Meditation is something that many of us will have tried; with everyone from Katy Perry to Oprah lauding its benefits, it’s hard not to be intrigued. And, I know we hear this a lot, but meditation has totally transformed my life, helping me to change from hiding behind scripts, characters and busyness in an acting career to knowing my true self and being comfortable in my own skin. But if traditional, seated meditation isn’t for you, there’s no need to assume that you can’t reap these rewards; there are many more ways of meditating than meets the eye, and it might take you a while to find the right one.
I spent years researching, training and participating in a wide array of different meditation practices: from a vipassana retreat (10 days of silence, sitting for up to 10 hours a day in meditation) to walking meditations in the desert. Each of these practices I have valued – and learnt from – in their different ways, but it wasn’t until I came across combining meditation with movement that I found a style of meditation that really worked for me.
The idea of moving meditation isn’t new; yoga, Qi Gong and t’ai chi are all forms of mindful movement that aim to create headspace and calm thought. But, for me, freeing our movement from sequences or poses is key to getting out of our heads and fully connecting to the body. It was on a trip to LA a couple of years ago that I first encountered this, attending a class taught by Scott Picard, a former gymnast and dancer. His class was centred on intuitive movement, accompanied by breath and visualisation practices. It helped me to suddenly listen to my instincts in a new way. I had been unaware that most of the movements I was making in my body were coming from my mind. I realised that my whole life, I’d been constantly thinking about, and being conscious of, how I thought I should move, instead of actually listening to what my body wanted to do naturally. It was incredibly liberating, allowing me to find a new freedom of movement that helped me to reconnect to parts of myself that I had forgotten or been ignoring.
Upon researching this topic further, I discovered that this restriction of movement is common in all of us. Before the age of two, we have thousands of movements that the body does naturally, helping us to express how we feel moment by moment. By the time we reach our adult life, this is reduced significantly because we become conscious of how we look as we move, comparing ourselves to others. A movement practice, such as Scott’s, is designed to reconnect us to that childlike freedom, where there is no judgment, no right or wrong, just an exploration into our body, strengthening the mind and body connection.
Inspired, I started to incorporate these ideas into my meditation practice, creating something which I now refer to as elemental movement meditation and share in my own classes. Each class takes a similar format, hoping to reconnect back to your body and intuition.
With eye masks on, I guide everyone into a meditative state and then the soundtrack (carefully designed in collaboration with sound designer Barney Quinton) begins. We travel through each of the elements, earth, fire, water and air, connecting with the breath and beginning to explore movement in each. As we’re all wearing eye masks, it immediately stops being a practice of comparison to the person next to you or replication of the teacher; instead, everyone can begin to explore movement in our own unique way, creating a practice of trust in ourselves and our bodies. Even just 30 minutes of this is enough to have an impact, giving you an opportunity to step away from the overthinking mind and listen to your body and breath. It can leave you feeling powerful, totally connected to yourself and calmer, both mentally and physically.
Each different kind of movement or meditation practice has its own unique benefits, all of which are useful at different times. I’d highly recommend trying as many different practices as you can until you find the one that resonates the most. However, I believe that our contemporary lifestyle presents us with different needs and challenges to those of generations past, so our choice of practice should match these changes. It is important to find a practice that allows us to both reflect inwardly to discover how we are feeling and have an external physical component to help shift our energy – rather than storing it in our bodies – which will allow us to feel fully liberated in all areas of our life.
Move your body with this mindful movement meditation exercise
Maude shares a simple movement meditation you can practice in the comfort of your home…
Find a space where you can be totally alone. Turn on some calming, sensual music, close your eyes and allow yourself to move freely. Be guided by your body and the breath rather than the mind. Take a moment to notice how you feel afterwards. It can be the most empowering feeling to switch off from the logical mind and be fully connected to your body. Take this feeling with you as you continue with the rest of your day.
Find more mindful yoga inspiration
If you want something to help you relax after dinner, then have a go at Charlene Lim’s 5 yoga poses for digestion after eating a meal.
About Maude Hirst
Maude Hirst is a yoga and meditation teacher based in London, UK. She shares knowledge about many mindfulness practices on her website (energyrise.co.uk), and also teachers classes at Re:Mind meditation studio).
This article was first published in In The Moment Magazine issue 36. Featured image by @g.banga.