December 2, 2012 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Meditation for the restless? I'm eager to add daily meditation to my life, yet I find it hard to remain motionless. Is there a way to meditate through motion? Or is this restlessness exactly what meditation is meant to fight against – and if so, how can I encourage stillness?
posted by Rory Marinich to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a way to meditate through motion?

posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:34 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Walking meditation! I don't have a useful link on it, but it's a real and well-established thing.
posted by threeants at 6:39 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would also suggest walking meditation. Search for things by Thich Nhat Hanh.
posted by 6and12 at 6:40 PM on December 2, 2012

"Walking meditation" is probably a helpful search term.

But, yes, that restlessness is probably at least part of your lack of familiarity with meditation. Getting better at meditation makes it grow less, as your mind gives up on searching for distraction and calms the fuck down for once. You may discover other weird side effects - emotional spikes, inexplicable tears, desire for very strong drink/drugs, sudden random lust - these are all things I've had happen to me while trying to meditate, and they all go away as I get back into practice.

Meditation is hard. Try some walking meditation, sure, but don't give up on the sitting meditation. Just don't expect to be able to sit for half an hour your first time - five or ten minutes at first is reasonable, and extend slowly as you can.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:42 PM on December 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with the yoga suggestion. I have trouble stopping my thoughts when I try to meditate....but after an hour of power yoga, my mind is totally empty and calm.
posted by barnoley at 6:43 PM on December 2, 2012

You can try something that requires repetitive motion, like tai chi! Once you learn a form, you can move your body through it over and over again. Aikijo also has forms, which you do with a staff -- that might be better for you, since it moves faster than tai chi.
posted by Pwoink at 6:51 PM on December 2, 2012

It might be a good idea to learn from others, at least at first. The specific type of meditation I practice has a lot of focus on posture and we discuss it a lot and are even corrected while sitting. So there's not a whole lot of guesswork when it comes to finding a good posture. I can imagine being a lot more fidget-y if I wasn't quite sure if I was in the right position.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 6:51 PM on December 2, 2012

In many traditions the "purpose" of yoga (the active physical practice) is to prepare the body for meditation.
posted by scribbler at 6:51 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

And yeah, it's also really hard to stop moving around and learn to sit through itches and legs falling asleep. So keep trying!
posted by ruby.aftermath at 6:55 PM on December 2, 2012

my mind is totally empty and calm. television does that for me.

I was watching a PBS fund raiser today and they had this guy Lee Holden demonstating Qi Gung, which is said to do great things for mind and body. I linked to one of Holden's DVDs on Amazon, but you could always get it from PBS and give them a boost. Looked really interesting though, they claimed that after doing Qi Gung for 2 weeks you can double your O2 intake. And who doesn't want more O2?
posted by PaulBGoode at 6:56 PM on December 2, 2012

Or is this restlessness exactly what meditation is meant to fight against


and if so, how can I encourage stillness?

Keep trying. Don't worry about whether you fidget now and then. It's okay. Just observe that you fidget and let that pass, then eventually observe that you have the urge to fidget and let that pass too.
posted by cmoj at 6:57 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Meditation is a 30-40 years practice with a miriad of subtle discoveries and aha! moments. 'hard to remain motionless' is part of the mosaic, so are various types of active meditation. It's also a very individual thing. However, I just want to add my 2 cents: when I did really long meditations, it felt very different than things like yoga and walking meditation.
posted by rainy at 6:59 PM on December 2, 2012

The immediately-obvious response to your question is "walking or working meditation".

Taking a step back, a more constructive (in the long term) response might be that working with your resistance to sitting meditation could be very helpful.

Paraphrased and misquoted from fuzzy memory: in one of her books (I forget which one) American Zen teacher Cheri Huber (whose work I post about rather a lot because it has been literally life-changing) writes about how
In our tradition, if we're sitting meditation and experience an itch, we don't scratch. Now, some people look at that and think "wow, that's so cruel, to resist and stifle the natural responses." But the thing is, it's about learning that I can feel this incredibly strong urge and not react unmindfully.
Based on my own experience with practice, I would suggest that the I don't want to do this it doesn't work for me reaction is worth recognizing and paying attention to… but don't allow it to determine your actions.

Upon preview and consideration, and coming from a Soto Zen-informed practice: it's so totally not about developing an empty mind free from thoughts. It's about learning to recognize Ah, there's a thought. Oh, wow, there's a seriously believed thought. I am seriously bound up in this particular set of expectations and beliefs. Ugh. This sucks. Well, here I am, and at least I can be aware and recognize what's going on. (Ugh. This sucks. Can I stop believing these thoughts, please?)
posted by Lexica at 7:12 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

In many traditions the "purpose" of yoga (the active physical practice) is to prepare the body for meditation.

Huh! I could try yoga pre-meditation to get some of the scramblies out of my body. That makes a lot of sense.

Definitely my question was whether there was a physical practice that accompanied a stillness of the mind, and this helps both answer my question and gives me an idea of how I might still my body pre-meditation.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:19 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

In yoga tradition, it's actually asanas - bandhas - pranayama - meditation, in this order, so you might want to look into all of these. It's not meant to be taken rigidly in the sense that meditation must not be done without other steps, but that's the general idea.
posted by rainy at 7:22 PM on December 2, 2012

I've tried meditation classes and yoga on and off for years. The only thing that really works to calm me down is just...walking. Walk for an hour or an hour and a half a day. Then you will be calmer and sleep better. I don't have the time (excuse) now but if your goal is to calm your mind...this is a sure fire way to do it.
posted by bquarters at 7:23 PM on December 2, 2012

I find it difficult to sit still, and have discovered that some active tasks such as cooking or folding the laundry, and even walking, are meditative to me. Done long enough I can clear my mind and focus on some mantras, or work through a conflict.
posted by matrushka at 7:32 PM on December 2, 2012

posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:04 PM on December 2, 2012

I had a friend who had always struggled with this (he was a 60-something, delightful hippie straight from the '60s) and he found a spinning meditation class that changed it for him, and made it able for him to click in.
posted by hannahelastic at 10:11 PM on December 2, 2012

I just wrote and deleted this long screed because after I thought about it, looking at what I wrote, it came clear to me that I'd never have learned to meditate on my own. You might want a teacher, and/or getting involved in a community of people who meditate you can find someone to mentor you, to pass on what they've learned.

I have complete faith in your intelligence and determination, and I know for a fact that if you were set onto a construction site tomorrow morning with a bunch of tools and nails and screws and big stacks of all different kinds of wood and a set of blueprints, well, I know that you would be able to build a house. Eventually. But damned if it wouldn't make it easier for you if there was someone else right there who'd already built a house, and glad to share with you how they do it.

If you sat down with a guitar for the first time and couldn't play well, you'd likely not expect that you ought to be able to. You'd accept that you're going to practice -- a lot -- before you can play well.

Learning to meditate is a process, not an event.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:05 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

this book has a nice approach to finding a meditative practice that works for you: meditation made easy by Lorin Roche.
posted by SyraCarol at 3:38 AM on December 3, 2012

how can I encourage stillness?

Do a reboot meditation.
At night, pull all the curtains and shades closed. (If you don't have good curtains or shades, get some so you can block all outside light.)
Turn off your computers and phones. Unplug any landline phones.
Put one small candle in a secure holder (or on a plate, anything stable and safe). If you have pets, make sure they aren't going to knock it over.
Set the candle in the middle of a bare table.
Light it.
Turn off all the electricity in your house or apartment at the fuse box or circuit breakers. No glows, no hums, no blinks. Pull the batteries out of things if you have to do that to silence them.
Carefully walk back to your candle if you aren't already there. Be aware of every careful step. (And don't hurt yourself or burn the place down. Take a torch/flashlight if you need it to avoid killing yourself. Some people are that clumsy.)
Sit facing the candle.
Wait for it to burn out. (Start with a birthday candle and work your way up to longer sittings.) Focus on it burning, on the time it takes to burn out, on the way your body feels right now. For the present, you have nothing but this fire.
And then it's dark. Quiet. Your eyes cannot adjust to see things because there is no light at all. There is nothing. (Remember that you'll be sitting in the dark at the end, so make make sure you won't kill yourself falling down stairs or tripping over furniture as you eventually make your way back to turning on the power.)
When you are finished, you are finished. Stand up and make your way back in the dark to the power box. Be aware of every step.
Turn the power back on.
Start resetting blinking clocks, plugging in phones, restarting computers. Listen to the noise. Think about all of the distractions in your life. You might want to leave some things unplugged.
posted by pracowity at 8:36 AM on December 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I did guided group meditation for beginners a couple of times 1-2 years ago, and the woman who led us always said that it's natural for your mind to wander and your body to grow restless. Instead of fighting the impulse, you should try to hold it in your mind, observe it, and then let it drift away. I'm not going to claim to be able to successfully meditate on my own any better now than 1-2 years ago, but it did help within the setting of group meditation for beginners, at least.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 5:13 PM on December 3, 2012

I can't say if I'm doing it the right way, but I've been trying to mindfully practice breathing for five minutes stretches, and it requires a lot of concentration! I just focus on making sure I'm breathing in and out of my belly properly. It helps to do it too after a workout session.
posted by Hawk V at 1:33 AM on December 10, 2012

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