Like many people I am convinced by the benefits of meditation as described by so many studies and espoused by a range of admirable personalities.
Also like many people I have struggled to meditate. Even when I have kept a regular practice there are days when I sit to meditate and I essentially go to sleep, or repeatedly get lost in reverie.
However when I meditate standing up this is rarely the case. Subjectively I find that it takes a shorter time to settle into a deep sense of stillness, quietness and focus. I illustrate this with some EEG derived graphics below.
If your experience of seated meditation has been like mine then you may want to try what I describe below, perhaps especially if you are a frustrated ex-meditator.
What is this exercise and how can you do it?
This exercise is a single posture from Taijiquan¹ — or Tai Chi. It’s a simple posture, and does not require any knowledge of Taiji² or belief in qi or Chinese medicine or thinking to practice and benefit from.
This is a sketch of the posture. Below are some stripped down instructions for its practice. Please excuse the quality of the sketch.
- The two main postural requirements are the placement of your weight and the position of the head.
- Ideally the weight is 100% in one leg. There is the feeling of sitting slightly in the weighted leg.
- The ‘empty leg’ is free to move without any other change in the position of the hips or torso.
- The head lifts gently upwards, which pulls the spine into a vertical position. Yes this is the same as in seated meditation.
- The arm of the empty side of the body extends in line with the unweighted foot. The arm of the weighted side of the body hangs so the palm faces the elbow of the opposite hand. Honestly the hand position is not crucial. Approximately extended to the fingertips with a minimal of tension will do.
- The mental focus is to maintain this position and relax as much as possible. You can use the breath for this. With each exhale feel your weight settle into your rear leg. With each inhale check your head is still gently lifted. Allow the breath to be ample, expanding your belly as you inhale, the exhale like a long slow silent sigh.
- Change sides according to the instructions below
What you can expect
If you are seated 100% in your rear leg then your thigh muscles will be engaged. Probably your calf muscles too. You will not be able to relax these completely.
After a short time it is likely that your thigh will begin to develop a pleasant then more intense ache or burn. Your job is to keep the practice of relaxation of weight through your rear leg.
Relax on the exhale, do not let the sensation in the thigh result in tension elsewhere. This ache usually usually starts between about thirty seconds and one minute — even, sometimes especially with people who have ‘strong legs’.
When to change sides
Once you have had enough on one side change sides. There are formal ways to do this, but the key point is to change slowly, smoothly,and without fuss.
Enough is simply defined as several breaths beyond comfortable. If you like set a timer to sound every minute or two.
How many times?
Repeat this so you hold two or three times on each side. Now notice your state. You are likely to feel calm, relaxed, present and connected to the ground below you. It may well change your experience of walking too.
Below are two images of the inside of my brain as captured by a Muse eeg device. The first is a short seated meditation session. The second is a standing meditation. Obviously this is anecdotal. It’s also a little cherry picked, but not outrageously, this is fairly typical. I find the difference interesting.
I have not found any studies comparing seated meditation to these kinds of standing meditation. If you know of any or are interested in conducting one then please contact me.
It still isn’t instant!
Like any kind of meditation, this is a skill that grows with practice. The first time or so you may be caught up in whether or not you are doing it ‘correctly’.
In time you will feel that the posture is correct when you can settle more and more weight into one foot as if it flows down from the rest of your body.
If you are a dedicated meditator you may want to use this posture as a prelude to seated or other kinds of meditation
Anyway, try it out* if your interest is piqued, if you think there may be something to gain then try it. It will only take five to ten minutes.
I will be presenting at the Embodiment Conference (sharing some Chinese Martial arts ‘secrets’). It’s free and there are some amazing presenters…
Like any other physical exercise if you have the slightest doubt due to existing health conditions then consult a doctor before practicing.
¹ Parallel to the seated meditation that I have practiced I have also practiced Chinese arts such as Taijiquan for over three decades, including several years dedicated to study in the Republic of China during the early 1990s. While a great deal of this practice has a specificity that is not relevant to the lives of people who are not engaged in the study of these arts, there are also some aspects that are, which goes some way to explain their enduring popularity.
² Over the years I have made an effort to research and understand these practices from a scientific standpoint, what still ‘works’ without reference to cultural aspects that can be confusing without lengthy grounding in the original context. That does not mean there is not a great deal of interest and value in a more complete exploration of these arts.