Centering Prayer and Involuntary Body Movements



Q: I have a question I hope you can help me with. During recent meditation periods when I go deeper, I have begun to tense up, tremble and shake. Can you explain this to me?


Lindsay: The healing process that occurs during Centering Prayer can take many forms. Our wounds are stored in our bodies and may come up during our meditation as body sensations and movements, memories, thoughts and images clearly related to trauma or seemingly random. We don’t try to block out our bodies any more than we try to stop having thoughts. We let our bodies be there, along with the rest of our experience, but when we become overly engaged with our experience of our body then we gently use the sacred symbol to disengage ourselves, just as we would with any other thought that becomes a distraction during our Centering Prayer time.

As you go deeper in your practice, your body may be helping you to heal by shaking loose whatever is stuck. The Centering Prayer process can activate the deep wisdom of the body that knows how to  cooperate with all that God is accomplishing within us as a result of our intention to surrender to God’s loving presence. That being said, if your trembling and tension persist, you might want to consult a doctor to make sure that they are not signs of an underlying condition.

Your question has a particular resonance for me since I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and a tremor is an almost constant companion in my prayer and daily life. At times during my Centering Prayer my tremor will quiet completely. At others it will become more intense and uncomfortable. There is a difference between healing and curing. While some of us have medical illnesses that may never be cured, we all have wounds that may be healed and that may contribute towards illness and chronic tension. We can trust that God will use whatever happens during the prayer time, be it shaking or deep rest, towards emotional healing. I have discovered a number of small, gentle movements that can relieve my discomfort if it builds up during my practice, for example a small adjustment to the angle of my chin or a short, tiny wobbling  of my head to release tension in my neck. The Centering Prayer tradition, unlike some eastern forms of meditation, does not require us to remain completely motionless. While it is distracting and undesirable to move around too much during Centering Prayer, you might explore whether there are adjustments you can make to your posture, particularly before you begin your practice, to allow you to be more comfortable. A yoga teacher or body worker might help you examine your meditation posture


Lindsay Boyer is chapter coordinator in New York and the author of Centering Prayer for Everyone.