Beep. The watch starts. I begin running around each perfect curve of the track; each lane precisely measured at 400 meters. The mountainous scene in the backdrop shines on this moment as I breathe and move swiftly around the circumference of the oval.
As I nail paces, my body is in complete unison and harmony with time. The seconds never move too fast, and my body never too slow. 3:46, over and over. Like a pendulum or metronome, the movement becomes second nature. It’s never easy. But there are moments it feels like a dance or work of art.
I’ve always been interested in the idea of meditation, which (from my perspective) is the practice of sheer presence, detachment of thought, and achieving a high state of awareness. I’ve read a lot about meditation and have heard many stories of its power.
In fact, this interest has led me to a handful of meditation classes over the years.
Despite my genuine interest in this phenomenon, I’ve never been able to meditate in what I’ve perceived as the “traditional sense”. During the classes, I probably achieved meditation for a minute before successfully dozing off, wondering what the person next to me was thinking, holding back farts, or attempting to refrain from spontaneous laughter. (Which are practices of their own!)
After my some valid attempts in achieving this higher state, I started thinking it wasn’t for me.
Since those classes, however, I’ve realized that my preconceived notion of meditation was quite limited. I believed it was only achievable through stillness. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Meditation can be achieved through movement. And to be honest, that’s the only way I’ve experienced it.
This past year, I experienced the power of meditation through movement. And—believe it or not—it was during track workouts! During track sessions, there is little space for your mind to wander. Intense focus merges with survival instinct, and you somehow find yourself in this narrow space between reality and dream. Trail running and yoga are other places where I’ve achieved this blissful state.
Here are a few (self-taught) things I’ve learned about meditation and movement. I hope you find them valuable!
This (in my opinion) is the make-or-breaker. Acceptance is the difference between achieving meditation or achieving inner resentment and misery. During any physical activity, there are inevitably days you’ll feel crappy and days you’ll feel amazing. In Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, he says, “Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.” I couldn’t have said it any more beautifully.
Go into your activity with an open mind and flexible expectations. The moment you start clinging to expectation or indulging in self-defeating thoughts is the moment you lose touch. As goal oriented as I am, it’s often hard to let go of my personal expectations. Consequentially, I’ve learned to formulate goals and then openly let the moment permeate and mold them.
Take notice in your breathing and physical form as you move. Are your shoulders too tense? Is your breath too shallow? Is your core tight and engaged? Are your jaws clenched? Sometimes even the smallest shifts can make the world of difference. Take notice of how your body moves in space and aim for relaxation and strength. When I am running, I love the thinking of the analogy of a peaceful warrior.
Balance between difficulty and manageability:
I typically achieve meditation when the movement requires full attention, but isn’t too difficult. Trail running, rock climbing, yoga, track workouts, dancing, slack-lining, and tai chi are some of the few I can think of that require focus, but aren’t too taxing. Aim to strike a balance between difficulty and manageability so you aren’t too comfortable or too strained. This is where the flow and rhythm begins.
Buddhist texts suggest that Buddha meditated under a Bodhi tree for 49 days. It is also believed that Jesus went to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights to fast and pray. In today’s fast paced society, both dudes might’ve been considered crazy for these practices. But I think they were on to something. Heck, maybe Jesus was running through the desert. Maybe Buddha threw in some tai chi under his tree. 😉
Don’t feel bad about doing activities that center your mind and refresh you.