You and your body

you-and-your-bodyChildren are masters of movement. They’re naturally able to allow their bodies to move in the most free, efficient ways possible.

Just watch kids race through a room, hoist themselves up, jump off of things, roll around on the floor…

Children also tend to model perfect flexibility and posture. Their bodies waste hardly any energy in all their movements.

As we age, we slowly lose these natural freedoms and abilities. I believe the reason for this gradual decline is a change in perspective that comes with adulthood, as well as related changes in habit and lifestyle.

Grownups learn to measure and account for all our time. We always feel the need to be moving toward something, or to be doing as little as possible (on purpose). Perhaps it’s this constant pull toward either being “on our way” or “vegging out” that leaves us unable to appreciate opportunities to simply experience ourselves in the world for no set time, the way children do.

Earth is much bigger than we are, so gravity pulls us steadily down toward it. Muscles meant to hold our bodies straight slowly weaken as our habits change, and we adjust to mostly sitting and to strictly moving intentionally.

Joints can misalign along with muscles, causing pain. Certain parts once flexible and free become tight like dry gum. Other parts once strong grow weak.

Moving only toward what we’ve next accounted time for causes us to shuffle and bounce around without a properly fixed center of gravity. This is wasteful, which is why I believe a strong center of gravity is essential if we want to transfer energy as efficiently as possible when we move.

Here’s how I once answered a question about where (within our bodies) a strong center of gravity should be located: “As bodies droop and misalign, things shift upward and detach. But if your center of gravity remains like an umbilical cord to your surroundings, you’ll feel as though the ground itself propels you forward, high or low. It’s the opposite of the way grownups tend to bob up and down as we walk.”

Some eastern philosophies have a concept of energy called chi (or qi, or ki). When I talk about transferring energy efficiently, and about developing a strong center of gravity that connects us to our environment, I believe I’m expressing part of what chi actually is.

We’ll take a closer look at energy transference and related ideas in the next section, The essence of martial arts.

This image shows my posture before I started practicing moving meditation:

my-posture-before-i-startedThe crooked, glowing line should be almost straight.

So, is it possible to reverse the effects of age, gravity, habit, perspective…? How?

Really, there’s no limit to the number of methods someone could use to reverse the negative effects of aging. That’s because there’s no perfect method, or at least not one that will stay perfect for anyone forever.

I’d suggest you search (and never stop searching) for the best methods that will work with your unique body in its current state—to address your specific deficits and goals.

Though some see a massive shift already taking place in society, we’re still mostly used to thinking in terms of the way things work on TV, both during and between commercials. TV commercials and paid programs (like infomercials) feature an ever-shifting selection of non-celebrities who each want to sell you their path to physical perfection. Their promise is that you, too, can be like the celebrities you see between the commercials. But to pay for enough TV time to become the ones we end up trusting and buying from, these non-celebrities inevitably have to sell a somewhat one-size-fits-all plan—a plan that caters to as large an audience as possible.

I’d say that your body is unique, due to your specific experiences, abilities, limitations, and genetics.

Yes, you could buy a mainstream plan that caters to masses, but is such a thing really still as necessary (relevant, useful…) these days?

Isn’t the same (or better) information about how to work with your own body available now for free from lots of places?

Sure, all the methods you see advertised will probably do some good if you use them. Diet books can teach you the science of optimizing and caring for your body. It never hurts to learn the facts about sedentary or overly driven lifestyles, or to hear experts’ interpretations of the research behind reversing those lifestyles. There’s a wealth of knowledge available from professionals in the field.

By all means: Join a gym or find a trainer. Go to a dietician…

My point is simply to say that your specific lifestyle has affected the unique way your individual body wants to move and operate. That’s why I believe your response should be tailored to your precise needs.

Moving meditation reveals to you how your body wants to move. You become very aware of how far you’ve slipped since childhood from a more ideal state of freedom, balance, flexibility, strength, and control.

See the Exercise and health section for more on how to work with your unique body.

As an adult in society these days, the idea of doing something completely free—with no external direction or time constraints—can feel somewhat baffling and uncomfortable. This is precisely because adults learn to account for all our time. It’s the reason we get all restless about things like make-believe. We want to play and imagine with our kids, but we find ourselves drawn to think about what must come next and by when.

Moving meditation can bring you fully into the present moment, causing the discomfort of having no structure to lose its anxious, compulsive grip. Instead of a driving concern for what must happen next, there’s a joyful, peaceful, renewed sense of focus and play that can last . . . as long as it lasts.

So, what is the “moving” part of moving meditation? What do you do, physically?

I once answered that question like this: “What comes to mind is something like a memory of stretching my legs after a long car ride, or just the way people naturally adjust their bodies and posture throughout the day. Maybe it starts with things like that?”

Without trying to be overly cryptic, I’d say moving meditation incorporates all the ways you naturally move, bend, and stretch your body.

It’s not really trying to do something with your body; it’s letting your body move the way it wants to, being present, feeling, and allowing.

Really, what you actually do becomes secondary.

Just relax, stand up, and then move around and be physical for a while.

Feel your body stretch where it’s tight and flex where it’s loose; and then do something completely different…

I find it beautiful how each individual body seems to want to move in ways as unique to the person as a fingerprint.

For me, there’s a familiar sense of freedom whenever I practice moving meditation. There’s a certain coolness to it. I find I start to feel pretty good about myself.

Should you look at your reflection while you move?

I’d answer that by saying that fun is a priority. There’s something uniquely fun about edging ever closer to pure freedom and randomness, while at the same time seeing patterns of reflexive, automatic attempts to drive or control.

Perhaps moving meditation is feeling the dichotomy between pure freedom and your natural tendencies. It involves being fully aware of (and experiencing) both at once.

As you feel yourself move, I’d suggest trying to maintain a balance of focusing on the internal as well as the external.

Eyes closed or open…

With a reflection or without…

There are no rules. That’s the whole point.

I don’t listen to music during moving meditation. Maybe I will one day, but the pace my body seems to set feels somewhat rounded. I think the way I move would probably fit with any rhythm.

Your movements might not be rounded. In fact, your experience might be completely different from mine.

Sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast or people talking or something while I’m moving.

Sometimes I move slow and sometimes fast.

The physical part of moving meditation is whatever it is, and it doesn’t come from anyone else. It’s not something to learn or improve at. It’s simply being aware and present within an arc that’s unique to you, and that could span your whole lifetime.

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