Religion & Culture | Standing and walking meditation - Ancient practices to restore health
Most meditative postures are sourced from the East, the most popular being the lotus pose. The 'lotus', as it is popularly called, requires some degree of flexibility as the practitioner is required to sit on the floor with legs interlocked.
In cultures such as India, this position is adopted from an early age when dining, or in other social settings, allowing the hip flexors to easily accommodate a range of positions.
In our attempt to imitate eastern traditions and appear authentic, we are sometimes overly concerned with the physical aspect of meditation. Moreover, we struggle with the lotus, bearing discomfort while we compromise the internal benefits of the meditation.
It is always better to adopt the most natural of postures so that we are not distracted by the cries of the body, and that we are able to focus on our principal energy centre, that is located an inch below the navel. This explains why many teachers advocate moving or standing meditation.
Taoists have hailed the standing meditation, also called Zhan Zhuang, as the best method of strengthening our muscular-skeletal frame.
Effortless and Non-taxing
Initially, our arms may tire quickly, but after several rounds of practise, standing meditation becomes effortless and non-taxing. More important, we are practising a unique form of self -healing. It is not uncommon for Taoist monks to perform Zhan Zhuang for hours at a time.
'Zhan' means to stand without motion, while 'zhuang' represents a foundation.
While it can be gruelling for the neophyte who might only see in it a physical challenge, the seasoned practitioner reaps far more benefits, due to knowledge and understanding of the human body.
Taoist masters have credited standing meditation with enhancing balance, coordination, muscular explosiveness, speed, concentrative power and sensitivity.
Of the physiological benefits of standing meditation or Zhan Zhuang, Master Wang Xiangzhai states: "(Zhan Zhuang) is a form of cultivating health, kind of a basic exercise of internal training. Because the posture conforms to the physiology of the human body, the nervous system is resting and is being positively regulated at the same time the body is trained, and the goal of cultivating health and healing is achieved."
Master instructor Chen Youze added, "The heart is a strong muscle that provides all the blood to the entire body. Deep postures stress the body in a good way to make it stronger and increase blood flow ... running or other exercises do the same thing but stress the heart.
"Work and life also stress the heart. If we are doing exercises that stress the heart and have life stress, the heart never gets to relax. Standing meditation strengthens the body without stressing it." (Source: www.taichibasics.com)
Walking meditation, usually associated with Buddhism is also a natural way to steady the unruly mind and attain good health.
Performed outdoors, the individual turns the attention inward, to the body and its movements. There is a natural rhythm and cadence to walking. The practitioner breathes naturally becoming aware of, and following the movements of the hands and feet.
At least 40 minutes of walking meditation is an excellent way to practise mindfulness or being aware of oneself in the present moment. Thoughts and emotions (that arise) are left unattended as the focus returns to movements of the body.
This mode of meditation trains the mind to ignore the clatter and noise that swirl daily around us and, like standing meditation, its health benefits are immeasurable. Outdoor meditative walking, preferably barefoot, sharpens our sensitivity.
For example, our olfactory sense is heightened and so, too, is our tactility, as we ground by feeling the earth beneath our feet. Grounding recharges our bioelectrical make-up to the giant electrical battery that is the earth. Grounding decreases stress levels, reduces pain inflammation and increases circulation.
Much has been written about nature's healing. Deliberately walking through our natural environment, or standing with our feet firmly planted, as in standing meditation, while breathing fully and consciously, is indeed curative.
The goal of meditation is to attain Wu Wei, a state of non-action or non-doing. This is the Tao, or The Way, where there is complete harmony as we flow (effortlessly) with nature's rhythm, and experience that elusive connection with All That Is (God).
Paradoxically, from this 'non-action', one gains wisdom and sound health.
Unfathomable we might say, but the annals of history are not without men and women who have been so blessed to experience nature's divine healing.
- Dr Glenville Ashby is the award-winning author of The Mystical Qigong Handbook for Good Health and the recently released, In Search of Truth: A Course in Spiritual Psychology, available at Amazon. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby