Train your brain with mindful movement

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”
– Jim Rohn –

We live in a world of mass distraction – news alerts, tweets, lunch on-the-go, zoom meetings, commuting, text messages, emails, quarterly reports, and more. Life in the age of technology can be overwhelming. When we feel overwhelmed, it triggers The Stress Response in our bodies, with the brain immediately releasing hormones that tell your adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline. This is the beginning of hormone imbalance and an overstimulated nervous system, which can impact physical and mental health.

As a result of these ongoing distractions, we have become disconnected from our bodies, focused on the ongoing tasks at hand (or literally in our hands) but unfocused on what’s happening in our bodies.

This is why we need to be more mindful.

MINDFULNESS = PRODUCTIVITY

Firstly, if you believe the term ‘mindfulness’ means you need to carve out an hour everyday to sit on a mountaintop and breathe, think again. Mindfulness is much more achievable than that. 

As defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, doctor, author and founder of the renowned Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at University of Massachusetts, “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” 

Mindfulness is paying attention. It’s being present. It’s being purposeful. And it’s doing so without judgment – of others, but also yourself.  And for those Type A’s who want to increase productivity and the bottom line, consider this: Mindfulness is training your brain to be more focused. And where there’s focus, there’s productivity. 

Now, of course, there is value in sitting on a mountaintop for an hour, having a body that is flexible and relaxed enough to sit cross-legged, and of course there are incredible benefits to breathing in copious amounts of pure oxygen and soaking up the unending benefits of being in nature. 

But, you can also incorporate mindfulness in a number of other ways. And for most busy professionals, one of the best ways to start is through Mindful Movement.

WHAT IS MINDFUL MOVEMENT?

Mindful movement is paying attention to how you move. It’s paying attention to how you walk, stand, drive, work out, stretch, reach, sit on the couch, or sit at your desk. It’s being mindful of how you perform even the slightest movements – even how you stand or sit while you text.  It’s paying attention to your body’s alignment, posture, balance, the feeling of your own weight, and your range of motion. 

And in my books, Mindful Movement is also listening to your body in order to determine what type of exercise you need in the moment.  For example, were you planning to go for a run after work, but just don’t feel like it? Maybe you should stretch instead? Or were you supposed to go for a walk with a friend but have the energy and motivation to do something a bit more strenuous, like strength training – either at the gym or in your living room? Then do that. 

Listen to your body. Be mindful. Pay attention. Train your brain to pay attention. When you pay attention, you train your brain to focus, and if you can train your brain to be more focused, you can train your brain to be more productive.

NEXT STEPS…

If you’ve got 1 minute or 1 hour, here’s a way to start incorporating  test out your mindful movement skills? If you can take off your shoes to feel more of the movement in your feet, great. If not, and you don’t want your colleagues to wonder what the h you’re doing, leave your shoes on!

  • Stand with feet comfortably hip width apart. Shake out any tension from your arms and legs and head and just find a comfortable standing position.
  • Look at your feet. What do you notice? Are they both pointing forward? Are they turned out? Is one forward and one turned out? Do you lean more on the outsides of your feet or insides? Don’t judge. Just be curious.
  • Wiggle your toes if you can. Notice which toes you can wiggle easily and which ones you can’t. When you wiggle your toes, what muscles do you feel contracting?
  • Now focus on your knees. Are they tightly locked or hyperextended or are the loose and slightly bent? Shake out your legs again if you need to but aim to have the fronts of your thighs relaxed and your knees bent, ever so slightly. This can reduce tension on your lower back.
  • Now up to your hips and pelvis. Can you tell if you’re holding tension in this area? Give your hips a shake and let it loose to relax a bit further. Notice, are you leaning more into one hip than another? Shake your hips again and take note if your weight is evenly distributed between both hips, knees and feet. Personally, I have to be very aware of this because I tend to lean into my right hip.
  • Now let’s be mindful of your spine. Imagine a string is pulling the top of your head to the sky. This doesn’t mean your chin goes up and your chest goes out. Instead, you’re creating length in the back of your body, along the spine, which runs from your tailbone to head. As you reach up through the top and back of your head, notice that the back of your neck elongates. Does this make you feel (or crave) more length out of your core and hips? Does this makes you contract or pull in your abdominals? Does this new length in your upper body prompt you to find length in your lower body, reaching up from your knees and feet? Feel the length of your body from the ground all the way to the top of your head and beyond. Ground yourself, from your feet to the tip of your head. Keep lengthening.
  • Breeeeathe. (We tend to hold our breath when focusing on posture. Breathe naturally throughout this movement. There is no right or wrong way to breathe in this exercise.)

Now it’s time to move.

  • Keep you eyes forward and posture intact.
  • With your left foot, slowly take a small, comfortable step forward and then roll through your foot, heel first. Try keeping the ball of your back foot on the floor behind you, if it’s comfortable. This isn’t about going somewhere fast. This is about focusing and paying attention to the movement.
  • What did you notice in your body when you transferred your weight? Did your right leg and right foot take on the responsibility of holding your body weight, even for a split second, until you put your front foot on the ground. Did your posture change when the weight changed? What did you notice as you rolled through the foot? Were you stable in the movement? Is the ground warm or cold? Does it feel strange to take a step with the left foot first (since the majority of people are right handed and naturally take a step with the right foot first)?
  • Check your posture. Re-establish the length if necessary.
  • Take another step. Repeat.

If we followed the exercise above with every step we took, we wouldn’t get very far in our daily lives. But you don’t need to be going slow to be mindful. So as you tackle your day to day activities, as you move throughout the day, pay attention to how the ground feels below you, to how your body shifts and balances your weight. Pay attention to whether you’re looking at the ground (or your phone!) or at the environment around you. In other words, mindfully move. The extra benefit of practicing mindful movement is that once we start being mindful in one area of our lives, we naturally become mindful in others. 

Interested in incorporating other forms of mindfulness into your life? Get started with a Private Coaching Session.

By Nicole Porter
Nicole Porter is a Stress Coach and Wellness Educator helping busy professionals understand and overcome the Top 10 Unhealthy Habits preventing optimal health, mindset and productivity. She is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Registered Nutritional Therapist, Healthy Weight Loss Coach, and Pilates Coach with a background in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Behaviour Change.

Nicole Porter Wellness

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