Mindfulness without stasis.
June 21, 2013 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Pardon if this misses the point entirely, but is there a guide to practicing mindfulness that does not revolve around sitting meditation?

I am attracted to mindfulness, but due to chronic pain and hyperactivity, "quietly sitting still" is my personal hell. Laying still solves some problems but creates others.

Is there a mindfulness-on-the-go guide that concentrates solely on what Wikipedia describes as continuous practice? Or is sitting meditation such a pillar that I'm essentially asking to be taught to ride a bike but refusing to sit down on one?

I'd prefer any reading material be as practical as it can. There's so much woo-woo pop self-help nonsense on the subject that, in my ignorance, I can't separate the wheat from the chaff.
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot sit still long enough to meditate. I have actually felt guilty towards myself for years that I haven't been able to figure out how to do it "right", and that I am somehow doing myself a disservice.

While I was working in the garden last week I realized that gardening, or walking, are my most beneficial meditative "spaces". Maybe walking in particular, since I can choose to focus on my breathing, or the movement of my body, but can clear my mind if I wish. Gardening for me is great for letting my mind wander aimlessly, but it is also task-oriented and forces me to at times focus on the task.

It was a very freeing realization for me. I don't think you have to do it "right" in order to get benefit, you just have to find what works for you.
posted by vignettist at 9:58 AM on June 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherver You Go, There You Are is a great guide. He's worked with UMass Med School on developing mindfulness programs and is pretty widely regarded as one of the top American authorities on mindfulness practices.
posted by jaguar at 10:00 AM on June 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

Th4er eis all manner of different meditative techniques. Walking meditation is pretty well known for example.
posted by edgeways at 10:01 AM on June 21, 2013

Walking meditation is a thing. I haven't paid a lot of attention to it when I've seen it come up in more general mindfulness books, because I don't think it'd work well for me. But I've definitely seen it come up more than once. Perhaps a search on that term would help?
posted by Stacey at 10:01 AM on June 21, 2013

Throughout your day, look at things simply.

Imagine you are a child seeing things for the first time.

As you drive to work, look at the leaves on the trees as you pass. Imagine the day of a leaf.
As you walk along the sidewalk, think about the people who built it.
As you walk up stairs, notice the materials and the way sound bounces off of each material.
As you sit at your desk, take notice of a knick knack as if you are a child. Explore its purpose.

Become more mindful of your surroundings. It will give you a high. (I've never had drugs so it would be a virgin high).
posted by squirbel at 10:01 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Quotidian Mysteries is about Christian prayer, but it's the same idea as mindful meditation in motion -- which is totally a thing, a lot of people find washing dishes, knitting, mowing the lawn, long-distance driving, or similar activities can promote mindful meditation for them. (Another resource might be guides to monastic life that talk about using the work they do, particularly gardening, as a form of prayer.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:07 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thich Nhat Hanh's books Walking Meditation or Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life might be of use to you.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:08 AM on June 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Depending on the studio, yoga can very much be meditation practice. This is especially true for private studios with a little bit of "woo", or classes taught at meditation centers. Yoga at Branded gyms or studios which also offer Pilates and Zumba usually focus less on mindfulness, and more on burning calories/strength training, IMHO.
posted by tinymegalo at 10:12 AM on June 21, 2013

There are a lot of options if you have physical issues. I know Thanissaro's book With Each and Every Breath goes over a number of different methodologies (walking, standing, lying down) and tips for the best results; you can download it for free here. He also goes over how to carry the practice into active life and vice versa. The book is quite practical and straightforward. I also recommend his talks, on the same site. Be aware that he is an actual religious monk and not a secular teacher.

I also recommend the Kabit-Zinn book mentioned by jaguar.
posted by selfnoise at 10:27 AM on June 21, 2013

You sure can! Just pay attention to what's in your mind. That's it, that's all. At any time, you should be simply aware of what's going on upstairs, not mindlessly swept away in it.

Specifically, you should know:

1. You are NOT your thoughts.

2. No really. "You" are NOT your thoughts.

2a. Your thought are a stream of noise, just like a radio DJ, endlessly commenting on everything.

2b. If you know that you're not your thoughts, then you can watch them start, and grow and move and change and pass on by. That's mindfulness!

Eckhart Tolle's books are good for this, btw. The Power of Now and A New Earth.

You can also practice "emotional mindfulness." What are you feeling, in your body, right now? Nothing? Check again. You're feeling something. Get used to the "feeling landscape" inside of you, and notice how it changes in dependence upon your thoughts and actions. Just notice it. You can do it wherever, whenever. That's mindfulness!

Gary Zukov has some incredibly woo-woo books that are amazing descriptions of emotional mindfulness. Heart of the Soul.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:27 AM on June 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Seconding The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I recommend getting the audio book and listenening to it while you're driving or doing chores.

It emphasizes just learning how to be present. You really only have problems/stress when you're either trying to be/deal with something in the past or the future. You can never return to the past and you can never be in the future, so you might as well learn how to be calm in the present moment.
posted by ad4pt at 10:43 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

The calmest my mind ever gets is when I'm swimming laps, I think because my body is very busy so excess nervous energy can't accumulate, but the movement is repetitive so there's nothing for my brain to do. I don't have to cross streets or notice the neighbor's landscaping or consider which way to go, etc. You might like it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:56 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite meditations is stopping and being present, possibly from Thich Nhat Hanh. While driving (or biking, in my case), every time you stop at a light or a stop sign, stop for a moment and be present in that location.

It's a great intro or refresher, because it doesn't take long (or require long-sustained effort), and it can be incorporated into your daily travels.
posted by ldthomps at 11:05 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sitting meditation is not necessarily essential. Some people lay down when they meditate, others walk.

What distinguishes mindfulness from mere idleness is the attentiveness piece. There are talks by some secular teachers, such as Jon Kabat-zinn, which are very nice secular guided meditations, you can do them laying down or walking or standing or however you like.

I often find breath study is sufficient. Sure, I love to sit back in my recliner, set the timer for 20, concentrating on the nostrils and tracking air as it flows through the nostrils, down the throat, into the expanding lungs, guiding it with my mind in, and mindfully letting it out. Feeling and guiding my attention to all of the places the air and my body touch.

But I can do this right here right now too, I can type these letters while feeling my diaphragm drop, lungs expanding, the breath being held, and then the tension breaking, the diaphragm rising, the air effortlessly flowing unrestricted out of my nostrils.

Osho had this great idea, the breath is like a silver thread, and all day long we can follow this thread, not obsessively, not mindlessly, but using it, like Thesesus and his string, to pull us out of the labyrinthine confusion of our inner worlds.
posted by jalitt at 11:14 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is what yoga asana (physical posture practice) is for.
posted by TrixieRamble at 11:34 AM on June 21, 2013

The calmest my mind ever gets is when I'm swimming laps

This is true for me as well. I also like the meditative idea behind walking a labyrinth as a meditation exercise (religious or otherwise). Good if you have one nearby but also a nifty project to make one, even a simple one out of materials or just the streets around you.
posted by jessamyn at 11:53 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about Tai Chi?
posted by silvergoat at 12:03 PM on June 21, 2013

Tai Chi evokes this for me.

Having been part of a bunch of associations and groups, the folks I'd recommend are the Taoist Tai Chi society. It's a older, longer form, based on the Taoist monastic tradition, rather than the "sport" versions common in modern Chinese practice, but the details really don't matter that much: it's really excellent at centering me in my body and focusing my attention.

Further, the Taoist groups have done a lot to accommodate injury or reduced mobility in their practice. Your concerns would not be unfamiliar to them.

While there is some Taoist philosophy in the practice, it's very much in the background. I would guess better than 90% of the members are there just for the exercise. I have a very low tolerance for woo and have been part of the society for years without philosophical difficulty, or even excessive eye-rolling.
posted by bonehead at 12:03 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Prayer is a lot like meditation. Choose something like prayer. I use
May the long time sun shine upon you
All love surround you
And the pure light within you
Guide you all the way on.

from the Incredible String Band, but other short prayers, blessings or songs would also work. It should be very positive. Repeating it tends to reduce the conscious meaning of the prayer, and provides a lot of the same benefit as meditation, and you can do it while walking, driving, cycling, etc.
posted by theora55 at 12:06 PM on June 21, 2013

I think you are asking two questions that are related but separate, and it might be worth disentangling them:

1) Is there a form of meditation that can be done without being physically still?

2) Is there a guide to "continuous practice", which is to say, mindfulness that takes place throughout your day, as opposed to, say, taking time for a specific meditation session. (I've seen this distinction described as the "formal" and "informal" practice).

You can do "walking meditation" as a formal practice. That is - you can commit to, say, doing 30 minutes a day of walking meditation.

And of course you can do "continuous practice" whether you are walking or sitting or driving, or whatever.

My sense is that most traditional approaches to meditation would suggest that you're better off to do some sort of formal meditation. So maybe you could do walking meditation, in a structured, formal way, and see if that works for you. (You can also do the "continuous practice", too, of course...)
posted by ManInSuit at 12:21 PM on June 21, 2013

Just a note on continuous practice: I think what you'll find is that this is actually a lot harder than dedicated practice, and dedicated practice really exists to make the former easier. Ideally, yes, you would be mindful constantly but it's really easiest to start by dedicating some time to it, just like exercising. If nothing else, it's hard to know what you're aiming for unless you can investigate just how mindful you can be under calm circumstances.
posted by selfnoise at 12:28 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dishes with Thich Nhat Hanh.
posted by b33j at 3:36 PM on June 21, 2013

I didn't know this was a thing until you asked this question, but when I run, I always go into a very thoughtful and meditative state. Miles pass and suddenly I realize I've put in 4, 5, 6 miles and my mind is very clear and calm.

This HuffPost article mentions Jeff Galloway's Run-Walk-Run program which is a pretty easy physical workout and offers great mental benefits.
posted by kinetic at 3:50 PM on June 21, 2013

A class I took on Mindfulness meditation suggested taking five minutes out of every hour in the day to do a body scan, to identify thoughts and feelings and let them go, and to be "present". It's meditation, but it's quick, and regular throughout the day.
posted by lollusc at 5:38 PM on June 21, 2013

Tara Brach teaches at the Insight Meditation Center in D.C. and once I heard a tidbit of advice she gave to name what you are doing (or thinking) as you go about your daily life. Example: "I am washing the dish. I am imagining a conversation with my mom. I am driving. I am fantasizing. I am worrying." Etc. etc.

Walking meditation is also a whole big thing. I'm not sure exactly how you do it but I think the general thrust is noticing the physical sensations of walking and tuning in to what's actually around you.

Also, metta is lovingkindness meditation. It's not sitting still and noticing your breathing per se -- you're actually actively thinking, "May ___ be happy. May ___ be at ease. May ___ be free of suffering," as you cycle through lots of different people. So that's more active in a way.

There's a famous raisin meditation (I don't know what the origin is - Maybe John Kabat-Zinn?) where you prepare to eat a raisin and you notice all the smells and physical sensations of chewing it, etc. So for that one you get to have a raisin :-)
posted by mermily at 6:08 PM on June 21, 2013

One more thing -- If inattention is your problem, you might try meditating in two minute increments for a week or so and then see if you can scale it up to five minutes, etc. You might surprise yourself.
posted by mermily at 6:13 PM on June 21, 2013

2nd Kinetic. I always feel this when I run unless something is bothering me to the point that I'm perseverating on it.

I realized that my best runs are the times when my mind is clear, and clarity comes when I'm intensely focused on the present. A few times I've realized that that intensely focusing on the present is basically the same as blocking everything else out except the NOW. Yeah, I've read Eckart Tolle a few times : )

Whenever I feel lost or confused regarding meditative practice, I always come back to Tolle's "The Power of Now" and it seems to really help me get out of a judgmental space (you reminded me of that when you said you were crap at meditation - those could have been my words!) Judging creates space between the present moment and your experience, so you feel further removed from it. So when you judge yourself, try reminding yourself that all of your experiences, thoughts, beliefs, etc. have led you up to right here, right now in this moment, and there's no judgment in that. It's just, "you are where you are."
posted by luciddream928 at 7:11 PM on June 21, 2013

You might like the ideas in How To Train A Wild Elephant a lot. I find they complement a sitting practice, but basically the book is about what to do with your mind in the rest of your life. I recommend it.

You might also be able to get some benefit from still meditation despite the pain and hyperactivity. I'd start small but regular. (e.g,. 10 minutes a day. Occasionally try two sessions in the same day.) Having a teacher or group is best, but this book on paper or free on the net is very good. I've never faced serious, chronic pain, but I've encountered people for whom meditation really did help it.
posted by spbmp at 9:16 PM on June 21, 2013

Good question! I have asked myself this many times. I also have a hard time sitting and meditating, although I know it's not supposed to be easy. I try to bring my attention back to what I'm doing as many times per day as possible. I spend so much time either planning or thinking about the past that I rarely feel 'in' the moment. Which is a bad feeling!

I try to really feel what I'm doing, even when I'm doing something as simple as scratching my arm or taking a drink of water. I also find that it helps to label my thoughts (planning, remembering, worrying, and so on.) Then I can say to myself, Oh, I'm just worrying. Time to move on!

Good luck to you. I second the Jon Kabat-Zinn recommendation.
posted by sucre at 9:06 PM on June 23, 2013

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