“Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, nonjudgmentally.” -John Kabat-Zinn
People often get confused about how mindfulness relates to meditation, whether they are the same or different. A simple way to visualise this is by employing a Venn diagram in which mindfulness is a big circle and meditation is a smaller circle withing it.
In other words, meditation falls within the category of ways to train mindfulness. You don’t need to mediate to be mindful, yet meditation helps you become more and more aware of what is happening right now. Meditation is like a gym for your brain, allowing you to build and strengthen your mindfulness muscle.
However, meditation isn’t for everyone. One of my favourite ways of focusing my attention and being mindful is through movement.
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 for your cognitive, metal and emotional health.
Here are four simple tips to start moving mindfully:
1. Remove distraction. Try moving or working out without music, video or looking at your phone. It may also be about disengaging from extraneous conversation with another person. Instead, 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 movements. 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 movement session 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 session, 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 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!
Over the Melbourne Cup long-weekend I took time to rest, reflect and reset. Not only was it a time to catch up on a few books, it enabled me to be flexible and creative with my exercise routine, part of which is enjoying some open water swimming.
I love swimming in the open water. The sun filtering through the waves, the gentle rock of the swell beyond the wave zone, and the fish, and other marine creatures keeping me company. When swimming you cannot but become mindful of your movement and environment. The cyclical nature of stroke, glide, kick and breath helps centre your mind- a moving mediation in a glistening blue space. For me exercise is more than physical heath, it’s the vital fuel I need to maintain emotional health. Feel free to check out my short presentation on Moving for mental and cognitive and health. This is one of the modules in my Move pillar in the Being Vital Coaching Program.
On a final note, my relationship to exercise has developed and changed over the years. In my early years it was more about aesthetic. As I journeyed, I discovered how exercise helped with my anxiety and build emotional resilience. Now that I have entered my sixth decade, I am more mindful of how activity can help me maintain function and do the things I love. Walking up a mountain with a pack and skis in a natural setting being one such thing. What I have learnt is that bodies change. I now need to be more careful when moving heavy objects in the garden. I have mourned my ability to run long distance as my calfs have deteriorated. However, as one metaphorical door closes another opens. Reengaging with my swimming is one such example. Our bodies are designed to move. From my perspective, It's about being accepting, flexible and proactive to stay in motion. And, to be grateful for this gift that so many don't have the pleasure of experiencing. J.