After defining the terms movement and meditation and narrowing the down to Parkour and mindfulness meditation, and after looking into different ways of cultivating mindfulness we now get to the meat of the argument. Is Parkour a good practice to cultivate mindfulness?
TL;DR: The relationship between Parkour and mindfulness meditation is complex. Most likely to get more than a superficial glimpse you would need to formally practice mindfulness meditation and bring that into your Parkour practice. This might lead to a self-reinforcing relationship, where more and more parts of your life become an avenue for practice. Parkour practiced alone might have detrimental effects on mindfulness.
As your practice deepens, your teacher might encourage you to bring mindfulness “off the cushion” and into your life. As you practice Parkour with a deepening state of mindfulness, your practice will turn into meditation. The more you practice, the more your movement will become meditation. This in turn helps you deepen your mindfulness practice.
As I’ve suggested, cultivating mindfulness has many avenues. Formal meditation is the most tried and tested. But with a renewed interest in this state of consciousness we are finding new ways to cultivate it, such as metaphors and certain types of interaction. Parkour practiced with a certain intention and an experienced facilitator can indeed be mindfulness meditation. One should not assume that this is an automatic relationship.
One common example I hear is that balancing is a meditative practice. As a good scientist I would say it depends. What most people experience is a connection to the here and now. This is an experience many practitioners have in many aspects of training. This one moment you are in the air, you don’t think of anything, you are fully present.
This one moment when you are in the air.
You don’t think of anything.
You are fully present.
This is indeed at the core of many meditative practices. However, it lasts for maybe only a second. Meditation is a practice to extends this feeling into a stable trait. Parkour can give you a glimpse of it.
It also does not affect the three other processes I use to define mindfulness. Parkour might even have detrimental effects on these processes. Let’s take a look:
Defusion refers to the detachment (de-fusion) of thoughts, feelings, physical phenomena or impulses for action. During practice often times thoughts just vanish. There is little time observing them coming and going.
On the contrary, if I have an impulse to try a challenge, why would I stop and examine this impulse and watch it arise and fade away. The nature of play is not to be mindful, but to follow your impulses without too much investigation (which is a good thing. Play is great, but don’t mistake it for something that it isn’t).
If we come back to the balancing scenario, there is sometimes an experience of defusion. Many people report that their balancing improves, if they can let their thoughts come and go. So Parkour can both have positive and negative effects on this mindfulness process. With a deepening meditation practice more defusion might happen during practice. You can experience more moments, where you pause, before following an impulse, which could be helpful for injury prevention. But this will usually only come through an external meditative practice.
The nature of play is not to be mindful, but to follow your impulses without too much investigation.
Mindfulness practice places great emphasis on the acceptance of everything that appears in the field of attention. It is a letting go of control. Any bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, and impulses for action are accepted, allowed, and observed, but without reacting to them. Accepting or non-judgmental means a kind of compassion for oneself. This should not be confused with a passive attitude, but with letting things happen and being humble about the influence one has on one’s experience.
I was not very accepting of failure early on in my Parkour practice. I had a very judgmental attitude towards my practice, whether I was doing well or not (despite having practiced meditation from a young age). Parkour does not have an inherent process that makes acceptance more or less likely.
The two most important factors here are community and personality structure. If you practice in an accepting and compassionate community, you are more likely to develop this in your own practice too. And if you bring an accepting personality structure or patterns of acceptance to Parkour, you are more likely to follow them in Parkour too.
Community and personality structure are more predictive of acceptance in Parkour than the practice itself.
This is the part, where Parkour most clearly does not cultivate a mindfulness process. In meditation, once no longer identified with one’s own thoughts, feelings, or physical phenomena through defusion, an awareness of one’s self can emerge that goes beyond everyday ‚autopilot‘. A transcendent understanding of the self. This self has no fixed identity, but is the observational awareness of what is.
Parkour has more potential to produce the opposite effect, the creation of a fixed identity. At what part do you internally step back and watch yourself practice. Parkour tunes you into your own vision of the world, of yourself and your identity as part of a tribe. This is a beautiful part of the culture, but not a meditative practice. This process would be very difficult to cultivate with Parkour practice alone and needs additional practice.
Parkour tunes you into your own vision of the world, of yourself and your identity as part of a tribe. This is a beautiful part of the culture, but not a meditative practice
In conclusion, I don’t want to encourage you to formally practice meditation. Parkour is just fine on its own. The connection of these practices are facinating and transformative. But one last assumption we should throw out the window is that meditation is good for you. Diving deep into this practice might not have the stress reducing outcomes you were promised. But more on that at another point.