How To Take Your Meditation Outdoors For People Who Don't Really Want To Sit Still

Written by Joseph W. Foley

Photo by Colin Anderson

It wasn't until late in my life that I realized the power and influence of meditative movement on cultivating a healthy mindset. Perhaps it was just ignorance, or maybe I just was not ready. The prevailing philosophy, which works for many, is to sit down and meditate. As a self-classified Type A personality, calming my mind and focus has never come very easily, so adjusting to the silence and physical inactivity required for meditation proved ineffective. I have tried it all—apps, groups, retreats—but no method has ever allowed me the space to sit still and silence my mind for real meditative healing.

My need to run full speed in work and life spiraled, to the point where meditation was more of a necessity than luxury

It took some time but after quelling my needs to live a fast-paced life, I changed my perspective on meditation and focused on finding a practice that was more meditative but movement-oriented. I've found that moving in the great outdoors has expanded my notion of meditation and connecting to mind, body, and spirit in the real world. Here are a few activities that are economical, accessible, and movement-based with meditative twist.

Go on a run—without headphones.

Running is the easiest way to find a flow of continuous breaths—and it's even more grounding when done without distractions like music.

During my time competing in triathlons for the USA Triathlon organization, electronic devices and other headphones were not permitted so I learned to run mindfully. Sticking to this rule forced me to not forgo music altogether while working out, allowing my mind to ease into a space of focus.

It wasn't an easy transition at first. After a couple of tries, it just became more natural and more comfortable not to focus on the miles and my times eventually still got better either way. I even saw a better return on my workouts for my races.

I was hooked on the pure simplicity of running and my tendencies to overthink while running with music quickly ceased.

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Take advantage of outdoor biking.

It can be hard finding calm and peace when living in Manhattan. The noise pollution, the crowds, and the overstimulation from all walks of life tend to pile up and drown out the simple pleasure in life—like nature.

One of my favorite nature activities is a weekly bike ride up to Nyack, New York, and back. This ritual has become my mediation for several years now, and it's when the concept of meditative movement as a practice first struck a chord—even before running. Traditional cycling actives and studios are great for social fun, but rarely are you given the space to just be by yourself in the workout. Taking your bike outdoors can help slow things down in a more mindful way.

The macro-noises seem to fade away as your senses refocus and enhance. Your hearing is now on the heavy breathing coming in and out through your lungs, while your mind starts to quiet. Your breath connects to your peddle stroke, and you are calm, while just simply being. The mere act of peddling forward and avoiding any crashes zaps you right into the present moment––be it on the busy city streets or the backcountry roads.

Seek focus in a rhythm-based dance class.

Rhythm, by definition, is balance and reoccurrence of an act. Forcing your body to become entwined, you trick your mind into breathing repetitively while exhausting your body. These patterns offer a close meditative state. If you lack the motivation for fitness, an excellent instructor and rhythmic-based class will help you get there. At my studio, our philosophy was built on pioneers in the industry, so there are plenty of options that can fit you personally. Even if it's a ballet or hip hop dance class, repeating choreography can help channel a focus on the present moment. Find your community and the rhythm will follow.

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Try swimming or surfing, if you can.

These go hand-in-hand. Swimming forces you to become rhythmic and tantric with your body's flow and breath. The catch, pull, glide, and recovery repetition of the freestyle stroke’s continuous action help exhaust your body and forces you into a meditative state over a long distance. Constant awareness of the water's activity with the combination of breath, workout, and repetition of strokes and patterns will slowly help you find a meditative state.

Surfing is a great activity to get you in a meditative state because you really have to focus on the environment around you—mostly, the waves. There's no way to command the ocean; thus you relinquish all efforts to control your movements or the desired outcome. You simply can't show up and surf. You need to earn your wave by getting beyond the waves; there is no shortcut. It is a very humbling experience.

Tapping into a meditative state outside of the traditional methods of meditation is possible—whether running, biking, or swimming. Plus, some extra time in nature is always good for the mind and body.

Curious about the connection between wellness and surfing? Here's how one pro surfer maintains her health and well-being on and off the waves.

And are you ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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