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Live Well: Mindfulness, movement and motivation

Acceptance is an important part of mindfulness, and we can use it to work through any difficulties we have with our activities, like tired muscles or a light rain. ~ Paul McIsaac

Once more, spring has sprung, with its promise of vitality somewhat overshadowed by the weather and a set of individual and global concerns.

It is bad enough being distracted by the worries of the day, but they can affect us physically as well as mentally. However, the technique of mindfulness, remembering the present, can help get us moving and motivated, encouraging us to experience the fullness of each activity.

Mind/body awareness can be a source of power and assurance in moments of self-doubt and can start with something as simple as the way we sit or stand. According to the European Journal of Social Psychology, when we hold our body in an upright, open position with our head held high, we feel more confident. So, when we are nervous, we can counteract negative feelings and feel our projected power simply by using a more confident posture.

Mindfulness is the human state allowing us to be completely aware of what is happening to us locally and in the present without being distracted by thoughts that are not of the moment. Learning to be mindful can be difficult but combining it with movement makes it easier.

Mindful movement allows us to place more attention on our daily activities by focusing on our breathing, physical movements and signals from all our senses. Imagine concentrating on the sensation of your foot hitting the ground while walking, or the warmth of the soil on your hands and the sun on your back while gardening.

When we are more mindful and active than usual, our negative feelings seem to decrease. Increased mindfulness offers improved concentration, better clarity and focus, and more energy, along with a calmer, less stressed approach to life.

“Being mindful in your moments allows you to participate in the full benefits of the experience,” describes author Michael James Wong. “Movement routines and activities are more than just physical when done mindfully, they allow the mind to focus, engage and be present.”

The goal of most exercise is to improve the body’s physical condition. In mindful movement the objective is to focus on the actual sensations of the body as it moves. It connects the mind and body, which in turn helps to regulate the entire nervous system.

The benefits of mindful movement are many, including reduced stress and anxiety, better relaxation and sleep, elevated moods and clearer focus. Better yet, all these enhancements come at the small price of minor adjustments to our daily activities.

Start slow

An example of mindful movement is this exercise in mindful walking:

Start off by slowing your pace so you have more time to appreciate the sensations. Feel the lifting, rolling and placement of each foot, even the change from foot to foot. Pay particular attention to the surrounding smells, sights and sounds. After a minute, stop and notice the sensations of your body when it is still. Then, turn around and repeat the same process on your return.

With mindful movement, we aim to experience the here and now, staying in the present moment. We are aware of our movements and focus on our breath. If our mind wanders, we bring ourselves back to our present, our breath and our body.

There are four types of mindful movement: breathing, walking, stretching and working out. Imagine engaging in each of these practices while focusing our attention on the body in the present.

In breathing practice, we lengthen the process of breathing in, breathing out and holding our breath. Box breathing is a good way to do this: breathe in for a count of four, hold it for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, then hold it for a count of four. Repeating this box breathing technique is a good way to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, become calm and think more clearly, which is especially useful in times of worry or crisis.

Purposeful plan

Here are some methods to assist in combining mindfulness, movement and motivation:

Before you even begin an activity, stop and determine your purpose in doing it. Consider your intention. Is it to accomplish a task, regulate your emotions or simply enjoy the day?

To be fully present, leave distractions such as cellphones behind and try to plan the activity by the time it takes to accomplish it rather than by the clock. This allows us to fully tap into our body and its sensations.

Use breath to monitor mindfulness. If our attention wanders from the simple in and out of breathing, we can use this as a signal to refocus.

Employing all our senses we can pay attention to different aspects of an activity and use them to anchor it in mindfulness. We can note our surroundings with either focused attention or open awareness to pay attention to details or immerse ourselves in the overall experience.

Acceptance is an important part of mindfulness, and we can use it to work through any difficulties we have with our activities, like tired muscles or a light rain.

Through the whole experience of mindfulness, movement and motivation, we should feel free to practice self-kindness by appreciating our ability, speed and endurance. 

Paul McIsaac is a registered clinical counsellor practicing in the qathet region, and via telephone and internet across Canada.