A Standing Meditation for Self-Care

Monday, May 15, 2017 - 5:00 pm

A Standing Meditation for Self-Care

Looking back on what has moved me as a writer, I realized that I have often been inspired by the possibility of redeeming words — recapturing an original or overlooked meaning — thereby reclaiming the power of that concept. For example, I once wrote a book called Faith. Even some of my friends were upset about that. For them, and for many, the word “faith” meant being silenced, being forbidden to ask questions, becoming less and less of ourselves. I really wanted to redeem that word!

My upcoming book is about love. “Love,” of course, is another such word. What in the world do we mean when we say “love”? When I first started talking about the topic, one editor told me that the “love market” was saturated. I wasn’t surprised somehow, but determined to articulate why my vision of a book on love was different.

First of all, many books about love become weighed down by cultural mythologies: that love will complete us, fix us. That love is something outside of ourselves. That we need to first fully repair ourselves in order to love and be loved by another.

What if we replaced this notion of our essential damage with a sense of our essential capacity to love, and the need to nurture that capacity, including cultivating greater love towards ourselves? This might mean different things to different people, but the common theme of greater love for ourselves is acceptance, forgiveness, and a deliberate investment in our inherent right to be happy.

A student of mine, a freelance writer named Georgia, recently told me about her journey to self-love. As is the case for many freelancers, Georgia’s workload ebbed and flowed, and flowed particularly high when she felt the fear of financial pressure. A few years ago, Georgia explained to me, she took on too much work as a way to pay her bills and fend off acute future anxiety about money troubles. As soon as the work piled up, Georgia’s life became much less healthy — and it took her some time to notice the cycle she was caught in.

She started eating only junk food, mostly during her work hours, mindlessly sitting at the computer. She rarely saw beyond the four walls of her New York loft, where she spent most (if not all) of her time. Self-discipline for exercise, cleaning, and engaging in other regular self-care practices like getting enough sleep and meditating fell to the wayside.

Georgia continued to “cope” with her anxiety and burnout by avoiding it, and treating herself and her body poorly. When she first noticed how badly she was feeling, her awareness made her feel worse: she didn’t see a way out of the cycle she’d created. She felt malnourished in both literal and metaphorical ways, and with greater awareness, her inner critic’s voice became louder and more self-punishing.

Georgia’s eventual “a-ha” moment weeks later is a great model for self-love: “I wasn’t taking a stand on my right to be happy,” she explained to me. Taking that stand for herself as an act of resistance against her bad habits became a simple but very concrete principle for her to start practicing self-love.

At first, self-love included very essential forms of getting her physical health back on track: buying groceries and beginning to rediscover her love of cooking. She listened to music and started to feel space open up. “I needed to remember my blessings,” she explained. In a space of greater clarity, Georgia was able to realize that she actually enjoyed her work and was grateful for the abundance of projects that came her way. She had good relationships and a regular set of practices that kept her feeling balanced and in touch with her body. Meditation was among them.

While many of these actions were very straightforward, they took a lot. Amidst the actions she took, Georgia also had to recalibrate by engaging her forgiveness muscle: it was OK that she had gotten caught up in bad habits. It was OK that she had been in pain, and it was OK to send herself compassion for that period of suffering.

In this period of recalibration, Georgia began a regular practice of standing meditations, apropos of her remark, “I wasn’t taking a stand on my right to be happy.” Standing meditation gave her a feeling of both groundedness and receptivity. “I felt the earth supporting me,” she described. “My body knows how to do this.” Standing meditation has become a reminder for Georgia that she has a right — always — to take a stand on her own happiness.

Standing meditation to take a stand for self-love

I recommend doing standing meditation barefoot, as you will have a greater sensitivity to your sense of balance and the micro-sensations happening in your muscles and skin. But if it is more comfortable, wear socks or comfortable shoes.

  1. Stand upright with your back straight but not strained. Close your eyes gently and relax the muscles in your face and jaw. Note the feeling of the earth beneath you supporting your weight. Make deliberate contact with the floor by pressing through your big toe mound on each foot, and feel how the floor presses into the soles of your feet. If you are standing on a rug or carpet, notice the sensations of the fabric. If you are standing on a hard floor, notice the temperature, the texture. Take in these sensations.
  2. Once you have established a sense of how the posture feels generally, try experimenting with your stance. Make micro-adjustments to your balance by subtly shifting your body weight from side-to-side. After shifting your weight from leg to leg, experiment with rolling each foot from side to side, loosening your ankles and stimulating the sole of the foot.
  3. The next part of the meditation focuses on experimenting with your posture, and the ways that your bones stack up on top of each other. Start with your knees slightly bent, and slowly straighten them as you strengthen your quadriceps muscles, imagining them moving back toward your thigh-bone. Make sure your knees aren’t locked, but that your legs feel extended.
  4. As you feel your legs in this extended position, notice the angle of your pelvis, and how it is lifting your spine to its straight position. Then, pull your shoulders back and down as you feel how they connect to your spine. You may notice that this posture feels easier on your back, as it elongates the body by removing pressure on the lower spine. As you experiment with straightening your spine greater and lesser amounts, modulate your breath, seeing how it feels to inhale and exhale more deeply as you stand taller and stronger.
  5. Continue making these adjustments and enjoying the rhythm of your breath. Visualize this ritual as an opportunity to take a stand on your right to be happy.

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is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears monthly.
She is a meditation teacher and the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. She is the author of many books, including Love Your Enemies, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, and Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace.