avoid injury and get the most out of your practice. There are many different styles, but for for meditation Iyengar yoga is often recommended. This style is also great for older adults or anyone with physical limitations. Developed by B.K.S. Iyengar, this style combines the principles of all yoga practices with a variety of props and tools to help you perform postures correctly and hold poses for longer periods of time. If you can’t touch the floor, you can raise the floor with blocks or stools. If you can’t grab your foot, you can extend your reach with a strap. If you have poor balance, you can use the wall or a chair for support. Iyengar’s mission was to make the benefits of yoga more accessible to everyone regardless of their level of fitness. You may find that these techniques will make your yoga practice more mindful because the props allow you to focus on what the body is doing.
Like yoga, there are a variety of forms of Tai Chi and it is best learned initially with a qualified instructor. Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art and as such the movements have practical defensive applications. It is considered an internal martial art that focuses on balance and the flow of energy as opposed to external arts such as kung fu that focuses on strikes and kicks. Movements in the various Tai Chi forms are done slowly, mindfully, and fluidly. These actions are gentle, but they are much harder than they look, both physically and mentally.
Research on the benefits of tai chi are limited at this point, however there is some suggestion that regular practice can improve cardiovascular fitness and balance, which can help prevent falls in older adults. The National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), one of the National Institutes of Health, funds a variety of ongoing studies to expand this research. NCCAM provides a nice introductory video to Tai Chi and Qi Gong (another Chinese discipline) here.
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