Moving mindfully is simply connecting with your body in the here and now. It is about noticing how you move with awareness.
The benefits of exercise are far reaching for both mind and body. When you do so in a mindful manner, you can amplify the positive experience.
Firstly you connect with how your body is feeling. The old saying “no pain no gain” has been problematic for those new to exercise. When you are unable to differentiate the discomfort of exertion with the pain of dysfunction, injury results. Being present to your bodies experience is key in respecting your bodies needs, moment to moment. It is also about focusing in a curious and compassionate manner, being kind to your body.
Exercising with focused attention enables you to get more out of your workout! Connecting with your breathing can help better regulate your heart rate and recovery. Connecting with your muscles helps you generate more work, better results and can correct muscle imbalances.
Moving mindfully can assist you in managing stress and anxiety. When you are in fight and flight your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, a bit like your foot stuck on the accelerator. Both exercise and mindfulness are proven strategies for better regulating the stress response and switching on the parasympathetic, rest and digest brake. This is key in managing and preventing conditions associated with chronic stress.
Here are four simple tips to start moving mindfully:
1. Remove distraction. Try working out without music, video or looking at your phone. It may also be about disengaging from extraneous conversation with your trainer! Instead a facilitator of mindful movement will help focus your attention on what your body is experiencing when moving.
2. Centre your body. Before commencing your session, take time out to connect with your breathing. I like to do this lying on the floor before starting my foam roller or mobility work. Try taking 10 deep breaths and connect with your body in a non-judgmental and curious fashion. If you were a scientist observing breathing for the first time where is the movement occurring? This can be conducted with a body scan: Notice the belly, the back of the ribs, the neck and shoulders. Are there any other areas that move with your breath? Can you feel the air entering your nose and passing down to your lungs?
3. During your workout connect with the movement you are engaging in. Depending on the activity this may involve… “Noticing”:
Your breathing. Are you holding your breath?
How are your feet contacting the floor?
What is the position of your pelvis and spine as you move?
How is your scapula (shoulder blade) moving when performing upper body movement?
What muscles are activating, and generating your movement?
Can you feel your “core” and other stabilizing muscles when lifting?
What is impeding or limiting your movement?
Are there any extraneous muscle contractions not necessary for the desired movement. For instance, are you over activating your neck musculature?
Are there any thoughts or emotions associated with your session?
4. End the session with a body scan and take time to reflect. I like to finish my cool down, lying on the floor connecting with my breathing. I then complete a short body scan starting at my neck and working my way down to my toes. In doing so I notice any extraneous muscle tension and let it go, coordinating with my out breath. On completion I notice how my body is contacting the floor and with a sense of gratitude thank it for allowing me the opportunity to move.
Finally try noticing how your body is feeling at the end of your workout and how this compares to your experience prior to commencing the session? This is a great way of becoming present to some of the benefits associated with regular movement. By doing so you develop your intrinsic motivation that creates a desire to move regularly and create a healthy habit that sticks!