Many people see meditation as something we have to do sitting down, eyes closed, without moving. That’s one of the myths of meditation, including trying to not have any thoughts. There are many forms of movement and activities that can be done in a mindful way, such as walking, dancing, stretching and eating – yes, eating can be done mindfully. We’ll try that sometime, maybe in November. What turns any activity into meditation is taking it slow and really paying attention to what’s going on.
During the first wave of the pandemic, while we were stuck at home, I’d go outside daily for long walks. That’s something I’m really grateful for: living in Northern New Mexico, where there is so much open space. Being outdoors was a way to feel free during a really stressful time.
During these walks, I’d notice the sensation of the air on my skin, the sun on my face, snow crunching under my feet, and many interesting creatures. Horned lizards are one of my favorite wild friends, as well as bluebirds and jackrabbits. Along with the ubiquitous sagebrush, as the seasons progressed I would notice new growth in wild parsley, phlox, wild primrose and other flowering plants.
Of course, walking is also a time when we can think, plan and work out situations. That’s different, though, from walking meditation, which is more about noticing what’s going on around us and how the body feels.
This summer I was guiding a private meditation workshop with a person from New York City. When we did Walking Meditation, the instructions were to move very slowly, step-by-step, following the rhythm of the breath with eyes closed, and then stop every so often to look around. The person had never done this before and said it was interesting to move slowly; to notice the trees, the grass, the birds and the sounds of children playing in the park. When done with their eyes closed, they noticed everything around them so much more vividly.
Family meditation practice
The following practice focuses on paying close attention to the sensations in our bodies as we move in slow motion, like a sloth.
First, make sure you have enough space around you so you won’t bump into anyone or anything as you move. This activity is really fun to do outside barefooted, too.
Start by standing up tall in Mountain Pose: head reaching the sky; legs and feet firmly planted on the ground. Hands are at your side. Notice the strength and stability of your body, like a mountain. Feel your feet and the ground below and the sky above the crown of your head. Wiggle your toes and notice what’s around them, such as your shoes or the ground if you’re barefooted. Notice also how your body feels: warm, cool, tight?
Moving one leg slowly, notice the feelings in your whole body as you move, not just the feelings in your leg. As the leg moves, what is your belly doing? Your shoulders? Slowly lower your leg and feel the ground below your feet. Do this with the other leg and take some more slow, rhythmic steps around your space.
Now, stop and reach down in slow motion. Take your time getting to the ground. Let your head hang down and relax. Touch the floor/ground with your hands. Stay here for a moment and notice the sensations in your body. Where do you feel your muscles stretching? Also, use your fingers to feel what’s around your feet
When you’re ready, slowly curl back up, allowing your head to hang and be the last thing that comes up. Now, tilt your head from side to side in slow motion. What is happening in your neck, face, shoulders when you do this?
Now, try a few slow steps with your eyes closed. What does that feel like? Are sensations different when we can’t see? Sometimes our balance feels different when we move slowly with our eyes closed. How does your body feel now?
When you’re ready, return to the original standing mountain posture and notice what’s different from when you started. Do you feel warm, relaxed or excited and alert?
Anne-Marie Emanuelli is Creative Director of Mindful Frontiers LLC, an education-based mindfulness meditation center in Northern New Mexico offering classes, workshops and coaching to children, families and individuals of all ages and meditation experience. Anne-Marie’s credentials are from Mindful Schools and Sage Institute for Creativity and Consciousness as well as an 8-week MBSR course. She is a retired NM level-3 licensed classroom teacher and has taught mindfulness to students since 2016. More information can be found at mindfulfrontiers.net.