Mindful movement refers to the act of engaging in physical movement where one places all attention (or as much as possible) with openness and without judgment on movements of the body and the breath.
So, what exactly classifies movement as mindful?
In my opinion, any movement can be mindful. Whether it is yoga, Pilates, walking, running, cycling, swimming or lifting weights, all can be a mindfulness practice (and a form of meditation). The key is to observe and bring awareness to your movement and breath and how your body feels as you move1. Whilst your mind will inevitably wander, just like in traditional meditation practices, the aim is to bring your awareness back to your breath and movement.
Mindful movement is a wonderful self-care activity as it incorporates both our physical and mental wellbeing.
Nurturing and enhancing our physical and mental wellbeing is particularly pertinent as we collectively adapt to living in a global pandemic. In fact, recent research on coronavirus-related stress suggests that those who engage in regular exercise are less likely to be impacted by the negative mental health effects of the pandemic and may be better able to cope, when compared to individuals who move less frequently2,3.
With mental illnesses such as depression and feelings of stress, anxiety and worry already rife in our society, mindful movement can also help boost our mood, release stress and anxiety, improve our sleep and, increase our energy levels4. Excitingly, extensive research has been conducted on how exercise can be used as a coping mechanism for anxiety, depression and stress.
How can exercise help fight anxiety, stress and depression?
Well, by engaging in mindful movement, it is thought that we can relieve feelings of anxiety as it can help interrupt the constant flow of worries and fears that run through our minds5. Since stress and anxiety are often centered around worry (over the future or thoughts/regrets over the past), focusing our attention on our breath can help anchor us to the present moment and achieve a state of calmness and re-centeredness1.
I don’t know about you but when I feel stressed, my body generally responds by tensing up which more often than not, leads to physical symptoms such as headaches or body aches. Interestingly, engaging in mindful movement can help relieve feelings of stress through the reduction of stress hormones and release of endorphins and, through relaxation of tension in the body5,6. Since our bodies and minds are so closely connected, when our bodies physically feel calmer, more often than not, so too will our minds.
In terms of depression, research shows that exercise can help treat mild depression symptoms by promoting neural growth and, new activity patterns that foster feelings of calm and wellbeing7. It can also be a powerful adjacent to traditional forms of treatment as exercise releases ‘feel good’ chemicals (a.k.a endorphins), assists in changing levels of chemicals in your brain (i.e. serotonin and stress hormones), serves as a distraction (which may help break or at least dampen the cycle of negative thoughts) and, provides an opportunity to engage in social interactions7.
(I don’t know about you but sign me up!)
If you would like to start incorporating some mindful movement into your day, below are suggestions including some tried and tested online movement classes. And really, what better time to incorporate this into your routine than now, with many of us being in lockdown!
Going for a walk is a wonderful way to move mindfully. The key is to be present (not distracted in your thoughts) and to connect with your breath, the sensations in your body, and your surroundings. It can be challenging to stay present, and if your mind wanders this is perfectly okay, just bring your focus back to your breath and how your body feels as you take each step.
Yoga with Adriene
Adriene has an abundance of beautiful yoga flows on her YouTube channel. If you connect with Adriene and like her style, I highly recommend looking through her library of classes. However, below are I few I really like:
- Basic yoga flow
- Gentle strength-based yoga
- Yoga to help anchor yourself back to the present moment
- Unwinding and restorative yoga flow – highly recommend after a stressful day or before bed
Lululemon on YouTube
I really like Lululemon’s YouTube channel as they offer classes hosted by a broad range of teachers and also provide mediation classes. Simply search for Lululemon on YouTube if interested. Below are some yoga flows I really enjoy:
- Beautiful restorative yoga flow to help unwind from your day
- Energizing yoga flow to help set you up for a good day
- Beginners yoga flow – this one is great if you are new to yoga
Annie Clarke is a London-based yoga teacher who has a beautiful warmth and gentle nature. You can find many easy-to-follow yoga classes on YouTube. Annie has also recently launched The Practice, an online yoga studio.
If you love Pilates, this one is for you! I have been doing Cassey’s Pilates-based workouts for years and love her teaching style and variety of classes. Cassey’s classes range from being slow and targeted to more intense and cardio-based which is great if you feel like getting your heart rate up!
If interested, I would recommend jumping on her website here, and searching through her library. There are truly too many I love to list here!
The great thing is, most (if not all) of Cassey’s classes require no equipment and can be done in your living room or bedroom!
Alice Baquie Pilates
Alice is not only a Pilates teacher, but also a physiotherapist and keen runner. I have been lucky enough to meet Alice and not only is she so friendly, but she really knows what she is talking about when it comes to the body and movement
Alice provides a monthly membership to her online Pilates platform which includes classes as simple as stretching and beginners Pilates, to intermediate Pilates. There are also free classes on her Instagram IGTV which I highly recommend!
Move with Nicole
Nicole is another wonderful Pilates instructor who shares plenty of free Pilates classes on YouTube. Her classes range in length, style and difficulty so suit most people! I especially enjoy the following classes below, however, I encourage you to investigate her channel here to find a class that suits you best.
- Morning Pilates workout
- Quick core workout
- Pilates glute workout
- Full body energizing Pilates workout
A mix – Yoga, Pilates, meditation & strength/cardio classes
The Keep It Cleaner app offers a free 7-day trial and includes:
- Pilates and;
- short and targeted strength and cardio based workouts delivered by experts
- Getting Started with Mindful Movement [Internet]. Mindful. [cited 4 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.mindful.org/getting-started-with-mindful-movement/
- Meyer J, McDowell C, Lansing J, Brower C, Smith L, Tully M, et al. Changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviour in response to COVID-19 and their associations with mental health in 3052 US adults. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(18).
- Hu S, Tucker L, Wu C, Yang L. Beneficial effects of exercise on depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic: A narrative review. Front Psychiatry. 2020;11(1217).
- Exercise and mental health [Internet]. Healthdirect.gov.au. [cited 4 August 2021]. Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health
- Aylett E, Small N, Bower P. Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Health Serv Res. 2018;18(1):559.
- Stubbs B, Vancampfort D, Rosenbaum S, Firth J, Cosco T, Veronese N, et al. An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2017;249:102-8.
- Greer TL, Trombello JM, Rethorst CD, Carmody TJ, Jha MK, Liao A, et al. Improvements in psychosocial functioning and health-related quality of life following exercise augmentation in patients with treatment response but unremitted major depressive disorder: Results from the tread study. Depress Anxiety. 2016;33(9):870-8
Written by Jasmine Genau
Jasmine is a student nutritionist and aspiring dietitian from Deakin University with a special interest in fertility health, pregnancy and paediatric nutrition, mental health, and sports nutrition. Upon completion of her masters, Jasmine aspires to work as a clinical dietitian and to initially upskill in the areas of paediatric and sports nutrition.