The Complete Guide to Active Meditation Techniques for People Who Can’t Sit Still

Brad Buzzard
Aug 22, 2017 · 24 min read
Photo: Unsplash
Table of Contents
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Why Active Meditation?

For years, I tried and failed to get into meditation. It didn’t matter how many friends recommended it, how many guided meditation apps I tried, or how many benefits I read about.

I just don’t like sitting still. The most popular form of meditation—sitting and focusing on your breath—never stuck.

There are many people like me. This guide is meant as an alternative. If you don’t like sitting still, there are many active approaches that achieve similar results.

Think of meditation as a practice with three benefits: calm, focus, and awareness. Some of the exercises below train all three — just like a traditional seated breath-based meditation. Some train just one. In each exercise, I’ll call out what benefits you should expect.

By far, the most common benefit of these exercises is calm. That benefit can come in two ways: One is the physical sense of calm. The other is a mental state, where you stop thinking about the past or the future and are simply present in the current moment.

Additionally, I’ll focus on exercises that are simple enough for you to try on your own at home. I left out yoga, martial arts, and tai chi. These are all well-known arts that promote or are informed by meditative-like states, but I believe they are best learned with an instructor.

This guide starts with breathing exercises. These are the simplest and are the foundation of most meditation practices.

Part I: Breathing

Breathing correctly helps you move out pain, sparkles you up, and gives you better thinking power. Sound enticing? You just have to change the most automatic habit in your life — your breathing. — Ana T. Forrest, Fierce Medicine

Breathing techniques are the heart of many mindfulness meditation practices.

Interestingly enough, many tai chi instructors (called sifus) discourage focusing on the breath lest it distract you from focusing on the fundamentals of the movements.

I tend to agree. If we haven’t mastered proper breathing techniques, how can we be expected to learn a complex set of movements at the same time? Start by mastering breathing so you don’t have to think about it when you try other techniques.

These aren’t just any breathing techniques: They involve the use of tools and/or specific physical execution — elements that, in my opinion, make these techniques more active.

Disclaimer: If you have any medical conditions, please consult your doctor before undertaking a program of this sort. These exercises are safe if done properly and with awareness of your own limitations. Only perform the exercises at a level that feels comfortable, and stop if you begin to feel uncomfortable or light-headed. It isn’t a race, so progress at your own pace. And please, don’t do these exercises in water — two people recently drowned practicing some Wim Hof breathing techniques.

Yoga Method to Breathe Deeply

The bedrock teaching of my yoga teacher Ana Forrest—a spirited and accomplished healer, teacher, and yoga innovator—is deep breathing, and rightfully so.

This is how Forrest teaches deep breathing in her inspirational and confronting memoir/yoga manual, Fierce Medicine (paraphrased):

  • Stand up straight, feet parallel.
  • Tuck your tailbone down by turning on your buttock muscles.
  • Pull in the lower belly from the navel down.
  • Inhale deeply, expanding your ribs sideways.
  • On the exhale, pull the belly in and reach the tailbone toward the heels.

Expanding the ribs is a helpful concept. The ribs wrap all the way around your torso, and each individual rib is separated from the one above it with expandable intercostal muscles. The ribs expand in every direction each time you breathe.

When taking a deep breath, we intuitively know that our ribs can expand upward and out. (We often puff out our chest when taking a deep breath.) By putting your hand on the sides or back of your ribs and feeling for that expansion in all directions, you will begin to see your true capacity for optimizing oxygen intake.

At minimum, this action should produce a feeling of physical calm. But the most important goal of this exercise is to understand what deep breathing feels like up and down your torso. You’ll use this skill in other exercises.

POWERbreathe and Similar Tools for Deep Breathing

I always had a hard time following Forrest’s yoga breathing techniques as a stand-alone exercise, for the same reason that I have a hard time meditating.

I find it difficult to engage in any activity that doesn’t require dynamic bodily movement or mental exertion, or that doesn’t make use of some functional tool to help me direct my energies.

Enter POWERbreathe Plus:

POWERbreathe Plus, medium-resistance model.

POWERbreathe Plus is a respiratory trainer marketed to athletes, singers, and some asthma patients. But it works just as well for our purposes.

The device has a mouthpiece that slips between the gums and lips, creating a snorkel-like fit within the mouth. At its lowest setting, you can breathe in and out through your mouth with what feels like just slightly more effort than normal breathing. As you train with this device, you gradually adjust the difficulty knob.

POWERBreathe sells light-, medium-, and heavy-resistance versions, each with 10 resistance settings. I have and recommend medium-resistance. With this version, the first difficulty level is very easy, and the max difficulty level is extremely difficult. I can’t imagine needing to upgrade to the heavy version for any reason. If you have breathing problems, you may need the light version (but in this case, please see a doctor first).

The device I have retails for around $70, but you can find similar devices, such as the Expand-A-Lung, for around $30.

Additionally, if you don’t want to spend any money, you can create a fist with your hand and cover your mouth with the thumb side.

Place this side of your fist up to your mouth.

Training with this device is simple. Just place it in your mouth and do the deep-breathing exercise in the above yoga technique, breathing in through your mouth and out from your nose. Start at the lowest resistance level and move up as your lungs get stronger.

The POWERbreathe instructions tell you to breathe in quickly and powerfully, exhale completely, and repeat for 30 breaths. When you can do this 30 times, you can move up to the next level of resistance.

I prefer to breathe slowly instead of quickly and powerfully, and I don’t bother with the 30-breath count. I just breathe in and out slowly and completely and repeat until I feel like quitting. Either approach can work well depending on your goals. The quick-and-powerful 30 breaths are good if you want an athletic, oxygen-increasing, lung-expanding exercise. For a meditative-like practice, I prefer a more deliberate and open-ended session.

That’s the beauty of this device: Even when you aren’t using it for a meditative-like practice, you can still use it to practice better breathing.

Depending on your level of focus, you can use it to get in a full meditative-like session by simply standing and breathing. At the less-focused, level, I’ll sometimes pop it into my mouth while I do housework. That doesn’t help me build awareness or focus, but it does help me achieve a sense of calm.

Sandbag Breathing

If you follow any sort of yoga or meditation literature, you’ve probably heard of belly breathing. Belly breathing means you begin your in-breath by expanding your belly so you can see it pushing outward. As you continue to breathe in, you can slowly move the breath into the chest, but you have to start with the belly.

The diaphragm is a large sheath-like muscle that sits below the lungs. When the lungs expand, they naturally push the diaphragm downward, which in turn pushes the belly out.

Practicing belly breathing can feel unnatural at first. Despite the natural inclination of our breathing apparatus, it is common in our highly stimulating culture for people to breathe more rapidly with the chest puffed out and the belly pulled in.

As with deep breathing, it can be difficult to remember to practice without some sort of visceral reminder.

That’s where sandbag breathing comes in.

In the book Science of Breath, co-author Swami Rama explains the steps involved in sandbag breathing. But first you’ll need a sandbag. You know those weighted bags you can buy at a sporting goods shop that you strap around your wrists or ankles to add weight to your workouts? That’s what you’ll need.

The straps aren’t necessary for our purposes, so if you can sew and have access to sand, you can make your own bag. It’s basically just a small sand pillow. Swami Rama suggests starting out with a five-pound (2.3-kilogram) bag and increasing the weight as you get better at the exercise, and never exceed 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms). Or even more simply, use two large cookbooks.

Here’s how to do this exercise:

  • Lie on your back and relax.
  • Place the sandbag (or other weight) on your abdomen.
  • Perform the belly breathing as described above, lifting the sandbag with your belly as you breathe.
  • After you have filled up the belly area with breath, continue by filling up the chest area.
  • Allow the weight to make the exhale effortless.
  • Remove the weight after three to five minutes and relax.

What I like about this exercise is that the weight on my belly is extremely tactile. I can’t help but focus on the weight and direct it up and down with my breath.

Sometimes I’ll do a few rounds of this practice as described, and then leave the weight on for a while longer while I read a book. It never hurts to practice breathing techniques even if you’re not always doing it as an all-out meditation.

Pranayama Exercise for Energy : Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire)

According to Swami Rama, pranayama is a Sanskrit word that means the expansion or manifestation of the first unit of energy.

In laypeople’s terms, pranayama is composed of a set of breathing exercises that each use different breathing patterns and physical manipulations of the breathing organs to achieve different psychophysiological results.

A 2008 Nepalese study on the effects of two particular forms of pranayama demonstrated that regular practice of these exercises resulted in a significant decrease in pulse rate, respiratory rate, and diastolic blood pressure and an increase in parasympathetic activity.

Many different exercises make up the compendium of pranayama (Wikipedia lists 24), but I will include just three here, starting with Kapalabhati.

Kapalabhati is also known as “Breath of Fire,” because it ignites a “fire in the belly.” In fact, you’ll get a decent ab workout in addition to the breathing aspect. Here’s how to perform Breath of Fire:

  • Sit straight and tall in a cross-legged position or on your meditation bench.
  • Take a normal inhale breath.
  • Exhale a small amount of air forcefully through your nose. Pull your lower abs in with each exhale, as if you were pushing the air out with your abs.
  • Allow the inhale to occur on its own as a natural rebound from the exhale.
  • Repeat for 20 rounds. It feels almost like panting, but more controlled. Pay attention to how you feel. You don’t want to get light-headed; if you do, stop and breathe normally.
  • Build up to 100 rounds if your practice allows. You’ll also want to increase the rapidity of the breath, but you can start out at whatever pace allows you to get the hang of it.

This is my favorite video tutorial for Breath of Fire:

If you like this exercise, I’d recommend heading looking into the techniques of Wim Hof. He has applied similar exercises to feats of strength like overcoming cold (he climbed Mount Everest shirtless) or pushups (try doing a max set of pushups after this exercise — you may set a personal best).

Pranayama Exercise for Calming: Bhramari (Bee Breathing)

I use this simplified exercise, which I originally read about in the book Science of Breath. As the name says, this exercise should produce a feeling of calm.

  • Sit straight and tall in a cross-legged position or on your meditation bench.
  • Inhale completely through both nostrils.
  • As you exhale, produce the humming sound of a bee. (Bonus points if you’re audacious enough to do this in public!)
  • Repeat for two to three minutes, making sure the inhales and the hummed exhales are deep, even, and regular.
  • That’s it!

Here is my favorite video tutorial for Bee Breathing:

She plugs her ears with her fingers, but that is optional.

Pranayama Exercise for Centering: Sitali (Hissing Breath)

I find Sitali to be quite calming as well, but in a different sort of way than I experience with Bee Breathing. Sitali adds an element of alertness. I describe it as feeling centered.

This is a simplified adaptation from the book Science of Breath.

  • Sit straight and tall in a cross-legged position or on your meditation bench.
  • Stick out your tongue and curl the sides into a taco shape. If you can’t curl your tongue, form your mouth into a small “o” shape.
  • Inhale, making a hissing sound. Your breath will feel cool.
  • Exhale completely through both nostrils.
  • Repeat three times.

Here is my favorite video tutorial on Sitali:

A Final Word on Breathing

I hope you gained some benefit from these breathing techniques. Control over the breath truly is one of the major factors in achieving a healthy lifestyle and cultivating more presence in your life.

If you are someone who is active by nature, you will find that these exercises give you just enough stimulation to enticed you to continue. And if you practice these techniques regularly, you’ll find yourself feeling much more centered.

Part II: Stream of Consciousness

Consciousness…is nothing jointed; it flows. A “river” or a “stream” are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life. — William James, The Principles of Psychology

I can see where William James is going with his idea about a “stream” of consciousness, but sometimes my thoughts behave more like a raging whirlpool, attacking from all directions, or a flash flood, spilling its banks and creating a trail of destruction.

A key tenet of many meditation practices is to allow your thoughts to course like a stream. As a thought floats by, your job is to recognize that you had a thought, and then to let that thought continue to flow past you without giving it permission to consume you.

You’re not stopping your thoughts, nor are you allowing them to rampage through your mind. You’re letting them flow.

Stream-of-consciousness writing may be the perfect tool to train your mind to behave more like the meandering stream and less like a whirlpool or dried-up creek bed.

Wikipedia describes the stream-of-consciousness narrative style as “a narrative device that attempts to give the written equivalent of the character’s thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue…or in connection to his or her actions.”

Because writing allows for only one word to go onto the page at a time, it is almost impossible for your thoughts to take any other fluid form besides a stream.

In the following exercises, I recommend starting by reading the stream of consciousness prose of others. It’s an exercise few people have considered, but it’s good prep for entering a stream of consciousness.

Stream-of-Consciousness Reading

Stream of consciousness as an accepted narrative structure has been around since the late 19th century. There are dozens of well-known stream-of-consciousness writers, including Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Jack Kerouac. Each takes a slightly different approach.

Some works contain an actual plot, others can be quite complex and include obscure references, and still others are less structured and simply provide a snapshot of a moment in time.

The purpose of this exercise is not to burden yourself with a massive novel or complex plot, so I recommend you start with Jack Kerouac. His novel Dharma Bums is a perfect example: It follows the narrator and his friends as they explore nature, Buddhism, solitude, and consciousness (similar to what we’re doing here).

When you read a book like this, you don’t have the opportunity to think about what you just read or anticipate what you’re about to read next. There really is no other way to read the book other than to focus on the present moment of the sentence that’s directly in front of you.

The flow of thoughts are so unexpected and the sentence structures so tangled (a single sentence can span a whole page or more) that you sometimes can’t take any meaning from it unless you maintain personal presence the entire time.

Here are some tips:

  • Before you start, take a deep breath to clear your head.
  • Read deliberately. You want to focus on what you are reading, but you also want to remain relaxed and open to the writer’s tangents and unconventional trains of thought.
  • Don’t reread anything that you missed or didn’t understand. Just notice when your mind has wandered off, then regain your focus and keep reading. With Jack Kerouac in particular, you don’t really need to know what came before in the narrative, because his books tends to be just a series of events happening one after the other.
  • Do go back and reread passages that you liked or those where you were really able to sense the flow of the writer’s thoughts. Record what it feels like to be in that flow.
  • Once you get the hang of it, try to get a feel for the pacing of the writer’s thoughts. Because these are thoughts (and related actions), they can speed up, slow down, remain steady, build toward a crescendo, and everything in between. It can be fun to experience the roller coaster of someone else’s thought patterns, especially if you can capture the flow.

Here is a passage from Dharma Bums to get you started:

The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify by their own lonesome familiarities to this feeling. Ecstasy, even, I felt, with flashes of sudden remembrance, and feeling sweaty and drowsy I felt like sleeping and dreaming in the grass.

Morning Pages Stream-of-Consciousness Writing

The most common version of stream-of-consciousness journaling comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.

The instructions are to write three pages freehand. Write in a stream of consciousness, capturing whatever thoughts come into your head. For most people, this takes about 30 minutes.

Many of the additional instructions focus on trying to help you avoid censoring or critiquing your writing. For example, Cameron recommends not going back to reread your journals, because that prompts many people to try to write things that would be worth rereading later.

My experience with the Morning Pages exercise has been unbelievable. It basically amounts to a morning brain dump that allows me to expel everything out of my head before the day even starts: the day’s obligations, my anxieties, nonsensical thoughts that seem to always be bouncing around up there, my dreams from the night before.

The chief benefit I’ve experienced through this exercise has been gaining clarity around life challenges I’ve been anxious about. By writing down anything and everything that my mind invents about a specific challenge (in real time and without censorship), I miraculously gain clarity.

I suspect that the power of Morning Pages lies in the fact that writing down these thoughts makes them solid and tangible. There’s no need to rethink them, because they’re right there in my notebook.

Must you write by hand? Cameron says yes:

When we write by hand, we connect to ourselves. We may get speed and distance when we type, but we get a truer connection — to ourselves and our deepest thoughts — when we actually put pen to page.

However, there is an entire community of online stream-of-consciousness journalers who use the tool 750 Words. The tool’s creator, Buster Benson, sums up the experience in his post “Better Than Meditation”:

The act of typing serves as a hand rail on our thoughts, and occupies a certain part of the brain that generally gets restless and looks for something to do, because it’s already doing something: typing. Disabling that restless squirrel in your brain is the reason why activities like walking, showering, doing the dishes, gardening, etc are all such great activities for stirring up creative thoughts. Free writing has the added benefit of providing a tangible trail of thoughts as they rise up. You’re essentially hitching your subconscious directly to your typing fingers.

The emphasis comes from me. The entire thing that drove me to active meditation was that I got too restless in traditional meditation. So if you get restless doing by-hand journaling, don’t feel bad about trying a tool like 750 Words. The most important thing is that you do something.

“I Am Aware” Partner Exercise

This exercise came from Tony Stubblebine, who edits the publication that published this article in Better Humans. He got it from Will Kabat-Zinn, who teaches mindfulness and meditation at Spirit Rock. And on many occasions, Will has stopped into the Medium offices to teach meditation to the team. So, it’s a very insider technique that I couldn’t find an external reference for.

But it’s powerful, so I’m including it.

The gist is to sit with a partner. One of you talks, stream-of-consciousness style, while the other listens. The listener doesn’t say anything and tries not to react. It’s not a huge problem if the listener does react — the listener should just know that reacting isn’t the point.

The speaker catalogs the thoughts that come into their head, speaking each thought out loud.

Here’s the key part: The speaker has to frame each thought as a complete sentence that begins “I am aware….”

The speaker might notice thoughts like the color of the listener’s hair or the temperature, that the speaker is having thoughts about how to respond to a particular email, that they are plotting what to have for lunch, that they have an itch.

If you read the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which catalogs your decision-making process into two systems—a fast but emotional system and a rational but slow system—you’ll understand the value of this exercise. Framing each thought in a grammatically correct sentence basically guarantees that your rational mind has become fully aware of the thought.

Some of the other articles in Better Humans point to this type of awareness practice as a potential cure for things like procrastination.

Theoretically, you could practice this exercise by yourself. But the paired nature is what makes it active enough that someone like me doesn’t get bored. Once you’re done speaking, trade places and be the listener.

Part III: Other Exercises

Stargazing

When I heard the learn’d astronomer, When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them, When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

—Walt Whitman, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

This poem by Walt Whitman deftly dispels the notion that we can only appreciate something if we study it. While the astronomer was busy identifying stars and mapping their trajectories, Whitman was content to bask in the stars’ beauty as he experienced them in that moment.

In this exercise, you will be playing the role of Walt Whitman and using the night sky to cultivate a sense of presence.

This does mean you will need to be somewhere outside of a city, away from man-made light, and ideally when the moon is low.

This might be difficult for some people, but if you put a little effort into it, I’m sure you can find somewhere within driving distance that could work. Just Google “stargazing [your city]” and something will come up.

Otherwise, many cities have planetariums that reproduce the night sky in a large dome-shaped room. See if there is one near you.

If neither of those options work, you can recreate the night sky at home with one of these home planetariums.

Here’s how to do the stargazing exercise:

  • Lie on your back and look up at the sky.
  • Take a few deep breaths to calm your mind. Use the belly breathing exercise we discussed earlier (without the weights, of course).
  • Gaze up at the night sky, and let your eyes move where they will. Depending how many stars are visible, you may be quite overwhelmed. Just relax and let the light enter your eyes.
  • You may be tempted to pick out constellations and let your thinking and “labeling” mind take over. It’s okay if that happens, but try to let your eyes do all the work; let them be drawn to whatever catches their attention. Spend a few minutes letting the eyes move where they will.
  • As you continue to gaze, you will start to notice patterns. You will inevitably notice constellations and star clusters. If you find a section of the sky that catches your attention, bring your focus to that part of the sky. Focus narrowly on your constellation or star cluster, seeing it both as a uniform whole and as individual stars making up the whole.
  • Staying fixated on your section of the sky, start to slowly expand your focus to include a wider area around your pattern. How does it fit in with the sky around it?
  • Look around at the entire sky again. Notice how some stars are brighter than others. Notice how some seem to twinkle rapidly, while others seem to be more solid.
  • Have you seen any comets? If there are enough stars in the sky, you will almost always see a comet. The trick is not to search for them. Look up again and try to widen your focus as much as possible, but stay relaxed. I see comets more often when I am observing the sky as a whole, rather than when I dart my eyes around trying to “catch” one.

With the right sky, this practice almost takes care of itself. The sheer natural beauty and awe-inspiring wonder of an infinite universe will capture your attention whether you want it to or not.

The key is to relax and enjoy the moment. Don’t worry about how you plan to store the experience in your memory banks or how you plan to write it down, draw it out, or capture it on camera.

Coloring

You’ve probably all seen those coloring books for adults. You know, the ones with intricate patterns in black and white that are meant to be filled in with colored pencils? They’ve really taken off in the past few years, and with good reason. Studies show that exercises like coloring help cultivate relaxation and reduce stress.

In the following exercise, we aren’t going to buy a coloring book, but we are going to choose our own images to fill in with color. I got this idea when I was in a New Age shop talking to the clerk about tarot cards. While I don’t consider myself superstitious, I do enjoy reading about different esoteric frameworks people have used to describe human behavior.

The clerk suggested I photocopy the cards in black and white, and then mindfully color them in myself, letting the cards speak to me in their own way.

I thought this was a cool way to practice presence while also learning about the stories, myths, and other sociological representations a particular image might convey.

Before we start coloring, it’s important to find artwork that resonates with you. You can just do a Google image search and filter for black-and-white images.

Examples include:

  • Children’s books: Do a Google image search for your favorite children’s book: Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Where the Wild Things Are, and anything by Shel Silverstein are all great options.
  • Human anatomy: If you have any aches or pains, this can be a wonderful way to learn about the area of the body that is causing you discomfort. Do a black-and-white image search for “muscles of the jaw” or “joints of the knee.” If you really want to learn about the whole body, here is a comprehensive coloring book that will only cost you about $15.
  • Tarot cards: These aren’t all necessarily stuffy depictions of medieval kings, queens, chariots, and the like. Lots of people out there are creating their own decks out of anything and everything that inspires them. I like this nature-inspired deck. Salvador Dali created a deck of his own, if you want that surrealist flavor.
  • Paintings: Anything that resonates with you is perfect, but some ideas include impressionists like Van Gogh or Monet or surrealists like Dali. Another great option is Aboriginal art from Australia—the simple yet rich natural patterns make it easy to stay within the lines, and you get to put yourself into the psyche of perhaps the world’s oldest-living distinct culture.

Once you have artwork you like:

  • Print the art.
  • Sit down with a collection of sharpened colored pencils.
  • Take a few deep breaths to calm your mind.
  • Remind yourself why you chose the art you chose and what you hope to learn from it.
  • Start coloring. Don’t judge yourself or try to be perfect. The coloring doesn’t have to be realistic or follow the exact color scheme as the original. Let the art speak to you, and just color.

Here are some questions you may want to keep in the back of your mind while you color. Presence is key, but it doesn’t hurt to dig a little deeper into your mind and learn something about yourself in the process.

  • As you color, continue to breathe and ask yourself what the artwork is trying to teach you. What message do you think the artist was trying to convey? Do you agree with the artist’s assessment, or do you have alternate interpretations?
  • If you’re coloring from a children’s book, is it one that you read as a child? Does it have a special place in your heart? What is it about the art that spoke to you then? Can you recall those feelings? If it had a major impact on you as a child, did you heed its advice? Why or why not? Can you place yourself into the mind of the child you were when you first read this book or viewed this artwork? What is the artwork telling you now?
  • If it’s human anatomy, are you coloring in an area of the body where you are currently experiencing discomfort? Direct your breath into that area of your body. Feel for the bodily sensations of each muscle as you color it in. Have you identified the exact muscle, ligament, or tendon that is causing you problems? Continue to breathe.
  • When you are done, take a few minutes to look at your picture. Take it all in as a whole. What do the colors you chose tell you about your feelings toward the artwork? Are they strong, fiery colors? Neutral, muted colors? Cooling colors? Does your color scheme represent how you see things currently, or do they represent your ideal version of how things should be? Maybe there’s not much more to it than the fact that you are proud of yourself for coloring a pretty picture. There are no right or wrong answers.

Osho Dynamic Meditation

When you heard the phrase “active meditation,” maybe you thought most of the exercises would have more movement. If so, this is the exercise for you.

The Osho version of dynamic meditation originated in meditation camps in the 1970s. However, there is a tradition of similar methods that go back centuries—for example, the Whirling Dervish of the Middle East.

The Osho practice is done as a five-stage active meditation to music. The major focus is presence — dropping all planning and future thinking to just be present in your present movements.

The five stages according to ActiveMeditation.com.

In the official version of this meditation, you spend 10 minutes in each of the first three stages and 15 minutes in each of the final two stages. A music playlist, like this one, helps you know when to move to the next stage.

I’ve found that you can do a simplified version of this practice on your own in as little as five minutes. These stages help me get over self-consciousness and help put me in the present moment.

  1. Breathing: Focus on deep and chaotic breathing. In a lot of meditations, your breathing becomes consistent and rhythmic. Don’t let that happen in this stage.
  2. Play: Move playfully and without repetition. Try to avoid forming patterns, and just let your body move however it wants to. This is a physical manifestation of stream of consciousness.
  3. Jumping: Put your arms above your head and jump up and down while shouting “Hoo!”
  4. Freeze: Whatever position you are in, stay there.
  5. Celebrate: Start dancing again in your most celebratory way.

The official Osho site offers extremely thorough resources and tutorials, but I found this short video to be a quick and helpful resource for getting started:

Conclusions and Next Steps

Well, there you have it: a list of exercises that will put you on a path toward presence, calm, and awareness and will hopefully be more effective than simply sitting still.

It is true that I regularly mention the importance of “taking a deep breath” or “continuing to breathe through the exercise,” even during exercises that aren’t explicitly related to the breath.

Breathing truly is one of the most important functions of the body, and it is our most accessible tool to calm ourselves naturally.

That is why I would suggest starting first with the breathing exercises, and then incorporating the other exercises when you are ready.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Brad Buzzard

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Exploring the funky side of self-evolution.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.