Updated: Oct 6
Mindful movement is a meditation activity that involves awareness of the body in motion, including the transitions between one movement and the next. By placing our awareness on and into the body we can begin to experience the body in movement, its full capacities, and its potential. We can start to discover enjoyment within our own bodies. This could be something as simple as noticing how our feet connect with the floor, their temperature, and the subtle muscular movements as we move from one position to the next. It might be the sweep of our arm as we reach for a cup of coffee, the curling of our fingers around the handle, and the lifting of the cup to our lips with just the right amount of effort.
As we bring mindfulness to the activities of the body, we can start to appreciate just how truly amazing it is. Feelings of contentment and clarity of mind arise out of this bodily appreciation. A 2018 study from Penn State by Chih-Hsiang "Jason" Yang, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California, investigated the benefits of mindful movement.
"When people were both more mindful and more active than usual, they seem to have this extra decrease in negative affect," Yang said. "Being more active in a given moment is already going to reduce negative affect, but by also being more mindful than usual at the same time, you can see this amplified effect."
Yang went on to note that feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression were experienced at lower levels during mindful walking activities.
Any movements of the body can be approached with mindful awareness but it's often beneficial to have a structured approach so as to develop and embed the neural pathways that tap into mindful movement much more easily in our day-to-day activities.
Pilates, gym training, yoga, gymnastics, and walking all provide the basis for the application of mindful awareness. The focus of mindful movement, however, is on the cultivation of awareness, not on getting physically fit.
The ancient Chinese art of Qigong was developed around the practice of mindfulness and so is an ideal candidate for the cultivation of conscious awareness. Qigong has been an important part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years and its profound health benefits have started to be validated by Western medical researchers. The practice strengthens and relaxes the body and mind, helps to release stagnant energy, brings balance and well-being to the internal organs, and strengthens the immune system.
Qigong’s main benefit as a mindfulness practice, however, is that it strengthens awareness of the interdependent nature of the body, breath, and mind. It does this through the three Qigong principles or The Three Intentful Corrections of correct posture, correct breathing, and mindful awareness that is combined with slow, deep breathing and fluid, gentle movements of the body.
Correct posture teaches you how to move through your day with the least amount of stress on your body’s structure and physiology, whereas poor posture can result in stress on your muscles and joints leading to poor circulation, a weakened immune system, feeling run down and tired and decreasing your mood and feelings of self-esteem.
Linked to our posture, is the way that we breathe. When we become conscious of our posture, we much more readily become conscious of our breathing and how it impacts on our posture. When we learn to consciously direct our breath it increases our overall health and has a powerful impact on the Autonomic Nervous System. This system governs our heart rate, breath, digestive processes, our fight-or-flight response, and relaxation response. When we are in moments of stress, we tend to breathe high into our chests. When we are relaxed, we tend to breathe more deeply and in a calm way. The practice of Qigong teaches you how to properly harness the power of the breath for optimum health.
Qigong skillfully develops the connections between body posture, breath, and the activity of the mind, allowing you to reconnect with your innate ability to flow with the natural rhythms of the universe. As we do so, stress is reduced, and cognitive flexibility is improved.
Although most of the research has been done on sitting mindfulness meditation rather than mindful movement activities such as Qigong, Tai Chi, and Yoga, there is evidence that mindful movement does indeed enhance the benefits of a regular mindfulness practice.
“Mindfulness of the body is the first step in the task of calming the mind and regulating emotions as taught in MBIs (Mindfulness-Based Interventions) and a different sort of engagement with the non-verbal “felt sense” of the body is fundamental to MBIs and their effects. The fact that bodily sensations can only be experienced in the present moment, and particularly so during movement, makes them an accessible entry point to mindfulness.”
Mindful movement then is critical to a full exploration of what the practice of mindfulness has to offer. Indeed, it may be that mindful movement is the core of a properly developed mindfulness practice. The Vietnamese meditation teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh gave a presentation on walking meditation and what he had to say applies equally to the practice of Qigong. With our eyes open and mind and body rooted in the present, we become aware of every movement of the body and “print peace, serenity and happiness on the ground.”