Working with Subtle Movements in Sitting Practice

Something to play with at the beginning of a sit…. invite a gentle side-to-side sway in the spine as you settle.

Side-to-side undulations are deeply wired into us from an evolutionary point of view. They are some of the first self-soothing movements that come through in childhood (rocking, etc.). A gentle rocking is also a great way to find the body’s centerline organically (we allow the side-to-side movement to “die” into the sense of being a still, vertical channel).

More broadly, there is something about grounding and tuning in the way we do in sitting that primes the system for instinctual movements to come through. Some of these can be quite subtle (small adjustments of the head, slight movements in the shoulders). Some can be larger and more drastic (swaying, rocking, etc.). Our experience is that cooperating and working with these arisings actually deepens stillness. Why?

Because stillness and movement are not separate. Activation gives way to deactivation. It is a soft circle, a natural cycle that we are seeking to cooperate with and discover.

The alternative is rigid or “bound” stillness – stillness that is held, that is armored. This may look impressive from the outside in the meditation hall, but spiritually it is the road to staying on the surface of the mind (that kind of control is simply incompatible with deep spiritual states).

The key to working with any kind of involuntary movement is to stay rooted in awareness.

Awareness neither suppresses nor artificially encourages the movement. It just lets it cycle. This means we’re not editing or stopping the movement, nor are we letting the conscious mind shape it, prolong it or change it. This allows for energy to come through, for the body to “be moved,” and for the movement and its energy to naturally complete.

These completions have a special flavor. The stillness that we find on the other side is deep, unfabricated, full and open. Nothing is being “held.” It is comfort itself. It is what embodiment really means.