These four words say a lot. They could be used to describe what we do in Awareness Through Movement® classes. Of course, they could also be used to describe many other mindful movement practices or what happens when we’re engaged in challenging activities.
The effects of slow, mindful movement
The importance of slow, mindful movement is increasingly recognized. More and more studies show the positive effect of yoga, tai chi, Feldenkrais® work and other mindful somatic practice on chronic pain and recovery from illness and injury. As Alan Fogel wrote in a Psychology Today Body Sense column: “Some experts suggest that these slow methods instead increase the parasympathetic relaxation response which in turn reduces the stress response, promotes immune function that inhibits inflammation and stimulates healing.” No wonder we feel better!
Integrate it with your other activities
Certainly cardiovascular exercise along with strength, flexibility and balance training are important as we seek to age well. Luckily, mindfulness can be combined with these forms of exercise. In fact, paying attention while we exercise, Fogel says, boosts the benefit by allowing more parts of our brain and nervous system to link to other parts of our body. The body responds more efficiently to the demand of exercise and the benefits of exercise increase. He calls it embodied exercise and here’s a few specific examples:
Runners who scored higher on tests of embodied self-awareness, for example, used less oxygen, ran faster, and with less build-up of muscle tension. Children who spent more time in structured recreational sports where they were taught to pay attention to their bodies had higher achievement scores in their school work and better social skills. Athletes, from amateur to professional, can improve their performance by learning to pay attention to the body in different phases of an activity – such as during a tennis or golf swing – to reduce muscle strain and allow the body to more efficiently use its metabolic resources.
In my experience, regular immersion in slow, mindful movement also enables us to be embodied in the present moment, to check in with ourselves as we move through our day. We can notice the tiny whispers of discomfort long before we find ourselves in pain. We can then choose to do something differently, or to at least consider how we are doing whatever it is that results in that little whisper. As a regular swimmer, I know that my technique, speed and endurance have improved when I actively incorporate mindful movement, paying attention to how I’m moving and breathing and trying out variations in my approach.
Move slowly with attention
Something we can do in many situations many times during the day. Try it and notice the result. And if you’d like to experience mindful movement with others, check out an Awareness Through Movement class!