Movement as a Pathway to Mindfulness


Movement is one of the most fundamental and important functions of our body. We usually don’t notice our body at work because it is so wonderfully engineered to move. As a result, we often lack a strong mind-body connection. While some of us might pay a lot of attention to how our body looks, in our everyday experience must of us often ignore the messages from our body until it’s telling us something very urgent. We tend to only pay attention to our body when we are hungry, sleepy, have to relieve ourselves, or, worse, when we break a bone or have the flu—and sometimes we ignore even those messages.  Bringing mindful awareness to movement can strengthen our mind and body connection.

It’s also common knowledge that exercise is good for us because it supports a healthy and strong body and heart. But the benefits of exercise go beyond that. Dr. John J. Ratey, in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, explains “the science of how exercise cues the building blocks of learning in the brain; how it affects mood, anxiety, and attention; how it guards against stress and reverses some of the effects of aging in the brain….” He offers case studies and research to clearly show the importance of aerobic exercise to support peak brain performance. He describes a revolutionary physical education program in Naperville, Illinois, where students are “graded on how much time they spend in their target heart rate zones during any given activity.” This revolutionary approach helped children in this district be far more fit than the national average of children their age, and their GPAs and standardized test scores were also above average.

This information should motivate all of us to get more exercise, and it should also influence our interactions with the youth we work with. We can’t all have heart-rate monitors or exercise with our students, but we can strategically insert mindful movement breaks for our students to support their physical and mental well-being and to help them have a greater mind-body connection. This Atlantic article offers helpful links to research and describes how “schools that have sought to integrate more movement and free play, such as short 15-minute recess periods throughout the day, have seen gains in student attention span and instructional time.” These findings are especially important today, when physical education classes and recess are cut shorter—and our kids (as well as adults) are sitting for longer periods of time—making it harder to teach children. Lack of movement is also exacerbating health problems like childhood obesity.

In addition, in order for us and our children to really thrive, we need to have a strong mind-body connection—in other words, a sense of embodiment. Embodiment is important for all of us because it supports us in trusting ourselves as we learn to listen to the messages our body is giving us. We can then base our choices on what will be most supportive to our well-being. In this way, we can begin to have a deep knowing of ourselves as we move through the world, which will support us in making skillful choices.
In order to be embodied, our children have to be present to what their body is experiencing in the moment. And that’s where mindfulness and movement come in. We can help bring mindful awareness to their body as they move through their day. By asking children to pause and check in on their breath, the bottoms of their feet, or the sensations in their belly or chest when they’re walking from the classroom to the cafeteria, for example, we can begin strengthening their mind-body connection.
For more information on how our brains and brain work together, research on mindful movement and skilled attention, and how “mindful practice of movement can yield improvements in cognitive and attentional skills…and similarly improve functioning in ‘anomalous’ development, as with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD],” click here.

Little Flower Yoga uses yoga activities as a way to explore mindfulness of the body. But mindful movement doesn’t have to be yoga, and not all yoga is practiced mindfully. There are many ways you can explore mindful movement, such as synching breath to movement or bringing awareness to parts of our body as we move.

Being mindful while walking is one of the simplest ways to integrate mindful movement into our day. Click on this link for a helpful resource with tips and written instructions to get started.

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