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Is Walking or Running Meditation a Thing? Do You Have to Sit Still to Meditate? Why Sitting Still to Meditate is Useless for Those Who Love to Move.



I have never been good at sitting meditation.


I've been asked more times than I can remember, over the course of my life time, if I meditate. I have tried, countless times, circling back to it in times of depression, anxiety, failure, loss, grief - to sit still with myself. The wellness community, the spiritual gurus, the metal health mavens; 'they' all say that meditation is a key tool.


So of course, most other people I speak to about mental health find their way to that question: Have you tried meditation? Or, do you meditate?


At first, meditation was simply agitating. Then it was boring. Then it was confusing. Then it circled back to annoying.


I studied Buddhism for many years in high school & took Asian Philosophy in University. My grandmother was a Buddhist meditation teacher who studied under Jack Kornfield at times. (I've never taken a single teaching from her, but I gladly inherited her Buddhist book collection.) I have tried the guided, the breathing, the timed, the object focusing, the indoor with fluffy pillows, outside with mother nature, the visualization & everything in between. Each time emerging with another fat F on the mark sheet. I have no desire to get good at something that produces the opposite results that I'm seeking...


Maybe you're not doing it right?

Have you tried such-and-such method?

Well how do you get started?

Well how are you trying to do it?

You just need more practice.

You could try a class.

You just need to...

Why don't you try...

I've got this great app...


UGH!


I grew up as an athlete. Soccer, Hockey, swimming, I love dancing, I learned to love running later in life & I really enjoy hard, gruff work. Lifting heavy things, pushing, pulling, grinding, punching, kicking & in the recent few years fell in love with climbing mountains. I'm not talking about walks in the forest. I'm talking about 60-70 degree angled terrain, hand over foot, tree roots as foot holds & billy goats gruff, bumping into bears & no cell phone reception.


I have never felt better & more clear headed as when I find a steep hill in the woods and take it at a sprint in a 16 lbs weight vest.


So is this 'my version' of meditation? Is it maybe yours too?


The question would be - does it give you the results that meditation is used for?


What is the point or goal of meditation?

Well if you're going to be a butthead you can play the annoying game of, "Meditation isn't about a goal..." OK Sherlock - we need parameters in order to define it, so we know what it is...and what it isn't.

The culturescape has evolved in the past few decades in regards to 'how to meditate.' We used to label it as a 'clearing or emptying' of the mind. But I think after some scientists and people with better questioning & explanation skills got involved, it was established that we are not making the mind 'blank.' For the record, the many books on meditation that I have read all have a slightly different explanation of what exactly is trying to be achieved by meditation. So even the people who have been supported in publishing a book (along with having an editor) differ on it's exact goal, outcome or purpose, to varying degrees.


My gathering & investigating of information shows that we now understand meditation to be the state of mind where we are doing many things:

  • suspending judgement

  • releasing emotional reactions or attachments to ideas & thoughts

  • focusing energy in a deliberate way

  • calming our parasympathetic nervous system

  • resetting our physiological state (vagus nerve)

  • letting ideas & thoughts pass through us without holding on to them

  • finding a state of 'calm' or homeostasis (physically, endocrinologically (hormonally), mentally, spiritually, etc)


That's a ton of stuff! Like A LOT.


When people have recommended meditation to me in recent years it is often coupled with the suggestion that I need to 'learn to do nothing' or that my hunger for production is 'the problem' I'm truly experiencing. So learning to 'sit & do nothing' is a antidote that I should try...something like meditation.


But what is 'doing nothing?' Is that a thing? Is this sitting & staring at the wall?

Aren't I doing 'nothing' when I sleep or when I stare at the TV?

I'm someone who has trouble just 'walking' to walk. I typically just want to start running. Just 'walking' actually makes me agitated unless I'm talking with a friend or headed for a destination. Not because I'm alone with my thoughts - simply because it feels like a poor use of my time (more on this later.)


**What is more hilarious is that I truly enjoy staring out a window & just 'watching' (doing nothing.) I could spend a whole 8 hours, sipping coffee & starting out the window; at people, at the ocean, at the traffic. I can get lost in my own world, inside my head for a pleasant number of hours. But I never 'tell people' that this was part of my day. When I get "Hey, what have you been up to?" I tell them all the 'something' I've being doing. Not the 'nothing' part. I think the first person I ever responded with, "I actually spent a bunch of my day starting out the window," was my current partner, just the other week, after I have spending approximately 30 years with a social life, with people to say this too.


Do we need to spend time 'doing nothing?'

Well - no. This is just the really badly written cliff notes version of what the human body actually DOES need & needs often. If you look back at the list above - those things are extremely necessary for positive & functional mental health. Those things aren't 'nothing.' But it often appears to an observer on the outside that this process is 'nothing' because to achieve a internal condition of homeostasis we need to massively gear down our minds & so our bodies are no longer in reptile brain....or monkey/squirrel brain.


Here is the very direct lesson: no one 'needs' to learn to do nothing or needs to learn how to not fill every second of their life being productive. The idea that every person who is highly productive or constantly on the move is battling some internal trauma sickness is a harsh & incorrect judgement. There ARE some people who are highly productive or like to be constantly 'on task' AND are battling some internal demons, which shows up in negative features while they are attempting to maintain productivity or motion - which can become a toxic & unhealthy mix. But those 2 things don't always reside together.


There is also the concept of doing things for the purpose of enjoyment rather than a specified outcome or output. Things like sorting buttons by colour, only to be put back in the same jar, as a soothing practice (kind of like meditation....) Even jogging, just to jog, because you like it, not because you're looking to burn calories or lose weight. Some people just like to 'tinker' or 'putter' - people who just always have a cool project on the go or are learning a new skill out of pure curiosity.


My personal experience is that my natural way of 'being' comes under scrutiny when I hit struggle & seek advice on healing or pivoting. I have a general consensus that my nature sits outside of the fat part of the bell curve - I'm a bit of an 'outlier.' My methods of life are pegged as unconventional. I enjoy a high level of productivity. I don't 'suffer' it. But when I'm in emotional turmoil - it disturbs my level of productivity (enjoyment of it, flow of it & ability to feel 'settled' at any point.) Which in turn increased my agitation with my life & my self satisfaction.


But I propose the argument that many more people could be benefiting from a movement based meditation style - but just haven't leaned in. We have conditioning in our culturescape that if you are in 'dis-ease' the solution is to slow down, rest, be gentle or take a break. But the reality is 'taking a pause' doesn't look the same for everyone. It's not the sitting meditation & doing nothing, which is the 'loudest' piece of advice. For some of us it could work better to pressure it out, get gritty & burn it out.


Hear me out.


"I feel so much better when I'm going to the gym regularly."

"Ugh - I should really get back to yoga, its such a stress release for me."

"I know I need to get outside & move my body on a daily basis to feel good."


Oh yeah?


These are comments I hear from friends, clients, family - all the time. All. The. Time.


I admit that things like cleaning the whole house, getting in a quick workout, going out for a walk, doing some dancing feels GOOD. It sure feels better than sitting on the couch ruminating, or at a desk all day doing tasks not related to whatever is bothering me. In addition, it helps me mull things over. It gives me time to process my thoughts. It allows me dedicated time & space to shift my mind. I move my mindset & my endocrine system to a whole different place when in motion.


But it also takes time. Sometimes I even get a little lost. I can get wrapped up in thoughts for hours. Gentle movement isn't the 'most effective' way for me to recalibrate or release or free my mind. I don't always 'let go' while doing the gentle things. I sure as hell don't let go & release while I am 'still.'


When I get really low, I mean really feel like emotional sludge - the more people suggest I get gentle with myself. I get told to not push so hard. I get told to back off from things. I get told to 'take some space, give myself some room.' I get told I need to 'learn' how to be more gentle with myself. I get told to not pile so much stuff on my plate; even when the things on my plate aren't what's bothering me.


When I was learning growth & recovery work, especially learning to become my genuine, aligned self - this led me astray so many times. Was I still learning the lesson of not being so hard on myself? Yes. Was I still learning to ask for help? Yes. Was I still learning to get vulnerable? Yes.


I was also still learning 'what' exactly was good for me when I needed to process, reset, drain, energize, refocus, heal, recover, hit pause, escape and what MY 'nothing' looked like.


What Meditation in Motion Looks Like

For some people - the hard walk is enough to get their mind & body to a place of peace. Some people are able to calm their mind doing the button colour sorting thing.

That's great. It's more than fine.


But for those of us who feel like a cheetah locked in a garage - the grind is the break through. You want to talk about focusing on your breath? Well when you're running a mountain - I can tell you that you think of little else than your next breath. Even a stair master where you're committed to 30 minutes & your dying at minute 25 - you are thinking of nothing except putting one foot in front of the other. Repetitive motion to focus the mind.


I take a toxic, cortisol jacked state at the bottom of a mountain & go from:


I can't believe...

Why did they have to...

What the hell am I going to do about....

It makes me so angry when....

None of this is working....

Not good enough...

I need a plan...

What is the solution...


And then the hard breath comes in.


You know what...

I'm not going to be that person...

It's more important that I...

There is a bigger picture here...

I'm just going to state my boundaries...

I don't need to hold on to this anger...

Those things aren't for me to carry...

I know who I want to be in this situation...


And then it dwindles off. The thoughts are sorted where they need to go & my mind slowly becomes silent. It becomes free. I have breathing to do.


Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

And no matter where I am on the mountain when that happens, my decent is a clear mind. It's a relaxed state.


Our North American population has some hug hurdles to overcome in the next 10-30 years. We have a growing population of ADHD/ADD & obese individuals. Specifically ones that are medicated for one, the other, or both. We're being told to sit still or find ways to be more gentle with our bodies. Neither of these practices create resilience.


What if climbing a mountain would kill you?

Start where you are at.


Bad knees? Rowing machine, stationary bike, elliptical, boxing. Anything.

Breathing restrictions? Start slow. You want to push only 10-20% past your comfort zone & slowly that zone will grow.

No access to a gym or mountains? Find a hill. Research clever ideas on the internet. Body weight exercises. Guys in solitary confinement in prison cells come out jacked. Figure it out.

Can't run? Walk up hill.

Everything fucking hurts? Swim.

Poor motivation? Join a class, enlist a accountability buddy.


If you have struggled with 'sitting meditation' or stillness - maybe it's time you considered some more aggressive methods to clear your mind. It might just be your jam.


I have found that if I haven't been doing these practices for a while, my tension & internal dysregulation or dis-ease builds up. After not boxing for 4-6 weeks, I find that first session back nearly ethereal. It's important to remember that meditation practices are meant to be done on a regular basis. This way we find that physiological state of calm, we make homeostasis more familiar & our body is able to stretch it further into a struggle zone.


Resetting our Vagus Nerve, clearing our mind, lowering our stress response, increasing our threshold for discomfort & getting back into mammal brain is necessary for building strong mental health.


It looks different for everyone. Do the work to find your way of meditating. Intentions are not as valuable as outcomes.


 

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Julia is a Holistic Health Consultant, holding a Double Diploma in Community Support & Addictions Work, is a Certified Transformation Specialist, Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach & a Lvl 2 Reiki Practitioner. She specializes in Trauma Informed Practice & Resiliency Coaching and Holistic Pregnancy & Postpartum Health Coaching. PrettyAggressiveRecovery@gmail.com 


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