“I’ve never been able to meditate before!” she said.
Paula was positively glowing. She was halfway through her first qigong workshop, and she couldn’t have been happier.
“Until today, I thought I was totally hopeless at meditation!”
“Ugh, here we go again!” I thought.
Don’t worry. I wasn’t mad at Paula. The opposite, actually.
It breaks my heart to see people shaming themselves for not being able to meditate.
If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard a comment like Paula’s from a new student, I’d have — well, I’d probably have about $2-3.
But that’s still helluva lot of pennies, and way too much self shaming!
Here’s what I want to tell Paula and the hundreds of others who think that they can’t meditate:
You’re not hopeless!
You just need a different type of meditation!
Move it Or Lose It
When you hear the word “meditation”, what comes to mind?
Typically, it’s something like this:
If you’re like I once was, then this image also looks like an ancient Eastern form of self torture.
I myself started my journey with zazen, which is a seated, quiescent form of meditation similar to the picture above.
I was 20 years old, I was enthusiastic, and I tried my hardest. But after 6 months of struggling, I realized that I was just torturing myself.
It was several more years before I discovered that there are actually 3 other types of meditation!
The 4 Branches of Meditation
Some people classify meditation into only 2 categories:
- Quiescent Meditation
- Dynamic Meditation
But this misses another major classification. Quiescent and dynamic meditation can both be broken into 2 more categories:
- Standing Meditation
- Sitting Meditation
When we combine these, we get 4 total options:
1. Quiescent Sitting Meditation is done seated, with no movement (e.g. Zuo Chan, Zazen, Vipassana, and most forms of yogic meditation).
2. Quiescent Standing Meditation is done standing, with no movement (e.g. Zhan Zhuang postures like Hugging the Tree, the Wuji Stance, and the Horse Stance).
3. Dynamic Sitting Meditation is done seated, with movement (e.g. Gathering Qi from the Cosmos while seated, or the Seated Eight Brocades).
4. Dynamic Standing Meditation is done standing, with movement (e.g. Lifting The Sky, any of the 18 Luohan Hands, the Tai Chi Short Form, or walking meditation.)
Why You’ve Struggled
Here are two statements that will help you understand why you’ve struggled with meditation in the past:
- Standing meditation is easier than sitting meditation.
- Dynamic meditation is easier than quiescent meditation.
Let’s look at the list again. Now, you can see that the list is arranged in order of difficulty, with 1 being the hardest, and 4 being the easiest:
- Quiescent Sitting Meditation
- Quiescent Standing Meditation
- Dynamic Sitting Meditation
- Dynamic Standing Meditation
In other words, you are not hopeless. If you’ve struggled with #1, then try #2, #3, or #4 before feeling guilty or ashamed!
How Do You Know If You Are Meditating?
Paula, the woman I mentioned in the beginning, knew that she struggled with meditation.
But how did she know?
Here’s a simple question that you can ask yourself to determine whether or not you are meditating successfully:
Are you merely thinking with your eyes closed?
If the answer is yes, then you are not meditating. Simple!
Similarly, if you are in a lot of pain, if you are anxious, or if you are falling asleep, then you aren’t meditating.
Then how do we know when we ARE meditating?
What Meditation Really Is
Here’s a simple and useful definition of meditation:
Meditation is the art of keeping the mind in the present moment.
We can do this will all 4 types of meditation. But type 1 (i.e. seated, quiescent meditation) is, by far, the hardest.
I also don’t recommend type 2 if you’ve struggled in the past. Start with type 3 or 4 instead.
With type 3 and 4, it’s much easier to stay in the present movement because of the movement.
The dynamic movement not only feels wonderful, but also gives our mind something to grasp on to.
In other words, we can stay present with the movement itself.
The lack of movement in #1 and #2 make it more difficult to stay in the present. The mind wanders more easily. And then we’re just thinking with our eyes closed.
How To Try Dynamic Meditation
I want you to fall in love with meditation.
So here’s an easy and free ways to try out the two easiest forms of meditation, Dynamic Standing Meditation and Dynamic Sitting Meditation.
Click here to get a free online course called Beating Fatigue & Exhaustion with Qigong.
This course will teach you a simple qigong exercise called Gathering Qi from the Cosmos.
I”ll teach the exercise standing (type 4), but you can easily do it sitting (type 3).
If you need help adjusting it to a sitting posture, just leave a comment inside the course, and I’ll help you there!
Remember, you are not hopeless!
Meditation is an amazing art. It can change your life for the better in ways that you cannot imagine!
Find the right type of meditation, and you’ll see what I mean.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Did you once feel hopeless at meditation? Did this article help you to see meditation in a new light? Let me know in the comments below! Best regards, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong (pronounced "chee gung") to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. Today, I'm the director of Flowing Zen, an international organization with students in 48 counties. I've been teaching qigong since 2005, I've served on the board for the National Qigong Association, and I’ve helped thousands of people to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. If you're ready to get started with qigong, there's no better way than my best selling book, which comes with free videos and meditations. The sooner you read my book, the sooner you can start healing! Click here to see my book on Amazon.
You are a gifted writer. You should figure out how to keep your business going and also publish a hard cover book. I wrote chapters of major books in the past. It was allot of work, but it was part of my job so I had that framework to keep me focused. You can blend your blogging into a wonderful book that is easy to read. Of course, don’t forget the pictures.
Thank you so much for this explanation of varied ways of meditating. I will pass this along to my husband who has great difficulty and always rolls his eyes when I say – you’re exhausted and so anxious; I think meditation would help.
susanw53Susan Winters says
I had a chuckle at this one. Years ago I learned not to beat myself up over meditation, but I’ve also never been able to do quiescent meditation without fighting the urge to fall asleep. I find standing meditation much easier, and even moreso following a session of the eight brocades.
Thank you for your dedication to qi gong. I’m going to check out your link now.
Years ago when I started Taichi, my teacher introduced me to Zhan Zhuang and Wuji forms. I was in chronic pain and I cannot forget the relief I got when we started the movement. But I learned to occupy my mind with visualization of draining the tension into the ground. Through it I realized I needed to control my breathing and then I got into the body parts that ached and tried to ‘melt’ the pains. I cannot tell you how much I wanted to melt the pain… But it took more than 3 years to control my breathing and another 6 years until I discovered Qi gong. But still I was not sitting to meditate.until two years ago….learned various techniques of breathing and recently stared NeiGong. I have gone a long way, but it took long years too….. And I am only beginning….
Thank you! 🙂
“If you need help adjusting it to a sitting posture, just leave a comment inside the course, and I’ll help you there!”
Sifu because of my right ankle, I have been doing the Qigong mostly sitting. What is the correct sitting posture? Dee
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Hi Dee. Don’t use the back of the chair. Sit upright, as if you were standing. Keep the feet flat on the ground. Instead of just 2 points of contact with the ground, you have 4 — your 2 feet, and your 2 buttocks. So center yourself between the 4 spots (but not necessarily 50/50).
Basically, sit upright, and be comfortable.
Oh, and use a chair without arms!
Thanks Sifu. Very useful info.
tong lai man says
many years ago I practised zhan zhuang in the winter, but I still feel cold with my hand after practising it for about 20 minutes.
So I think I am not doing well with zhan zhuang！
Stephen O'Connor says
Hi Sifu Anthony. I have been practicing Spring Forest Qi Gong for a few years. One question I have is: when doing the movement of raising and lowering the hands in front of the body, from the lower dantien to the face and back, can one incorporate the locking of the base chakra when at the top of the inhale, top of the head, and then slowly release it as the Qi is followed down to the lower dantien? Similar to kundalini meditation?
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
I wouldn’t recommend locking the base chakra, which is called “Huiyin” in the Chinese tradition, and is located at the perineum.
You need to understand why you would lock perineum in the first place. The reason is to connect the Ren and Du meridians in order to achieve the Small Universe.
You can read more about the Small Universe here: http://flowingzen.com/1461/the-small-universe/
MARIA GUADALUPE CARDOSO SANTANA says
GRACIAS ANTHONY, TU INFORMACIÓN ES VALIOSA , LA INTEGRARE A MI PRACTICA MEDITATIVA YA ESTABLECIDA EN MI VIDA
Chris Papadopoulos says
Hi Sifu Anthony, This is such a beautiful, articulate, enjoyable, and enlightening piece of work. I have been practicing Vipassana meditation for about a year and am enjoying just focusing my mind on the ‘in’ and ‘out’ breath, every now and then I might turn my attention to doing a body scan for 15min. As part of my Taiji practice I do standing meditation also for 15min. thanks again for all the links and info
Jens / Mr. Grok'n'Roll says
Interesting way to categorize meditation.
So far, I’ve only used the categories “focused” and “open-monitoring”.
Focused means paying exclusive attention to one thing, e.g. the breath (or at least trying to).
Open-monitoring means just observing anything and everything that goes on – without judging, without getting caught up and stuck in any of it (or at least trying to).
Sitting quietly for me was just one way to do both of these. But I’ve also done both while walking. lying down or standing.
So it never even occurred to me that people might be stuck at “sitting quiescently”.
Thanks for sharing.
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Yes, those are the two main methods on the internal side. This article is mainly about the external side — sitting, standing, moving, etc.
So now we have 8 different choices for meditation. 🙂
Thank you for clarifying the types of meditation. I did a six month quiescent sitting meditation course and it was hell. It made my depression much worse and so I gave up on the idea of meditating. Later I discovered Kirtan and love it (though didn’t think of it as meditating) ! When I came across Qigong I also loved it, too. But I wasn’t taught that it was meditation, too. When people asked me if I meditated, I said no, because I only thought of static sitting. So now, thanks to you, I can hold my head high and say yes, yes I do meditate!
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
I’m sorry to hear it, Marla. Unfortunately, I’ve heard the same story from hundreds of different people. Hold your head high. Qigong definitely counts!
Ray Morneau says
1973 I started Transcendental Mediation with the Maharishi … lasted several weeks … finally connected with You and Flowing Zen in 2014 and I’m able to stick with this more than a mere several weeks … I see no problem making another 40 years here … mythical, legendary, relaxing!!! 😉
Merci mille fois! Namaste!
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
I prefer Un-Guru, Ray. 🙂
But you’re very welcome!
Peter Levine says
The problem is not with people who are trying to meditate. The problem lies with the people who teach meditation. The people who teach meditation have a rediculous goal. They want to turn off the mind. Completely! The reason they want to turn off the mind is because they hold the philosophical idea that we really don’t exist. Imagine such absurdity. They have so much trouble and difficulty with the “self” that they have come up with the idea that there is actually no self. They not only think that there is no self. They also think that the ultimate truth is a state of selfless oneness into which we can all merge. In that state, there is no individuality, no relationships, no activity, no enjoyments. How boring!!! But because these people are so miserable living with themselves, they are attracted to the idea that there is no self. It is like having a credit card with a very large debt on it. So they want to bring the debt up to the zero point. But it never occurs to them that they can also have a card attached to an account with a very large positive balance. They can have a bank account with a million, or a billion dollars in it and have a card with which they can access that account. But they can only think of eradicating their debt and bringing their balance up to the zero point. So that is their kind of meditation. They want to make everything into zero by turning off the mind. And they tell people they can become happy in that way. And the innocent people who trust them also try to make the mind into a zero. It is like thinking, “I have a miserable life. Therefore let me commit suicide.” They are saying, “I have a terrible mind. It is so hard to live with. Therefore let me extinguish it.” They have no idea that there is another alternative, viz., to make the mind healthy, balanced, wholesome and harmonious, which is what we are doing in qigong. So naturally, those who try to adopt the zero orientation will have a hard time. Because it is artificial, unfulfilling, boring, We can never be free of desire. But there are desires that can fill the mind and heart with unlimited upliftment. The conclusion is that this kind of meditation, to turn it all off, to make the mind zero – this is for less intelligent people.
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Like anything in life, there are good teachers and bad ones!
Peter Levine says
In my experience, there are good teachers of bad things; and bad teachers of good things. (For example, I have had teachers in university who were geniuses, but had not the slightest ability to convey their understanding to the students.) Teaching is an art in itself. One has to have the ability to understand the mentality of those who are uninformed, and know how to bring the subject into focus for them. Sometimes we find a good teacher of good things. I consider you a good teacher, especially because I get the consistent feeling that you really want to help us, in a heartfelt way. That enables me to open my heart to you in turn. Sometimes my mind wants more technical understanding of what’s going on with this stuff called “Qi”, what it is, how it works, how the techniques effect its movement in specific channels, and how I can learn to to collect it, store it, move it, etc. with the power of my mind. But then I tell myself that in time, when we are ready, you will share what you feel we can absorb. My kind of mind really wants a conceptual basis, rather than learning to do things by rote……….but my wife is the opposite. She doesn’t care how things work; just likes to push buttons. I tend to think that having an analytical scientific understanding of the variables in a system facilitates our ability to apply the principles in creative ways. So far you have put forward the principles of softness of the heart, mind and body, alignment, balance, strength and flexibility, and a basket-full of techniques. Maybe that’s where we stand in 101. I’m looking forward to getting into some purposeful creative engineering with this stuff called Qi. But in the meantime, I’m definitely getting enough juice to keep me coming back for more. Thanks, Peter