For various reasons, some people are put off by the idea of sitting meditation. Luckily, practicing meditation can be done walking, standing, and lying down as well as sitting. I saw this first hand at a weekend retreat at the Lighthouse Mindfulness Retreat Center near my secondary school in Thailand.
The center taught several mindful movement practices:
- Turning your hand over and then back.
- A series of raising and lowering the arms and hands while touching the stomach and heart areas.
- Walking meditation
These movement-based meditation techniques came from the teacher’s life history. In his mid twenties, he had a diving accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. After a long stretch of anger, depression, and denial, he accepted this reality and decided to make the rest of his life valuable. He started meditating and listening to Buddhist talks. The methods he was trying to use weren’t helpful because sitting upright was painful for him. He eventually found a teacher who offered a very accessible mindfulness practice: movement with complete awareness. (We do the same in the Zen tradition)
He experimented with this approach and explored his limited mobility to see how he could apply it. His right arm regained sensation so he started just moving his right hand. When that became tiring, he moved his eyebrows and his eyes. Tilting his head was a valuable meditation practice. Then he started mindfully moving his arm different ways and a bit quicker to prevent drowsiness from taking over his practice. This personalized practice helped him gain insights into how we are more than just our bodies, thoughts, and feelings. He gained much more than just temporarily relief from his pain.
I see three important takeaways from this story:
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation does not necessarily mean sitting for hours on end.
- Mindfulness and meditation can be done by anyone – period.
- Having an effective practice means being honest about your capabilities and tailoring your mindfulness/meditation to them.
I’ve included some pictures from the center below. It was certainly a peaceful, refreshing place to spend the weekend.