Unlock creativity with moving meditation
As discussed last week, Theta brainwaves come about during moments of creativity. During this state, several regions of the brain activate at the same time, connecting to each other. This allows us to problem solve, discover links we didn’t see before, and gain insight.
Like Beta and Alpha brainwave states, there are ways we can manipulate our internal and external environment to help us enter into a Theta brainwave state more often, such as seeking solitude, changing scenery, and releasing tension from the body. This week we’re going to dive into one of the most powerful hacks to enter into a state of creativity: moving meditation.
Have you ever been out for a long walk, in your own world, and all of a sudden have a “Eureka!” moment? You were likely just experiencing moving meditation. Moving (or muscular) meditation is any activity in which you move in a repetitive, rhythmic pattern, such as walking, swimming, jogging, rowing, or biking. Moving your body in a repetitive motion puts your mind into a meditative state. You’re allowing your mind to wander and opening it up to the possibility of great insight, creativity, and innovation. This type of long, repetitive exercise can also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, as it allows you to forget about the stresses in your life and focus on the task at hand.
One of the key aspects of moving meditation is that you should be completely focused on the activity to the point where you seem to have no thoughts at all. You disappear into the motion, you aren’t thinking about anything, you are just “there”. By being fully immersed in the present moment, you experience mindfulness, ideation, relaxation, and can even enter into a flow state, which is a very powerful prerequisite for creativity.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Give yourself at least 15 minutes. Give yourself enough time to allow your mind to slow down and relax. At the beginning of the activity, you might even notice that your mind becomes more active. That’s okay — after enough time has passed, you will eventually settle into a rhythm in which your mind is able to relax while your body is moving automatically. After a few sessions, you’ll be able to transition into this state more quickly and easily.
2. Go easy. You don’t want to be exercising so hard that it’s uncomfortable. This type of exercise should be light and therapeutic. A good way to tell if you’re exercising at the right intensity is that you should be breathing more than when you’re sitting down — just enough so that you can hear air moving in and out of your nose and mouth, but not so much that conversation would be difficult.
3. No distractions. In order to get into a meditative state, it’s better if you just focus on the task at hand. You can listen to music as long as it puts you in a relaxed state. However watching TV on the treadmill or listening to a podcast while out for a walk defeats the purpose. There is a time and place for these activities, however they won’t put your mind into a relaxed and creative state.
One of the most powerful ways to slow down a racing mind and spark creativity is to move — provided you do it right. In order to get into this meditative state, make sure the exercise is not too hard and then move your body in a rhythmic and repetitive activity like walking, running, swimming, biking, or paddling. Rhythmic movement helps us change our state from one in which we feel like we are hustling and racing around (the beta state) to one where our minds settle down (the theta state). This will help you enter into a state of relaxation that will boost your creative capacity more easily.
If you want to dive deeper into the science of brainwave states, check out my book Rest Refocus Recharge: A Guide for Optimizing your Life.
What are we finding in the research?
Over the past decade, more and more research has emerged about the benefit of using mental and physical training (MAP) to improve mental health and amplify performance. MAP training consists of 30 minutes of meditation (sitting + walking) followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Researchers have found that this combination of mental and physical training can have a significant positive impact on symptoms of depression and ruminating thinking patterns in people with major depressive disorder, individuals with a history of trauma, and in medical students — more so than either meditation or exercise alone.
One theory for the powerful impact of MAP training is its effect on the brain, specifically the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps with learning and the creation of memories. Every day new cells are formed (neurogenesis), however many of these new cells die. Laboratory studies suggest that aerobic exercise stimulates neurogenesis in the hippocampus, while mental training (such as meditation) helps keep cells alive. Therefore the combination of both aerobic and mental training might lead to more cells residing in the hippocampus.
So if you really want to activate your brain–body connection and amplify your performance, add in some MAP training! While it might not be something you can do every day, fitting it into your routine once per week can have a powerful impact on your mental health.