Mindfulness of movement supports readiness to learn and a sense of embodiment benefits both students and teachers. In this edition, we'll look more closely at the ways mindfulness of everyday movement can encourage us to move more, helping us release stress and tension, and how it can be a wonderful way to insert more moments of mindfulness into our lives.
Most of us know how important movement is for our physical well-being. Physicians encourage lots of exercise to maintain a healthy body and mind. Many of us, however, have a hard time being active and sticking to our exercise regimen. The New York Times article, This Year, Make Your Fitness Resolution Stick encourages folks to maintain their fitness goals by explaining, “studies have shown that increasing the amount you move every day, by using a standing desk, walking your dog or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.” The study cited in the article itself concludes, "Both the total volume of sedentary time and its accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts are associated with… mortality, suggesting that physical activity guidelines should target reducing and interrupting sedentary time to reduce risk for death” in U.S. middle-aged and older adults.
The article cites the abysmal statistics of people who actually keep their exercise resolutions two months after starting them (37% for folks in their 20’s and 16% for folks over 50). It also states that although "150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise like speed walking or swimming, or 75 minutes per week of intense exercise, like H.I.I.T. (High-Intensity Interval Training) or jogging, is the minimum amount of exercise needed to achieve maximum medical benefit…. The most effective form of exercise is the type that someone will consistently perform.”
Being consistent and sticking to an exercise program is the most important thing. It can be extremely difficult, however, to include movement and physical activity into our daily life or even for our students in the classroom. Most of us spend too much time sitting and so do our kids. Many students sit throughout the day and get minimal recess or physical education. This can make it extremely difficult for them to focus and learn but also creates sedentary habits that can have damaging effects on our children’s long-term health.
This is where mindfulness of movement can support us. By inserting mindfulness into the movement we do every day in our lives and in the classroom, we can strengthen our mind and body connection and begin to recognize when our bodies (and our kids’ bodies) need more exercise or movement.
There are countless movements we repeat throughout the day without noticing. We walk around our classrooms or workplaces, sit and stand, open doors, wash hands or dishes or fold laundry, but we’re not always fully present. We ignore (and fail to teach our students in a visceral way) the intricacies and truly ingenious ways our body is communicating with itself and interacting with its surroundings when performing even the simplest of movements.
If we bring more awareness to these everyday movements, we will be regularly inserting mindful moments into our and our children’s lives. It can motivate us to do more movement throughout our day or to take mindful movement breaks with our kids. We can then feel and sense for ourselves (and share with our students) the benefit of, for example, getting up to stretch after sitting at the computer or desk for hours or going for a mindful walk before starting our work or school day. Next time you stand from your desk, walk around the room, or go wash your dishes notice the sensations in your body with kindness and curiosity. Ask yourself if there is something you can offer your body right now to support your health and well-being.
Consider inserting mindful movement breaks for your kids as well and encourage your students as they walk in the hallways to simply feel the bottoms of their feet or to notice how their breath and body feels after they come back from recess or phys ed class. If we can bring mindful awareness to the way we move through the world, we will surely strengthen our mind-body connection and bring awareness to what parts of our body need support.
Mindfulness, Movement, and Stress
A Harvard Health Blog describes a study that suggests "that it may not require much physical activity to provide lasting emotional resilience.” Another NY Times article talks about resiliency in the face of stress: "exercise can channel your stress response into something constructive... [and] appears to be a form of stress inoculation….Exercise doesn’t eliminate stress, but it does give your body the physical conditioning it needs to recover from it." A lot of these findings extend to anxiety as well. You can read more on how exercise helps with anxiety here and here.
Stanford lecturer and program developer for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Dr. Kelly McGonigal offers another perspective. In her book The Upside of Stress, she explains that not all stress is bad. After all, it is our body's stress response that energizes us and keeps us safe when we are in dangerous situations or wakes us up when we hear the alarm ring in the morning. To be clear, McGonigal is not saying that chronic stress is good for you, but suggests there is reason to believe that changing the way you look at stress and perhaps even embracing the energy it releases can help us manage it more skillfully.
In her Ted talk she explains, “people who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health. People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.”
This suggests we bring mindful awareness to stressful situations, to pause and observe how the stress is impacting us. After this pause we can attempt to reframe our experience, gain perspective, and make a choice that can better support us during the stressful moment.
Perhaps we’ll decide that taking a mindful movement break like walking or stretching is the best thing we can do. Harnessing both the power and benefits of mindful movement can have a tremendous impact on our practice and the way we handle stress.
If you’re interested in more, read about the nine ways mindfulness reduces stress and listen to a recorded audio practice from Mindful magazine.
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ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:
Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor. He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY. Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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