People often believe that meditation has to be done in a rigid, seated position, but even Buddhist monks practise mindful movement in the form of walking meditation. Formal walking meditation can look (and feel) a bit strange. The idea isn’t to reach a specific destination, but to walk intentionally, often back and forth. It tends to be a slower, more deliberate pace than ‘normal’ walking, as you guide your awareness to the movements you usually make automatically, for example how your feet move and the feeling of your body weight shifting from side to side, as well as paying attention to your breath and surroundings. As with other mindfulness practices, when you notice your mind has wandered, you gently guide it back to the focus of your attention.
Walking meditation has never been a straight forward practice for me. There are elements I draw upon in my physio, for example following my breath, feeling my weight ground through my feet, and noticing my weight shift side to side, but in the traditional sense, as a wheelchair user it’s a practice I used to tell myself I couldn’t do. Then last year I had a breakthrough; if the key elements of walking meditation are to be aware of the body, breath and surroundings, why couldn’t it be done from a wheelchair? It might be different to walking back and forth in slow, deliberate steps, but it was certainly a change from lying or sitting in a static position to meditate. I made a conscious decision to consider what the practice was about and to make it my own. When I did, my senses came alive and my practice was enriched.
Last week, I received delivery of a long awaited new wheelchair. Its set up is bespoke for me and it gives me the comfort and manoeuvrability to be able to access the beautiful surroundings I live in. As I’ve been getting accustomed to it, I’ve been tapping into walking meditation. I pause to check in with my breath. I notice the feeling of my muscles yielding into the soft, moulded seat and my hand lightly cradling the joystick. I feel the varying textures and surfaces I wheel over and notice how my body responds to them. I hear sounds around me. I feel the temperature of the air on my skin. I spot colours. I notice smiles. It’s amazing how this awareness can truly transform an experience and it’s a powerful reminder that whilst there are formal guidelines out there, we can make the practice of mindfulness our own.
My formal mindfulness practice began five years ago when I read ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn, ‘the father of mindfulness’. I quickly discovered the positive impact this had on my health and wellbeing. It was a large part of my jigsaw puzzle that until then had been missing. It is perhaps no coincidence that it came during the same year when the rest of my life had been taken to pieces; I was being forced to contemplate a new way of being in light of a neurological diagnosis and complete change of life circumstance, and Jon’s work opened the door to what continues to be a wonderful, nourishing and inspiring journey. Jon’s presence can be felt even through his books and recordings, and it has always been a dream of mine to experience it in real life, to meditate with him and have the opportunity to thank him for the profound influence he had on me at an incredibly difficult time.Read More
Practising mindfulness is a process. It’s not about trying to get something, but about living and being, allowing the practice to unfold just as life does. There is no end point but that doesn’t mean we don’t make progress. Every so often, something happens that makes me realise just how far I have travelled. It’s a moment to acknowledge, to explore and to celebrate.Read More
There’s a lady in the bed opposite. She’s waiting patiently with such elegance and poise. Later today she is having surgery to remove a tumour from her brain. She’ll be awake during the operation. She’s been warned of possible complications; loss of function and changes in personality. She waits, calmly. “It’s okay for me,” she says, “this is a one-off. It’s you I feel for having an ongoing condition.”
There’s a lady in the bed alongside me. She’s been waiting for hours, days, for tests she desperately hopes will reveal answers. “I just want to know what’s wrong,” she says, jumping up every time someone approaches her bed. I don’t know what’s tormenting her more, the waiting or the unknown.
As for me, my bags are packed and I’m waiting to go home. My face lights up as I think of seeing my kitties and being in the peace and quiet of my little oasis. But here I find myself, waiting.Read More
I was becoming invisible, my body paling to the white sheets. As I lay on the hospital trolley, unable to move or speak, all I had was my mind. The strength of my thoughts and the images they created could take me anywhere. As I felt my heart sinking and tears pooling at my eyes I knew I needed to change direction. I focused on my breath. It gave me perspective. What was I feeling and where was it coming from? I felt utterly worthless. The actions, or lack of actions, by others during a time of acute illness in A&E had triggered an inner story; a deep seated belief that I knew to be untrue, yet at that moment I was compelled to believe.Read More
The cortical homunculus is a physical representation of our body in our brain. There are two types of these neurological ‘maps’; one for sensory pathways, the other for motor. The area a body part takes up on the map depends on how innervated it is, not how large. If our bodies actually looked like our brain’s representation, we would look very strange indeed. What these maps look like also varies from person to person as they are dependent on the information the brain receives. My hands probably have a larger representation than average due to my music and crafts, whilst my legs are likely to have a smaller representation than average as a result of the movement symptoms of my FND.Read More
George is a middle-aged man who lives in the States. He has a severe, progressive condition that affects all aspects of his day to day life, yet he is functioning on a higher level than many others with comparable disease. George practises mindfulness and is included as a case study in ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn. ‘Within the limits of his disease, he is actively meeting life’s challenges rather than sitting at home and bemoaning his fate. He takes each moment as it comes and figures out how he can work with it and stay relaxed and aware.’ An example of this is how George does the weekly grocery shop for himself and his wife. He takes his time. He rests. He asks for help when necessary. He gets the shopping packed into light bag loads which he is then able to lift from the trolley to the car. The daily tasks he completes in this way bring value and meaning to his life as he is able to contribute to the running of his household, whilst self-managing his condition. Read More
I move from side to side, shifting the centre of gravity in my chest, left, right, left, right. My knees bend softly, my feet start to lift up, left, right, left, right. I look ahead in the mirror, left, right, left, right. I hold the rail, the sturdy support, left, right, left, right. There’s an unfamiliar jolt beneath me; my body twists and I fall on my back. Read More
If you follow my blog regularly, you may have noticed I didn’t share a post last week. It was one of those weeks when unexpected stressors were being thrown at me quicker than I felt I could deal with them. We all have them. It can be any number of things; an illness, a difficult communication, something going wrong, an extra task coming your way when your diary’s already full. When the stressors start hurtling towards you, it can quickly become overwhelming. It can feel difficult to pick yourself up if the next knock blows before you’re fully upright. You feel thrown about by stress with a disconcerting lack of control.Read More
I embarked on Breathworks’ ‘Mindfulness for Health’ course with high hopes. I was already familiar with the wonderful work of Breathworks and I was eager to bring more of their techniques into my practice. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, my expectations were exceeded as I deepened my practice in a supportive and inspiring community. Read More