Mindfully moving for a few minutes every day can be a great way to ground your thoughts and centre your emotions.
What does mindfulness mean to you? Sitting cross-legged daily for 20 minutes, trying to stop yourself from thinking? Or maybe it’s only focusing on positive thoughts? (It might, of course, mean nothing at all!)
There are many assumptions about mindfulness, but it simply means being aware of thoughts, sensations, and feelings as they arise, and working with them, instead of blocking them out.
One way of doing this in everyday life is by engaging in mindful movement – a practice that, unsurprisingly, involves moving the body mindfully while doing something you enjoy, whether that’s walking, skateboarding, or dancing around your room. Done regularly, it can help to ground thoughts and centre emotions, so feelings are less likely to run away with you.
Mindful movement is about being present in the body as you move. There is a deep and important connection between body and mind.
The body doesn’t lie about the emotion it’s experiencing – that’s why noticing its sensations can guide you on how you’re truly feeling. And if the body is relaxed, it’s likely the mind (which is also listening) will follow suit.
Moving can release tight muscles that might be holding emotion you didn’t even know you were experiencing. Mindful movement can help transform how you’re feeling and convert a difficult emotional state into a more neutral or even positive one.
It’s also a good bridge to practising mindfulness daily and a way to get in touch with your body. Dancer and dance researcher Eline Kieft says: ‘We often underestimate the power of movement, but the great thing is everyone can do it. You’ve moved to express yourself and explore the world since forever – why stop? Movement is fun.
‘You can release how you feel about the world, school, friendships, your worries, your woes and even what brings you joy.
‘It can also help you to sleep better and to absorb more information – if you move on a day when you’ve learned something, that fresh information will stick better because new connections in your brain are being knitted at night.’
Ready to give it a go? Read on to find out how to practise a short breathing exercise and get started.
STEP INTO THE TECHNIQUE THAT SUITS YOU
Some evidence suggests that being mindful for a period of 40 days can help to make a real difference to how you feel. So, if you can manage five minutes (or more) of mindful movement a day, see if you notice any changes. Listed below are some ideas to get started, which you might like to try after a short breathing exercise (further below):
- Take your shoes off, so you can feel the ground beneath you.
- Close your eyes and take a moment to focus on your senses.
- Stand straight and relax your shoulders and jaw.
- What can you feel? The ground underneath?
- What can you taste? Move your tongue around your teeth and concentrate.
- What can you smell? Take in other sounds in the room and beyond.
READY TO ROLL
Dance researcher Eline’s tips:
- First, remember that you already know how to move and that there is no right or wrong way here. It really doesn’t matter what the movement looks like. Simply put on your favourite track and let your body go with the beat.
- You can choose one body part and let that dance – what’s the dance of your elbows? How about your knees?
- You can also think about an image from nature that you find appealing. Try to move like an animal – do you have wings, a tail, or soft paws?
- Mimic the movements of the leaves on a tree or move like the ocean or the clouds.
- If you’ve had a stressful experience, dance whatever you weren’t able to express or say in the moment when it happened. This can help to work through the experience.
- It doesn’t matter how fit or flexible you are, or if you have visible or invisible conditions. The effects can be felt, even if you just move your head.
- Trace lines with your ears, or with your chin in the air. Gently try different angles.
- Adjust where you’re looking, and really see. All of life can be a dance, just use your imagination!
- Do only what is OK for your body. If it feels uncomfortable, stop.
- Breathe gently through your nostrils. If you are holding your breath, or if it becomes laboured, stop and rest.
- If you have any conditions that might be aggravated by movement, talk to your doctor first.
SETTLE INTO THE MOMENT
Try this short breathing exercise inspired by The Mindfulness Association. You might wish to do a three-minute breathing exercise to help you feel settled. You can do this before, during, or after a spot of mindful movement (see left). Alternatively, try this as a standalone practice and use it as a great way to reset at any point during the day.
- Become aware – what’s going on for you?
Notice your posture, straighten your back and relax your body. With your eyes open or closed, silently ask yourself: ‘What is my experience right now, in my thoughts, my feelings and in my body?’ Recognise and accept your experience, even if it’s unwanted.
- Gather your breathing
Gently redirect your full attention to your breathing. Notice each time you breathe in, and when you breathe out. Do this for two minutes, using your breathing as your anchor to bring you into the present and help you tune in to stillness.
- Expand outwards
Now start to become aware of your body as a whole, your posture, and facial expressions. Pay attention to your whole body, including any sense of discomfort or tension. If you feel either of these things, breathe in and out from that part of your body. For example, if your belly feels tight, use your mind to imagine your breath going into your tummy, then imagine breathing out from there. You could also say to yourself as you breathe out each time: ‘It’s OK. Whatever it is, it’s OK. Let me feel it. It is here already so I may as well make friends with it.’
As best you can, bring this awareness to the movement exercise and to the next moments of your day.