Mindful movement is an effective way to reduce stress and its physical consequences. When we bring a mindful approach to chair yoga, we provide an accessible and simple way to integrate mindful movement and practice into our daily life to get out of our heads, into our body, to find the present moment.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, developer of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction technique (MBSR), defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience.” Paying attention to whatever we are doing or experiencing in the moment and monitoring our relationship to the task at hand, instead of thinking about what’s happening next or getting sucked into evaluation or judgment, is mindfulness. And the good news is this can be done anytime, anywhere, and doesn’t require sitting on the floor.
Increasingly, researchers are saying movement can cultivate mindfulness when attention is directed in a specific manner. This is good news for those of us struggling with the concept of more formal seated meditation practices. “Yes! Let me move instead of sit still! And get the same benefits!”
This is especially relevant for children and adolescents when we consider integrating mindfulness into schools and clinical settings. Our children are movers and shakers, and this movement can act as a rich playground for mindfulness practice. When we are moving intentionally, we’re changing the shape of our body, and this in turn can impact how we are feeling in the moment. Each shape feels different in our body, and when we bring mindful exploration to these postures and simple movement patterns, we can help foster a diverse set of experiences for children to practice paying attention to, while encouraging embodiment and curiosity.
Additionally, mindful movement can help kids prepare for more traditional mindfulness practices. The movement allows them to get some energy and wiggles out before quieter and still mindfulness practices such as thought labeling, mindful breathing, or body scans.
3 SIMPLE MINDFUL MOVEMENT PRACTICES
I invite you to take some time exploring each of the simple movement practices below. Don’t rush. You may wish to repeat each movement for several minutes to really encourage exploration. Remember, present moment awareness, in the midst of movement, is the single most important aspect of this practice. Don’t worry so much about getting the movement “right.” Instead bring a spirit of curiosity and care to each movement and see what happens.
Begin sitting in a tall yoga seat and lift your arms out to the side, palms up, until your arms are shoulder level and parallel to the ground. Breathing in, touch your shoulders with your fingertips, keeping you upper arms horizontal. Breathing out, open your arms to the horizontal position, stretching your palms open.
Begin sitting in a tall yoga seat and extend your arms in front of you and join your palms. Breathing in, raise your arms up and separate your hands so your arms can stretch over your head. Breathing out, continue the circle, arms circling back until your fingers point toward the ground. Breathing in, lift your arms back and reverse the circle. Breathe out as you bring your palms together and your arms down in front of you.
MOVING FORWARD FOLDS: Begin sitting in a tall yoga seat. Take a breath in and bring your arms up above your head, palms forward. Look up at the sky. breathing out, bend at your waist as your bring your arms down to touch the floor, your ankles, or your shins. Release your neck. From this position, breathe in, and keep your back straight as your come all the way back up to reach your fingers up toward the sky.
3 WAYS TO ENCOURAGE MINDFUL EXPLORATION OF THE MOVEMENT.
Ask questions to encourage mindful exploration of thoughts, feelings, or sensations. Questions can include:
What part of your body is working? resting? stretching? tensing? warm? cool? soft?
How are you feeling? (examples: at ease, distracted, joyful, present, agitated, tired)
What is your body telling you? How is your body communicating?
Consider linking the movement to your unique breathing pace. Allow your breath to initiate the movement. Take your full inhale to complete each movement and your full exhale to complete another movement. What is it like to really pay attention to your breath in this way while moving?
Be playful with the pace of each of the movements. Do they feel different if you speed them up or slow them down?
Want to learn more about integrating movement into your mindfulness practice or teaching toolkit through chair yoga? Check out:
About the Author:
Mayuri Gonzalez (E-RYT, RCYT) has been practicing yoga and meditation for over 25 years since her own childhood and specializes in bringing yoga and mindfulness to children. She has taught for Little Flower Yoga since 2010 and is currently the Director of The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY offering direct service yoga and mindfulness classes for preschools and K-12 schools in the Greater New York Area, staff development workshops, staff yoga, and tools for schools nationwide.
For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com.