Mindfulness in Movement

December 16, 2019

Sign on a low ceiling that reads "Mind your head"

A topic you may have seen making the rounds among many self-care blogs and news articles is mindfulness. But what exactly is mindfulness and why should we, as movers, be paying attention? Mindfulness is the mental practice of bringing your focus to the thoughts and feelings you're experiencing at the present moment. The sole intention is acknowledgment without judgment.

So why exactly does this matter? Mindfulness can be practiced for many reasons. If you were to ask me personally, I utilize it to re-focus and let go of stressful situations. When everything feels like it's on fire and I'll never have enough hours in the day, I force myself to sit for 5 or even 10 minutes and simply focus on where my mind and body are at. I don't delve into the why. I don't analyze every thought, feeling, or emotion that comes up. I just acknowledge what the situation is and let everything just be for a moment.

When it comes to movement, this practice can become critically important when perceived progress is slow. It can be helpful to focus on what you are doing, right now, without the judgment. Additionally, adding mindfulness to your movement can bring increased awareness and attention to details that you would usually get from a great coach.

For example, think of someone who has just started to take up running for the first time. For many, the main focus ends up being, "My lungs are on fire. Who put this hill here? I'm pretty sure I'm dying. How much longer do I have?" Whereas starting off mindful of where you're body is at could ultimately give you the focus you need to set and reach better goals for yourself. Instead of the negative feedback focus of - my lungs are on fire - our runner could instead focus on their breath. Are they belly breathing? Inhaling and exhaling at an even rate? Is this rate conducive to their current pace? Should that be adjusted? Things they wouldn't otherwise notice or think to adjust without bringing focus to what is actually happening.

Most importantly, mindfulness as a part of your movement practice can help with injury prevention. Keeping your focus on your body in motion you can begin to fully notice if your muscles aren't warm enough or stretched enough for specific movements. You can begin to feel if things are being trained in uneven patterns with some muscle groups working harder than others instead of balanced. You are also more likely to FEEL progress before you can see progress.

Now for the big question, how do I bring mindfulness to my movement? A great introduction to mindfulness, especially for movers, is a technique called a body scan. Try a 3-minute body scan before you warm up to help you assess where your body is at before you move into more strenuous warm-up movements. Practice this until you can begin to find the same body scanning mindfulness and focus on your regular warm-up movements. Gradually adding this practice piece by piece to every aspect of your movement. Remember that the key is without judgment. Today, what you're feeling, is where you're at.

Never done a body scan before? No worries. It's pretty straight forward. For the sake of practice right now let's bring your focus to the top of your head. I'm going to ask you several things and just know your answer may be completely different and that's ok! Not only is it ok, but I'm not asking you to change anything. If you're holding tension somewhere you don't have to relax it, you don't have to analyze why something feels the way it does, you don't have to do anything but take notice. You're essentially making a basic grocery list of how things are feeling.

So, back to the top of your head. How is it feeling? Hot? Itchy? Have a headache? A little mentally exhausted?

Moving down a bit let's bring your attention to your forehead. Are you holding tension and making wrinkles? Are you relaxed and calm?

Continue to slowly move down and bring your focus to your jaw. Are you holding tension here? clenching your teeth? Tired from talking to people all day? Parched and in need of water?

Finally, let's bring your focus to your neck. Are you stiff from sleeping too long? Tight from sitting too long? Relaxed because you just rolled out?

Are you seeing the pattern? Continue on this way until you have reached to bottoms of your feet (sometimes it can be interesting to yo-yo back up and see what's changed or unchanged). If you feel like you still need more direction I would recommend the Headspace app which can introduce you to more in-depth mindfulness practices that can be incorporated into your movement practice.

If you, like many people, find yourself struggling with the idea of carving out time for self-care see if making mindfulness a part of your regular movement practice can provide the mental and emotional recharge you need.

Have you successfully integrated mindfulness into your movement or have some tips and resources you'd like to share? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!


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