When you work out or simply move about your day, how mindful are you … really? In this guest post from Selina Rose — registered holistic nutritionist, yoga teacher, author, and the founder of the Eats & Asana Method — she breaks down how moving mindfully can actually help you to beat stress more than just going through the motions of a workout and she shows you easy ways to start moving mindfully today (even if you’re not going to the gym).
Beat Stress By Moving Mindfully by Selina Rose
If you’re even remotely interested in health, it’s pretty hard to overlook the benefits of body movement. After all, nutrition and exercise are often considered the two major components for health.
Exercise is awesome for a number of reasons — building confidence, strengthening muscles, increasing endurance, etc. But when it comes to managing stress, are you missing a beneficial piece with your workouts and daily movement?
If you’re approaching exercise with the same unconscious mindset that shows up for many of us throughout our daily lives, you’re getting the physical benefits, but might be missing out on the stress-relief.
When was the last time you completed a familiar task (like driving to work) and then thought: “I have no idea how I just did that? I wasn’t present at all.”?
We’ve all got that default setting that allows us to “do” without being mentally present. Exercise can become that way as well. Especially when you’ve been doing an activity for a long time, it becomes familiar and you lose connection with your body because you aren’t mentally present.
This might mean you’re physically present at the gym, but your mind is still spinning about something your boss said to you, or a conversation you have to have later with your partner. Combining mindfulness with movement will engage your mind and body and keep you out of mental (and hormonal) stress cycle during time that’s supposed to be beneficial for your health.
Mindfulness is often mistaken for meditation, when in fact mindfulness and meditation aren’t synonymous.
That’s good news for everyone who prefers movement to sitting still. You don’t have to sit still and be quiet for long periods at a time just to practice mindfulness … though that’s one way of doing it.
Mindfulness means being consciously aware of something. This begins with being aware of your state – perceiving the thoughts trailing through your mind, noticing the emotions that are present and bodily sensations like the feeling of your feet on the floor, or the texture of your shirt against your skin.
To be aware at this level requires attention to detail and presence of mind that has you mentally in tune with your body. It’s the difference between being all there (physically and mentally present) or half there (physically present, but your mind is thinking of something else).
It’s possible to combine mindfulness with movement. Mindful movement allows you to be embodied, meaning you’re grounded and present energetically and mentally, in your body. When you’re in this embodied state, you’re hyper aware of the movements your body is making and the subtle engagements of your muscles, as well as the rhythm and depth of your breath. It’s a workout for your mind just as much as your body.
Introducing Mindful Movement
Practices like yoga and Tai Chi are known for being embodied mindful activities. But, really, we can bring mindfulness and presence to any type of movement. Mindful movement practices can (but may not always) be slower and less intense than doing other activities, but don’t mistake mindful movement for easy movement. Paying attention to muscle engagement and focusing on quality movements instead of speed can be challenging and lead to muscle fatigue the same way a fast-paced workout can.
Slowing down movement allows for more presence and awareness within the body. For example, it’s more challenging to pay attention to and feel every muscle engagement and breath when you’re running down the street, than it would be when you’re moving through a sun salutation in a yoga class.
Mindful movement incorporates deep breathing and usually synchronizes movements with the breath. So while you’re strengthening your muscles, you’re also bringing a lot of oxygen into your blood. This type of inward focus is what makes mindful movement different from traditional sports or gym routines. Here you are concerned with the inner workings of your body as opposed to completing the outward activity or creating muscle definition.
You’re working IN rather than working OUT.
The benefits add up, too. Mindful movement has many of the same benefits as meditation including improved mood and sense of gratitude, improve self-regulation, and a feeling of being grounded.
Mindful Movement for Stress Relief
Stress relief is not one-dimensional. It’s not meditation or exercise. It’s possible to combine the subtle awareness of meditation with movement. In fact, combining the two can create heightened self-awareness and self-correction to enhance performance across all areas of life.
Engaging your mind and body in an activity brings you fully into the present moment. You can’t be worrying about making a deadline, or planning out what’s for supper when you’re fully engaged in mindful movement. This presence calms the nervous system and brings you out of your fight-or-flight nervous system response, allowing your body to settle down from stress.
Get Started on Moving Mindfully
As stated before, any movement can be practiced mindfully — from walking to your car, to lifting your child out of a crib, to practicing yoga. Here’s how to bring mindfulness to any movement you’re doing.
1. Focus inside.The practice begins before you even start moving. Take a minute to notice your breath and pay attention to your inhale and exhale. Then take a scan of your body (it’s helpful to close your eyes for this) and notice what you feel. Where is there tension? What is the quality of your energy today? Think of this like taking a baseline of your body and breath before moving so you know what you’re working with on that day.
2. Focus on quality movement. To do this you’ll need to maintain presence and awareness in your body. This is the mental aspect of the workout. That means you’ll need to slow down. Even if you end up doing less in your workout, you’ll be gaining by slowing your nervous system down and allowing your body to do the movements properly.
3. Remember, it’s a practice. With mindful movement you’re flexing your mental muscles as well as physical ones. You’ll need to get used to re-centering your mind and letting go of your thoughts. There’s no such thing as perfect; it’s a practice.
4. Start with any movement. Bring mindfulness into your everyday movements. You don’t need to carve out extra time in your day for mindful movement, you can start by bringing mindfulness into the movements you’re doing on a regular basis. For example, be present and aware of your body and breath when walking your dog, sitting at your computer, or climbing stairs.
Adding these little bits of mindful movement into your days will help you recenter and refocus inward instead of on outward stressors. –Selina Rose