You Can Meditate Even If You Can’t Sit Still

“I wish I could meditate,” people often tell me, “but I can’t sit still.” To be sure, meditation is associated with stillness. One of the most ubiquitous symbols of mindfulness is the statue of the Buddha. He sits there with that half smile, perfectly still, looking totally unbothered and it can make some of us—mere mortals who have yet to attain enlightenment—think we can’t do the same. I’m here to tell you to forget that idea. You are allowed to move when you meditate.

Look, you don’t need my permission or anyone’s permission when you start a meditation practice. It’s YOUR practice. Do what works for you. But, as a recovering perfectionist myself and as a lawyer trained to never take an action without solid authority, I know how easy it is to forget that. In fact, I needed my meditation practice to learn even to notice what felt good to and worked for my body. With that in mind, I made this permission slip for you in case you want proof positive that a meditation teacher has authorized you to move during meditation. Share it with your friends and family and anyone who ever questions you or gives you side eye for moving during your practice.

Now, of course, you may think “but isn’t moving during meditation bad?” and wonder why I am giving this permission out so freely. My answer to that is that the classic lawyer response: “it depends.” Movement during meditation is generally something to be avoided because the point of meditation is usually to calm and settle the mind. If the body is moving, it is harder to do that and it may be nearly impossible for a new meditator. As such, the general advice and the strategy I use in my own practice is to try to find a posture I can hold for a solid period of time and avoid moving where possible.

But, this strategy has limits. Beyond stillness, the other way to calm and settle the mind and body is to comfort it. That means your physical comfort as you meditate supports your mental stillness. Thus, if something is making you uncomfortable during you practice, the wise and skillful thing may just be to move to take care of it. This means you can (and maybe ought to) scratch that itch or wiggle that leg that has fallen asleep.

Once you practice long enough, you start to realize that there really are no distractions from your practice; there are only new things that arise that become your practice. In reality, when a desire to move arises, it isn’t a zero sum game. Instead, if you remain mindful during the situation, it’s really a choice of what mode of practice you want to employ. You can choose to sit with the experience and stay with the physical sensations in the body and watch them arise, move, change, and fade away. That’s practicing body awareness, equanimity, compassion, and also exploring the temporary nature of life. Those are great skills and experiences to have in your life. But, if you choose to move, you practice body awareness, mindful action, and compassion. Those are also great skills to have.

The key with both of these things, of course, is to first maintain awareness of your experience. When you do that, you can choose the next course of action and whatever action you choose becomes your practice. Then you can simply return to the breath or whatever focal point you have selected for that session. Now, of course, if you lose awareness and just scratch that itch or wiggle your leg unconsciously, what then? I think you know the answer here: this is still practice. When you realize what you’ve done, you notice it, return to your focal point, and try to avoid mentally bludgeoning yourself in the process.

In short, you can move when you meditate. You don’t need to be a statue. You can find stillness (and wisdom and compassion) even when your body and the world won’t let you sit still. That is life. Don’t fight against it; practice with it. The wisdom, the lessons, and the benefits of meditation don’t come from trying to live up to a standard. They come from learning to move through life with greater compassion, awareness, and ease. You can learn that from sitting still in your meditation practice and moving on occasion too. Give it a try.

For more information about ways to respond to when the urge to move arises, check out the 1-minute video and slide deck on our Learn to Meditate in Less than 2 Minutes page.

How to Find a “Quiet Place” When Meditating in a Full House

The stress of a global pandemic has made interest in meditation skyrocket. Unfortunately, part of the stress of the pandemic is living in close, sometimes cramped, quarters with our loved ones and four-legged friends. Almost every guide to meditation tells you to start your practice by finding a comfortable position in a “quiet” spot with minimal distractions. But how do you do that in a house full of other occupants?

Earbuds, ear plugs, or white noise machines can help and turning off notifications on your phone is a must. Many meditation apps also have ambient sounds or light music to support a practice. But these options are anything but foolproof and they certainly don’t help when a relative walks into the room or, in the case of my four-year-old and miniature dachshund, plops down unannounced on your lap. Indeed, the absence of quiet can wreak havoc for a meditation session. But does it have to derail a meditation practice?

I say it doesn’t, as long as you keep perspective on the type of quiet that you are seeking. When I started my meditation practice years ago, I tried sitting practice in every remote corner of my home, including the basement and my closet, to avoid the impromptu shrieks of my toddler or the incessant barking of my dogs. I remember the frustration I felt whenever my husband unwittingly walked in on my meditation and callously disrupted my carefully but tenuously balanced “calm”. In those early days, I thought silence was calm and so was frustrated when silence was hard to find.

At some point along the way–after tolerating enough disruptions and just sitting through them–I started to see that the distractions weren’t so . . . distracting. When I heard my daughter’s voice call out while meditating, I just sat still and watched it affect me. I remember on one occasion my daughter saying something silly and noticing, in meditation-induced slow motion, a wave of laughter wash over me. It was beautiful, albeit fleeting, and if I had reacted with my customary effrontery I would have missed it. And, having had hundreds of attempts to practice calm when my dogs interrupt my quiet by barking, I now barely even react to their barking (at least when I’m meditating).

In other words, my advice to you on “finding quiet” is to give up or at least to not cling so tightly to the notion of quiet. It is hard, if not impossible, for most of us to find a quiet spot to meditate where one won’t be disturbed. But meditation is not truly about silence or erasing all distractions. Instead, the practice is about the way we respond to distractions and to ourselves as each new distraction arises. In this way, the struggle isn’t to find a perfectly quiet place, but to accept that you will never find a perfectly quiet place. As such, the only option is to cultivate quiet.

How do you cultivate quiet in a world that won’t shut up? Using supports such as music or guided meditations can help block out noise. In addition, scheduling your meditations at times when you are likely to avoid interruptions can help. If that is difficult to do in a single block of time, it might also help to try short chunks of time interspersed strategically throughout your day.

But when all of these options fail, and trust me they will, the only remaining answer is to sit and remain quiet even when the world isn’t. In other words, you try to find the quietest place you can, limit disruptions to the extent you can, and, with all the grace and kindness you can muster, you practice living with the noises and disruptions that are left.

It will be maddening at first and you may consider giving up. You may wonder to yourself, “Why am I even doing this?” My answer to this is, I hope, a bit more satisfying. You are doing it because, much like meditation, life is a combination of doing what we can to control things and accepting the rest we can’t. Each time we remain quiet in the midst of noisiness, we practice calm in the midst of the chaos that is our lives. In simpler terms, things get easier with practice because meditation is practicing ease.

If you want more quiet in your life, you have to practice quiet. So, when that guided meditation tells you to find a “quiet place”, go ahead and laugh at it for being unrealistic. Laugh at yourself for being impatient. Laugh at your kids and pets and family for being too loud. By all means, laugh whenever you can. But then go look for that quiet place because I think you can find it.

For more practical tips on finding quiet when you meditate, check out our 1-minute video and handy slide deck on our Learn to Meditate in Less than 2 Minutes page.

Loving-Kindness Meditation Explained in Valentines

There is some incredibly promising research emerging relating to loving-kindness (metta) meditation. This practice, in which meditators send themselves and others well wishes, has been shown to impart incredible benefits, including stress reduction and improvements to relationships. It has even been shown to make people who do it consistently behave more ethically.

Despite this, loving-kindness practice is one of the more difficult kinds for meditators in the West and especially lawyers to practice. Culturally, many Americans aren’t used to wishing themselves well. They may feel like they are being selfish or worry that the practice is sappy. Us skeptical lawyers who are trained in law school that we need to analyze problems without reference to our feelings may see the practice as a waste of time.

But it occurred to me that many of us are used to sending out nice cards for no real purpose every year. That’s what Valentine’s Day is all about. As kids in school, we didn’t just send those to sweethearts but to friends and classmates and usually even our teachers. I tried to avoid giving them to kids I didn’t like in my class but my mom wisely and firmly encouraged me not to be stingy.

So, I thought it might help to briefly explain loving-kindness practice to you in those terms. As the slideshow below indicates, loving-kindness practice is sort of like sending out Valentines from your mind and heart. The practice starts with you, then moves on to others, including a loved one, mentor (teacher, benefactor or supporter), a neutral person, and then difficult person. As you bring these people to mind, you offer them warm phrases, such as “may you be at peace, may you be happy, may you be safe, may you be at healthy.” If these phrases don’t work for you, you can select anything that does, such as “I hope you are healthy and safe.” If you are really struggling, you can even try “I hope you have a nice day.”

At the end of the practice, you move from individuals to groups, expanding from your family and friends, your community, and even the world. While this sounds very silly and highly ineffectual, it is amazing what happens when you experience it. During the practice, one is generally instructed to focus attention in the area of the heart and notice the feelings that arise there. I have done this practice many times and literally felt my heart expand and open. While it is true that wishing someone well doesn’t change anything on its own, warm sentiments towards someone can affect your behavior and research shows that they do when it comes to loving-kindness practice.

This practice can be uncomfortable at first, so don’t push or judge yourself if you feel resistance or don’t feel anything at all. The point is to cultivate warm feelings and let your heart grow, so give yourself time to let that happen. In addition, don’t stress about the individuals you select for practice. At first, pick easy ones. Select a loved one who is easy to love, a benefactor to whom you feel genuine gratitude, and don’t start with your sworn enemy (read: opposing counsel you can’t stand) as your first difficult person. Eventually, though, you may find that you can expand out to new people and broader classes of people.

Most meditation apps have loving-kindness practices, but they may call use words like “kindness”, “compassion” or even the traditional phrase “metta” to indicate them. Several of the meditations on our Resources page also feature loving-kindness type practices including the Body Breath Heart, Responding to Nasty Emails, Loving-Kindness for Business Networking, Calm Work Performance Anxiety meditations, and the meditations for Caregivers and Gratitude.

Because the world right now could certainly use it, I hope you will give loving-kindness practice a try. And this Valentine’s Day, I wish that you all may be happy, healthy, safe, and at peace.

If you want to try a loving-kindness practice out, check out and register for the Valentine’s Day Loving-Kindness Meditation on February 12th at 1 PM EST on our Upcoming Events page.

Mindfulness Basics: Emotions Are Feelings in the Body

I have a love-hate relationship with the month of February. I love it because my birthday and Valentine’s Day fall right smack in the middle. Associating things with chocolate and pink cupcakes tends to help improve my view of them. But February is also right smack in the middle of winter. It’s almost always grey and super cold where I live and I am restless and ready for spring.

To try to make it a bit more fun, I am going to accentuate the positive and view February as a month of love. To that end, the basic tip for this month is this: emotions aren’t in your head; they are in your body.

“What?” You may be thinking. “I know when I am mad or sad or happy or whatever my mind if churning and churning and thinking away.” Of course it is. That’s because your mind and body work together and they do so almost instantly and usually without our knowledge.

But, if you slow down and actually watch, you will see that emotions play out in the body. If you can let them do just that, they don’t last nearly as long as they do when your mind gets involved to keep them churning. The most common places that you might see emotional reactions arise are in the area of your heart, belly, face, neck, shoulders, and hands, but with additional study you may see more subtle reactions elsewhere.

So, if like me, you have a range of emotional reactions to the month of February, you can learn a lot about yourself this month by trying to locate and just watch those reactions play out in your body. Once you learn to get in the habit of looking for emotions there, then you might get more comfortable sitting with those feelings, and that’s when the magic can happen. When you can just let the emotions be there in your body, you can learn to care for them and respond to them instead of reacting based on them. And, for lawyers and professionals, that’s huge.

How have you learned to notice emotions in your body? If you want to work on this a bit more, check out our Upcoming Events page. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we have a loving-kindness meditation on February 12th that will explore loving-kindness practice in a fun and accessible way.

Mindfulness Basics: How to Find Your Breath

Breath practice is what many people think of when they think of meditation. The instructions seem simple. You are supposed to focus on your breath and return–ideally without mentally flagellating yourself–to the feeling every time your mind wanders. But as soon as you sit down to get started, you may be greeted by the somewhat disturbing recognition that you have no idea how to find your breath.

This may be shocking since, presumably, you’ve been breathing your whole life. You may think, “how can I not find my breath? I just had it a minute ago.” You may feel as foolish as that time (or in my case all those times) you rushed into the grocery store for a quick purchase and realized you didn’t pay attention to where you parked your car. Sigh.

In truth, this may be a collective sigh. Many of us have trouble finding our breath, or at least settling on a focal point that works for us, at first. In my view, if you notice that you aren’t quite sure what it means to focus on your breath, that’s actually a good sign. It means you are starting to slow down and you’re noticing things you never noticed before. It means you are starting to ask questions about experiences you previously ignored or overlooked. That’s one of the critical benefits a meditation practice can offer, so you should be encouraged by it instead of discouraged.

Beyond this, the reason it might be hard to find your breath is that there isn’t any right answer. When you are told to focus on your breath, most teachers mean to focus your attention on the sensations of the breath coming in and going out. The sensations are the thing and not the thoughts or judgments about it. Different teachers, however, recommend different focal points. Some traditions instruct students to focus on the tip of one’s nose to feel the flow of air in and out. Others recommend focusing on the feeling of rising and falling in the chest or belly as the air fills your lungs. Which should you choose?

My recommendation is to start with the place that calls out to you the strongest and stick with it. When I started meditating, I focused on my nose because one of the first books I read about meditation recommended that. I struggled immensely with this. For me, the sensations of the breath just weren’t very strong at the tip of my nose. When I finally went to a Zen retreat, I asked the teacher and she said she focused on her belly because she wanted “to get as far away from her head as she could.” I liked that answer a lot and tried focusing on my belly. Voila! Problem solved. My practice got much easier and my mind started unconsciously settling on my breath as I went about my daily tasks.

Does this meant that the belly is a better focal point than the nose? Not in my opinion. What it means is that the belly is a better focal point than the nose for me. For anyone new to meditation, I recommend focusing on the area that is strongest so you can get your practice started without much struggle. In the early stages, the important thing is to establish a habit and do what helps you focus and doesn’t discourage you. Once your habit is established and you know your mind and body a little bit better, you can branch out and explore. In fact, if you use guided meditations, you will probably end up doing this automatically because some teachers will direct you to focus on different aspects of the breath.

Breath practice is an excellent place to start when you are first learning to meditate. It is infinitely scalable so you can start with sessions as short as 1 to 2 minutes and grow your practice to lengthier sessions over time. In addition, the breath is an ideal focal point for meditation because it is always “with” you. Lawyers today lead busy, active, and mobile lives, but no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can pause for a bit of mindfulness during your day to calm yourself and refocus on the most important issues in any given moment. Once you have developed a comfort level with breath practice, you can use it to begin exploring other types of mindfulness practices that can help you in your practice and in your life.