When someone says Mindful Movement, what comes to mind?
In my mind, I always imagine someone moving really slowly. It’s a little silly picturing it that way but it makes a clear point, and that is that an overabundance of movement or movement done very quickly is generally superfluous, not mindful. During my stay here in Costa Rica for the Epicself Fellowship, I have learned so much about mindful movement from Amber and her style of teaching pilates and yoga. Since I have been down here, I have made huge strides in my physical abilities and energetic posture simply from exercising mindfully.
Mindful movement refers to movement focusing your attention on your body while observing the subtleties of what you are feeling. It can be applied to any form of movement, any type of exercise, as long as it is performed with awareness.
Ok so let’s break down this word, awareness. What does being aware of your body and really mean?
In my experience, one of the most powerful techniques for cultivating awareness is paying attention to your breathing. Whether you are running an errand, an a Zumba class, or just sitting in front of your computer, notice your breath. Are you breathing deeply or is it shallow? Are your breaths rapid or slow? Does your chest or belly expand when you inhale? Are your sinuses so stuffed you can hardly breath through your nose? Becoming aware of how you are breathing in any given moment is the beginning of cultivating the awareness necessary for mindful movement.
So mindful movement is firstly any movement done with attention to the breath, and secondly how the harmonizations of movement with breathe affect both the body AND the mind.
This conscious coordination of body and breath was THE thing about yoga that changed my life. I became a pranayama addict! Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for the practice of harnessing life-force, or prana, through implementing breathing techniques.
What I love most about pranayama is the way in which it not only affects your body, by slowing down your heart rate and activating your parasympathetic nervous system, but it also has such a profound affect on your state of mind! By bringing that awareness of the breath into your movement practice, you will not only deepen your understanding of your body but also your mind.
There are so many scientific reasons why breath awareness and mindful movement are so beneficial both in exercise, and in life in general but I want to focus on some practical uses of mindful movement using the breath.Mindful movement practices such as yoga, pilates, and qigong focus heavily breathwork, implementing a plethora of techniques that boost energy, increase flexibility & strength, even help release trauma. Sure, breathing sounds simple enough but to really understand how profound of a effect it can have, we really need to experience it directly to get why it can be such a powerful tool for healing.
Boost you Energy – Through gentle back-bending yoga postures, like Extended Mountain pose, Bridge, or Upward-Facing Dog, we are opening up the chest and thus are able to take full deep breaths, thereby increasing our energy. We can also increase the speed of our breathing, using a practice like breath of fire in a pose to energize the body and increase mental alertness..
Increase your Flexibility – Do you hold your breath when you stretch? Taking deep breath while stretching can be a powerful tool for increasing the intensity of posture and thereby increasing your flexibility. When breathing in, try to hold the pose while directing the air in through your lungs and down to the part of the body that is most feeling the stretch. As you exhale, allow your muscles to soften and release further into the stretch.
Increase your Strength – If your hardcore about physical fitness, you probably already know how crucial breathing is to building strength. Martial artists have known this forever, making sounds like “Kiai!” to leverage their breath for strength. By turning up the volume on your breathe, you are able to exert greater force in your movements.
Release Physical & Emotional Trauma – Breathwork with or without movement has an enormous capacity to help us release & heal emotional wounds that can be hard to access otherwise. Often these trauma’s are lodged somewhere in the body and by actively and consciously directing our breath, we can access emotional blocks to clear them.
My experience here in Costa Rica practicing mindful movement every morning has transformed my body and mind. I have seen how working with my movement and breath has re-energized me when I was feeling exhausted. I have seen both my strength and flexibility increase dramatically and I have let things go, emotionally, that were no longer serving me. observing your body and cultivating breath awareness are some of the most simple yet powerful, and terribly under-utilized tools for transformation.
What do you have to lose?