“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson understood something quite profound.
Mindfulness has become an ever-growing term used in today’s wellness culture. So what is it? How do we do it, and how can we cultivate it? What are some of its benefits? How can we connect to that which ‘lies within us’?
Today I will be exploring mindfulness through the specific lens of mindful movement. And when I say movement, I mean physical movement. Whether you have a Yoga practice, or you love to take walks in the woods, Qigong, Tai Chi, or swimming, these are the types of physical practices I am talking about.
Speaking of swimming, let’s dive in…
On a very high level, mindfulness is attention. It is awareness.
John Kabat-Zimn, one of the leading experts on mindfulness who wrote the book, “Full Catastrophe Living”, defines mindfulness as:
“Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. It is one of many forms of meditation, if you think of meditation as any way in which we engage in 1. Systematically regulating our attention and energy, 2. Thereby influencing and possibly transforming the quality of our experience 3. In the service of realizing the full range of our humanity and of 4. Our relationships to others in the world”.
*This definition was drawn from the Mindfulness Meditation Teaching Certificate Program study guides (MMTCP), which I am taking currently.
I also deeply appreciate Tara Brach’s definition:
“Mindfulness as natural presence. Presence is not some exotic state that we need to search for or manufacture. In this simplest terms, it is the felt sense of wakefulness, openness, and tenderness that arises when we are fully here and now with our experience. You’ve surely tasted presents, even if you didn’t call it that. Perhaps you felt it lying awake in bed and listening to crickets on a hot summer night. You might have a sensed presence while walking alone in the woods. You might have arrived in full presence as you witness someone dying or being born. Presence is the awareness that is intrinsic to our nature. It is immediate and embodied, perceived through our senses.”
And since I am taking a look at mindfulness through the lens of movement of our bodies, I appreciate this other definition by Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and alive, body and mind united. Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to know what is going on in the present moment.”
He goes on to state that “mindfulness brings concentration”. And this is why I like to begin people with just that simple understanding of bringing one’s attention to what you are doing. That attention with purpose and non-judgment, being open and with compassion, elicits a concentration that supports us in being more fully present in the moment.
How often are we ever truly fully present?
Our mind races every second. The moment we wake up we might think to brush our teeth, we might feel our tummy rumble, we might already be rushing to get out the door. And then once we’re out the door, the world holds so many things that distract us, and can even pull us out of the moment.
Maybe you’ve stubbed a toe on a chair or table leg when you weren’t being mindful? I have, and it hurts! It also becomes an interrupter that reminds me to be more mindful. Then as my toes pain subsides, I notice I have become more mindful, and I walk around the chair with more space. I am more aware of my physical surroundings as much as how my own body moves in space.
One of the very foundations of mindfulness practice is this awareness of the body. Mindfulness of our physicality. The four foundations of mindfulness are body(this includes breath), feelings, thoughts, and mind states(this includes relation to experience). More on the other three in the months to come!
What happens when you start to move with a purpose?
-Sit for a moment. Center, soften, and breathe. Sit with a gentle length of your spine. Sit tall, rather than leaning back in the chair. Close your eyes to notice the breath and your seated posture.
-Now, without judgment of how it goes, and with intention to move your arms with your breath, inhale your arms up to the sky. Exhale your arms down.
-Pause to notice what that felt like. Are there physical sensations in your body? Did any motion arise? Was your mind thinking of something else other than your breath and movement of your arms? Remember to not judge, simply observe.
-Slow it down now, and elongate your breath.
-Notice the movement up of your arms, and then down.
-Keep going for a short while. Notice the spaces between lifting up and lowering down. Notice the movement itself.
-Notice the pause now.
After this exercise, I invite you to reflect.
What were some of the ways you experienced your physical body? For example, did your toes want to wiggle? Did you want to stand up? Or did you start to feel like you needed to lie down?
Perhaps you experienced physical sensations, and maybe other sensations felt like energetic whispers from your body.
Still, other sensations may have come up that were emotions. For example, did you feel more awake and alive when you inhaled reaching your arms up to the sky? Did you feel happy? Did you notice there was sadness throughout the whole experience for you? Again, do not judge, just reflect and inquire within.
Perhaps you even became aware of what you were doing, what you were feeling, what you were noticing in the little millisecond, by millisecond, choices you were making in the movement. And perhaps even where you were making them from?…
For example, maybe you felt that you were going past your edge and it’s a little too much reaching up, your shoulder hurt, so you pulled back just a little and then found a more healthful height. At that height, you could breathe right there, no discomfort. Think about the benefits and implications of this practice off the mat! Maybe next time you start to notice yourself becoming overwhelmed, or too tired, hurt or hungry, you will now be better able to take care of yourself. OR!…
Maybe you met that edge and it was invigorating because you felt powerful in that moment! And so you reveled in it, stayed a little longer, noticing. Maybe you even inquired how you could reach more from the inside out?! And all along the journey you were noticing how you felt, how your body felt, how you energetically, emotionally, spiritually felt! And this moves you to a place of experiencing your possibilities!
**This is one reason why I support people in moving towards what some would call more dynamic, challenging, or even “advanced” postures in yoga when they are feeling it! (I don’t really like the term advanced, so change that word if you need to because remember, we aren’t comparing here, we are not judging, we ARE exploring and being open!)
So I invite you, as I do in all my yoga class teachings, and even in day-to-day conversations with others, to continue to “notice what you notice” and also “feel what you feel”. Because the noticing can come in many different layers of our being; from the emotional and spiritual, to the physical and the mental. This is mindfulness in practice.
And, mindfulness of movement is a way of connecting us to our bodies’ messages even more. Then we can respond, and vice versa.
A profound and trusting relationship with our body can be cultivated through mindful movement!
Developing this relationship we can use imagination, and use our own thoughts, to send breath to the body. Sending the attention to certain parts of the body, or the whole body, connects us with that part and then we can often open a channel of receptivity where now you can actually feel this part of your body and its wisdom.
In the upcoming series , I share real life stories of developing a trusting relationship with your body and the thing to do when we don’t know what to do – all this explored through mindfulness movement. And much more…
New Offer: Mindful Movement Series
I am excited to announce that in June 2023, I am offering a brand new 4 Weeks workshop series Mindful Movement to help explore some of the concepts touched upon in the blog in reality.
For more details, click here.