How to Meditate with Flow

From Secret #4: "Be Tender to Yourself" in Meditation Secrets for Women

Energy unfolds through compassion, not discipline. We tend to be cruel to ourselves, and internalize any negative voices we were around. Meditators have to be alert to this tendency and not let critical voices take over the meditation technique – they will criticize us for not meditating right. A lot of the noise of meditation is feeling through all the ways you’ve been mean to yourself during the day – being bullied, or betraying yourself.

Develop a soft touch in meditation. Get used to continuous movement on all levels all the time. Don’t try to impose fixity on yourself – add Lycra to everything. Creativity depends on flow; it cannot emerge in an atmosphere of constraint. The parts of you that know how to play can bring more freedom into your meditation. The parts of you that are tender know how to be moved. The willingness to be moved is a secret of the heart and leads to inspiration and joy. Cultivate this willingness. Be moved by love, be moved by your soul, be moved by the spirit of life.

  • “Soft Posture” Body Awareness
People often take a military stance to meditate – mentally and physically. Even if you are in the military, there are always times when you can be “at ease.” Any time we hold a position we tend to cut ourselves off from deeper movement. Instead, relax into openness.

Most meditators think they should be stock-still and erect. They have heard that meditation is about opening energy in the spine, so they valiantly try to sit up straight. Their rigidity actually impedes the flow that allows the energy to open. The other name for kundalini is “serpent power,” because it moves in subtle snake-like waves through the core. Undulation is probably second nature for Indians (have you seen those wonderful head wiggles some do when they speak?), so perhaps it just never occurred to the yogis to talk about letting the spine move.

Sit softly upright so your spine can be fluid and free to sway slightly. Your head can just float on top. Place your feet on the ground, or fold your legs up if comfortable. Some people like to sit on their heels with a zafu or pillow propped under their bottom. Find what is most natural for you. Bring awareness to your face; soften your eyes, your lips, your tongue; separate your teeth slightly so your jaw releases. Your hands can simply rest on your lap or thighs, palms relaxed and facing up or down.

When you meditate you will probably notice little places of tightness. Touch them with awareness; imagine that your breath caresses and soothes them. The flow of breath is a like an internal massage that will gently open you up, so give yourself the freedom to go with its wave-like movement. As your body releases tension it will make tiny shifts: a shoulder will drop, ribs will soften, the spine will undulate subtly, the head will tilt. Just keep allowing yourself to be soft. Invite yourself to melt inside, to spread open in every direction. Rather than a vertical act of will, it will feel more like the concentric ripples of a pebble in a pond, or the delicate unfurling of the petals of a rose. With each opening there is a little gush of pleasure, a “yes” or “mmm” from your body. Slowly and gently, your holding patterns will unwind and you will ease into fullness.

A supportive context helps to let your body surrender. A group environment provides a larger and stronger energy field, especially when some of those other bodies already know the fluid inner realms.
Continuum movement meditation, for example, is a wonderful group context, so if you ever have the chance to take a workshop, plunge in.

  • Spontaneous Movement
As you get used to Soft Posture awareness, you will bodily experience yourself as flow. Notice the impulses to move and cherish them. When you don’t hold on, spontaneous movement is right there, however subtle. As you yield to the sense of flowing motion, it’s as though you are floating in a warm and friendly ocean. In deep meditation, your body may lean or sway, your fingers may spread in little gestures, your hands may even rise up and drift through space. Your breath rhythm may change and your eyes or mouth may take on different expressions. You might find yourself doing an improvised Tai Chi, because this is the original responsive state that those movements were choreographed from. As you give over to the flow, your body does an intuitive balancing of energy, your personal Chi Gung. It can feel mystical but totally natural. When the movement carries you this way, you know there is no separation between you and the divine dance of the cosmos.

  • Floating Hands
Anytime you get a hankering for spontaneous movement, you can intentionally help it along. Use subtle music as a background ocean of sound; this encourages the feeling of support in space and provides the inspiration to move. In addition, experiment with Floating Hands. At some point in your meditation, allow your hands to rise up gently into the space before you as if in buoyant water. Just lift them slightly off your lap so that the weight of your arms is suspended. In this way you signal your body that you are ready and willing to swim.

  • Sacred Gestures (Mudra)
In movement meditation, sometimes you will find yourself in one of the sacred gestures, or mudra. You have seen these mythic hand movements in classical Indian dance and sculptures of the gods and goddesses. When this happens in meditation, you have spontaneously tapped into the biomorphic field of a timeless archetypal ballet.

The way the hands merge in prayer is a mudra. Reaching out with open palms is a mudra, as is touching your own heart. Explore various expressions of the hands and notice which ones are satisfying to you. For example, draw the thumb and another fingertip together; fan the fingers out; tilt your wrists to different angles. Play with separate moves for right and left as well as symmetrical shapes. If you find a gesture that speaks to you, use it intentionally in your meditation. Breathe with the feeling tone it evokes, how the energy flows within the pose, the expression and poetry of that sculptural shape.

You can also start with two or three choreographed gestures and flow from one to the next, letting yourself be surprised at what happens in between.

  • Stability and Fluidity
Everybody has her own balance between stability and fluidity, structure and freedom, planning and spontaneity. Recognize and accept the mode you prefer. If you follow your native preference you may gradually be drawn to its opposite. An analogy is the complementary relationship between yoga and dance. While both create strength, centeredness and flexibility, yoga focuses on structure, stillness and inner calm; dance on spontaneity, mobility and expression. Eventually you will find your synthesis between the two modes. As Shiva Rea, a well-known yoga teacher in Los Angeles and writer for Yoga Journal admits: “If I didn’t have the wildness of African dance, I would never be able to do the discipline of yoga.”

Excerpt from MEDITATION SECRETS FOR WOMEN: Discovering Your Passion, Pleasure, and Inner Peace
Copyright Camille Maurine & Lorin Roche, Ph.D., HarperSanFrancisco 2001