It took me by surprise when, during my yoga teacher training, our instructor told us we’d be meditating -- while hiking one of the most scenic trails in San Diego.
For some, the thought of meditation conjures up sitting still in a silent room, while desperately trying to shut out the sounds and stresses of the outside world.
I once had such preconceived notions myself, but quickly realized that meditation and moving the body actually go seamlessly hand-in-hand -- especially when that time is spent in nature. Actually, meditation is most succinctly defined as the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind. Or in other words, ending the “mind chatter” that draws us away from the present moment.
The sounds, sights and visceral experiences associated with things like gliding along a wave, feeling the wind and sun against your face along a trail, or the rhythmic pump of your legs while biking, impeccably lend themselves to clearing the mind of that endless circle of thoughts we’ve been programmed with.
You’ve most likely already experienced moving meditation -- even if you weren’t aware of it -- in moments where you are completely tied to the present task or activity at hand.
Once you’ve noticed these nuances, you’ll start to condition your mind to go into this mode effortlessly, even in situations you may have thought of as inopportune. Just because you’re slowing your mind down, doesn’t mean your body has to follow suit. Any adventure can be a moving meditation, if you approach it with the proper mindset.
Here, a few tips to get you started.
Try not to focus on “not thinking”
Most people think they are bad at meditation because they believe that to meditate is to stop all thoughts from popping into one’s head. That’s not -- and never will be -- the reality. Thoughts will always be present, but meditation is about focusing on increasing the “white space” between these thoughts.
There are many different ways to meditate, and the key is to find the way that’s best for you.
Instead of trying to block all thoughts completely, try imagining your thoughts as clouds in the sky. Each time a new one comes into “view,” acknowledge it (don’t give it a label one way or the other) and then without dwelling on it, simply let the thought slide out of your mind.
Try to place your focus on your breath, the sound of the waves or birds chirping, or even your footsteps as they hit the path -- one step, then the next. See if that can be your new internal monologue.
Go easy on yourself
It’s normal for athletes or anyone who lives an active lifestyle to feel the need to push themselves to the next level. Competitiveness is part of human nature and a part of the sports we surround ourselves with.
If you usually run a six-minute mile, try to slow it down. Instead of focusing on your expectations and the physical demands, try to just enjoy doing what you love and hone in on the relaxation that comes from it.
Give yourself permission to learn this new way of experiencing something you do every day, whether that be surfing your go-to spot or your daily walk to work. Changing the way you approach activities creates a new muscle memory, and makes it that much easier the next time around.
It’s called a practice for a reason
It helps to remember that everyone has to start somewhere, and if you don’t have moving meditation mastered on the first try -- that’s okay. You will most likely fall in and out of your meditation depending on how your day is going, how much sleep you’ve had, and the list goes on and on.
Realizing that this isn’t something you master, but rather an ongoing practice to improve your mind-body connection, is key. Think of it as a personal challenge to get into this meditative mindset more often, as a way to add even more benefits to your next workout, surf session or any outdoor activity.
In today’s busy world, getting outdoors and enjoying nature is a calming experience on its own. Tapping into quieting your thoughts and truly connecting to the present moment will only take that effect to the next level.
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