I got the Jimmy Legs
January 26, 2017 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Is fidgeting detrimental to meditation practice?

I have really enjoyed practicing meditation for the past 3-4 months. I use guided meditation, and I meditate for about 15 minutes a day (I'm still a beginner). My monkey brain is slowly coming around, but I'm seeing progress.

My biggest challenge is with my propensity to fidget. I come from a long line of jimmy-legs and restless-leg-havers--I can't sleep or sit without moving my feet, toes or ankles. Keeping my feet still is excruciatingly distracting to me. If I do *not* move my feet, I feel like they are filled with electricity and sparks. It's the only thing I *can* think about.

I would imagine trying to "fight" this urge in meditation would be counter-productive. At the same time, I worry that my fidgeting counteracts (or could counteract) the benefits of meditation.

Is this a valid worry? Can I have stillness of the mind without stillness of the toes?

And also, if you have any suggestions as to how to address fidgeting during meditation, please send them along. I know I could try a walking meditation, but I enjoy sitting, very much! Thank you in advance!
posted by Dressed to Kill to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The only situation where this is a concern is if you're participating in a group meditation with others. If that's the case, sitting separately from others and trying to wear quiet clothing would be nice so that you don't distract them with the noises that your fidgeting creates. If you're meditating alone, I think the fidgeting is fine and it sounds like fidgeting will allow you to get into a deeper meditation because you won't be so distracted by trying so hard to stay still.
posted by quince at 11:29 AM on January 26, 2017

The Buddha said that restlessness is one of the five hindrances to meditation. You can use your restlessness as the place where your mind gently rests. The other thing I've heard from teachers is that the way to work with restlessness is to allow yourself to die from it. In other words, there are ways of working with sleepiness, such as pulling on your ears, etc., but the restlessness thing is either there or not. Anything can be the place where your mind rests.

You're also experiencing the hindrance of aversion. Here is a link to a talk by Joseph Goldstein on the five hindrances. You can use this link as a jumping off point to find talks by teachers you connect with on virtually any topic having to do with meditation and Buddhism. It's an amazing resource.
posted by janey47 at 12:07 PM on January 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't fight these impulses, precisely, but I do like to try to sit with them for a while and observe. Where is the feeling? Does it move or change or go away if I observe it for a while instead of moving right away? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, and if it's still there when I've observed whatever I can, then I fidget.

Which is to say I suggest you let yourself experiment with different ways of approaching your fidgeting, and stick with whatever ends up feeling helpful for you. You may find different approaches have different benefits but I don't think any way you handle it is going to be Bad And Wrong.
posted by Stacey at 12:09 PM on January 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think the short answer is that there are tons of hinderances to meditation and mediation is in part learning how to deal with those, accepting them, letting them pass, etc.

One thing to think about is that, in at least some yogic practices like Iyengar, the point of doing all the asana (physical pose) practice before you meditate is to prepare your body to be able to sit still for a long time comfortably. So if you're interested in that, I have found that the yoga practice makes sitting still much, much easier.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:10 PM on January 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hi janey47, can you explain what you mean by "the way to work with restlessness is to allow yourself to die from it."?

So, if I rest my attention on the movement of foot, rather than breathing, is that an appropriate response that is in line with practice? Thanks!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:12 PM on January 26, 2017

i've heard a lot of conflicting stuff from a lot of different practitioners and i've chosen to go with what the oldest most hippyish guy told me at the ashram where i do yoga: self-soothing fidgeting is already a kind of meditation, a ritualized focusing and centering of the self. transcendance can't be hammered into an unnatural box of stillness by will alone when you have a medical condition that affects your nervous system. you may find that as your practice deepens, you are able to overcome your overattention to physical needs, but it's neither a guarantee nor a requirement.

i agree with the first commenter that the main issue with your movement, involuntary or otherwise, will be if you are disturbing others nearby. one might say that they should be able to let go of the distraction you're causing them but i personally feel like mindfulness should win out in these situations if possible.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:27 PM on January 26, 2017

Yes, literally anything can be the place to which you bring your attention when you notice it drifting. Because, by the way, your attention will drift from your restlessness just as frequently as it does from your breath.

By "die from it", they meant "give in to it." Not by jumping up and running around (even though I certainly know the impulse to jump up and run around), but by letting it be what it is. It is FANTASTIC practice for being mindful around all of the day-to-day shit that seems to interrupt our mindfulness.

I totally get using guided meditations, but you might also at least occasionally let your restlessness by the guided part of your meditation. If you take away other distractions, like any spoken guidance, you have the opportunity to see what happens in your body and your mind when something like restlessness comes up. Do you use a noting practice? i.e., gently noting or naming what is present -- "in, out, in, out" for the breath, or "thinking, thinking" or "itching, itching" when thinking or itching (or whatever) draws your attention from the breath? It is very helpful for many reasons. I used it very consciously for the first 20 years or so that I was doing mindfulness meditation. So, naming it, maybe by using a note like "buzzing" to name the sensation in your feet, helps you stay mindful while the "buzzing" or however you choose to name it is peaking, and as it subsides, you can gently return your attention to your breath.

Accordingly, not only is it in line with practice, it is the practice. Mindfulness is ultimately not mindfulness of breath. It's mindfulness period. Or "awareness." And mindfulness and awareness are practices of seeing what is there, what is true. If your wiggly foot is true, it is appropriate to be aware of that. You can't do this wrong, you know. :-)
posted by janey47 at 12:43 PM on January 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

You know, I just want to add one more little bit about "stillness of mind." Achaan Cha said that the mind is a like a clear forest pool.

"Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become quieter and quieter in any surroundings. It will become still like a clear forest pool. Then all kinds of wonderful and rare animals will come to drink at the pool."

The wonderful and rare animals are the restlessness of your foot. The quietness of your mind is not silence. It is equanimity when rare animals are tickling your feet. It is gentle acceptance that the animals come and stir up the water when they're drinking. It's awareness of the water being stirred up. And it's just not believing that the ripples in the water are you or your mind, it's knowing that the nature of water is to ripple and the nature of animals is to drink at the pool, and the nature of mind is to create thoughts. Hope that helps.
posted by janey47 at 1:17 PM on January 26, 2017 [8 favorites]

Hi friend, I'm a semi-advanced meditator. Unfortunately, I do think it is going to be important for you to learn to keep your body still. It is going to be a growth edge. It will be very uncomfortable for a while, and you will need to be forgiving with yourself if you absolutely can't stand it and need to fidget. That may be the case for a while! That's ok. That is what you will be working with. If it helps, think of it as your ego screaming for control and resisting stillness.

The problem is, we need to develop some discipline before we can really be at ease. It's paradoxical, but all of this is paradoxical. Left to your own devices, you will do what makes you comfortable, and that's not going to help you develop real stillness. It probably feels much more comfortable, much more relieving thinking that you could meditate on how it feels to move rather than on the anxiety that arises when you keep your body still. But sitting with that discomfort will ultimately be really important for developing the insight that discomfort and suffering are not one and the same.

Just my $0.02. That and find a teacher.
posted by namesarehard at 3:05 PM on January 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

To misquote my Zen teacher from memory, the reason that in our tradition we don't scratch if we experience an itch while sitting zazen is that it helps us learn that it's possible to feel an incredibly strong urge and still choose to respond mindfully. Maybe some time sitting with the sensation of electricity and sparks would be useful for you. What happens if you stay in that place without going along with the belief "when I experience these sensations, I must move to relieve them"? What does it feel like if you stay with the sensations while doing your best to drop the stories that conditioned mind is telling you about what it means?
posted by Lexica at 4:31 PM on January 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have found recently in my practice that I fidget when my mind is drifting onto a thought that I don't want to be having, such as remembering something that I feel uncomfortable with. Part of noticing the fidget is also noticing what the fidget is distracting from. Meditation is about developing that awareness not only for what's happening right at this second but for what led us to that reaction.

When I was first sitting I would sometimes put my attention deep into the uncomfortable aspects of sitting. Many teachers talk about really focusing on discomfort that is distracting you. When you do this, and tie it to the breath, you start to feel the rhythms of the discomfort, and you start to notice how it ebbs and flows. This can be a useful practice as well, before moving to alleviate the feeling, really spend time feeling it.

Like others, I agree, learning to sit through the fidget eventually should be a goal. But perhaps it is not your first goal. Walking meditation is very soothing for this sort of fidgeting and can certainly be a good add. But just like falling asleep during meditation, you can overcome this to a large extent, if you keep coming back to stillness and your intention to sit peacefully. It just takes time.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:09 PM on January 26, 2017

Everyone gave such good advice! In my own meditation journey I found I eventually broke through the fidgeting sensation to a calmness, which in time became easier to attain upon sitting down. The yoga asana suggestion is also spot on.

Additionally I'd recommend a magnesium gylcate supplement! Such a blessing for us nervous leg folk.
posted by elke_wood at 7:47 PM on January 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

We've been meditating for around the same length of time! I've been finding a deep well of impatience in myself and learning to sit with it mindfully and with gentle curiosity instead of leaping off the mat, and this is the bulk of my practice right now.

I found this video on dealing with pain in sitting meditation very helpful. The last third of the video is about meditation techniques when pain is insistently tapping on your shoulder. You might find these techniques helpful for your buzzing feet. I find them helpful for other uncomfortable sensations, like when my leg falls asleep.
posted by sadmadglad at 6:06 AM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older I bought a domain. Now I'm getting scam phone...   |   I'm gonna move that rock Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.