Movement practice is a great opportunity to inhabit the body and explore what we are capable of (or not) in this very moment. Usually we move with a particular purpose in mind—to get from A to B, to become more flexible or burn calories, or perhaps to swim or run a particular distance. Mindful movement practice provides the chance to let go of striving and instead settle into where we are in the moment. When we practice “beginner’s mind” we become open to the possibilities of this moment, regardless of how we “performed” previously.
The instructions below are for a walking practice, but the same principles can be applied to any other activity, such as running, swimming, or more traditional meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi, and qi qong.
When doing an activity as a mindfulness practice, experiment with the breath. Notice your relationship to it: are you holding it? Does it feel quick and panicky? Explore the “edge” (that place that feels as if you have reached your limit) with your breath. Pay particular attention to the out-breath and noticing how the body softens as you breathe out. Remember always to take care of yourself, never push through pain, and respect the limits of your body.
You can do a Mindful Movement practice at home—inside or out—and if it feels okay you can experiment with doing it barefoot. All you need is a short distance to walk up and down or in a circle.
1. Begin by making an intention to walk mindfully, that is, intentionally become aware of your experience as it arises, without judging.
2. If you can, take a moment to stand still and connect with the sensations of your feet in contact with the ground. Then form the intention to begin peeling your left heel off the ground, noticing how you feel as the foot lifts, shifts, and then is placed on the ground as you take a step.
3. Then, taking your attention to the opposite foot, begin peeling the heel off the ground, lifting, shifting, placing…
4. Continue in this way, at first keeping your attention focused on the feet on the floor (bringing your attention back whenever it wanders).
5. Experiment with walking at different speeds. If you are walking very slowly you might prefer to do this in the privacy of your home to avoid raising comment with friends or neighbors!
6. From time to time, widen your beam of awareness to include the whole body, becoming aware of sensations within the body and perhaps the environment around you: sights, sounds, and smells.
7. You may also like to stop and stand still occasionally and notice what that feels like in the body.
8. Be curious about the experience of walking.
9. Let go of any agenda, goal, or seeking a particular outcome. Simply be with the experience as it is.
You can transform any walking you might do in your daily life into an opportunity to practice. The only reason we walk slower than usual in the formal walking practice is to remind ourselves that we are walking in a different way. When doing walking practice in our everyday life, the challenge is to walk without calling attention to ourselves and yet remember that we are walking as practice. Try it, and see what happens. Experiment with doing it slowly in the privacy of your home and then faster, out in the wider world. What happens to your attention? What do you notice?
When we feel agitated and anxious, sitting still can be too big a challenge. At such times Mindful Movement practice can be particularly helpful, either as a standalone practice or as a precursor to sitting practice.