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How to Use Mindful Movement to Decrease Stress

By Elaine Economou November 10, 2023 Health and Fitness

The key to relieving stress is tuning in to what is happening in your body and what you need in the moment to calm your nervous system. Mindful movement helps make this possible. We’ve heard the expression “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and the buzzworthy phrases “self-care” and “me time.”

However you say it, taking a little time to bring your focus to the present moment is what mindfulness is all about. Mindful movement joins that focus together with gentle physical activity and intentional breathing for full mind-body relaxation.

What Is Mindful Movement?

Simply put, mindful movement is noticing how you feel while you are moving. It’s the practice of moving intentionally and being aware of the sensations in your body. You are not moving for the outcome but rather for the experience of bringing awareness to the body without judgement.

Moving mindfully is a lovely way to focus on your body and connect to the breath to lower your stress levels. There is research that supports the impact of mindfulness on reducing stress and anxiety as well as improving overall happiness.

Whether it’s a stressful deadline at work, the chaos of family schedules, or the emotional and physical demands of the upcoming holiday season, I encourage you to give mindful movement a try. Just a few minutes a day will make a big difference!

How Do I Practice Mindful Movement?

Creating a mindful movement routine for yourself requires just a little time and attention. Here are my tips for getting started.

This Isn’t Your Cardio Workout

Set time aside separate from your regular fitness routine so that you have a clear intention for the outcome.

Strive for Consistency

Choose a length of time that you can devote to mindful movement each day. I love to tell people to take their Movement Vitamins. This routine should be like taking your vitamins or brushing your teeth. It can be two minutes or 20 minutes but try to do it every day.

Connect to Your Breathing

Start by noticing your inhale and exhale to help focus your mind and release some of the stress of the day. Long exhales help calm the nervous system. If your mind wanders, just gently lead it back to your breath.

Let Your Body Move

Notice the sensations of your body in stillness and rest into gravity. See what nourishing movements you feel called to do. Go ahead and move your body in the way that it craves. At first, you may prefer to follow along with a recorded mindful movement routine. But do whatever movement feels good.

Go Ahead and Yawn

Your movement should be slow with the quality of a yawn. Try to engage the whole body like you would with your first morning stretch.

Take Inventory on Yourself

Notice how you feel before you start and again when you are done. Think about things like the quality of your breath, the sensations under the skin, any softness or release of tension in your jaw, or how your neck and shoulders might have shifted during your practice.

Trust the Process

Mindful movement takes practice and is something you will get used to when you stick to it. As with anything new, the more you practice the deeper the sensations and impact of your mindful movement will be.

What Are Some Mindful Movements?

Try to move and breathe mindfully for a few minutes each day. You can always let your body tell you what it needs. However, there are certain types of movement that really help target stress and will help calm your nervous system.

  • Breathing is the best way to calm your nervous system. Be sure to breathe slowly with long exhales.
  • Relieve tension by gently and deeply moving your shoulders, neck, hips and spine. So many of us hold tension in these areas.

  • Whole body stretches can also relieve tension in the back and legs. Choose stretches that work for your body and feel good.
  • Move with the quality of a yawn or early morning stretch. There’s even a fancy name for it: pandiculation.
  • Let yourself rest in gravity. During this type of active rest, you will feel the grounding in the sensation of your body.
  • Take care of your connective tissues, or fascia. Fascial flossing movements, or movements that rock you gently are great for this. You can try sitting on a large toning ball and bouncing or lying down and rocking your ankles.

My three-part video linked above will explore all of these types of mindful movement. You can do one part or all three and mix or match as needed on those days when you need a little extra help calming down. I hope you will enjoy the sensations that these movements and stretches bring to your body.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you practice mindful movement? Do you have a set time for this in the day? What does your mindful movement routine look like? What benefits have you noticed in relation to your stress level?

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The Author

As co-founder of MOVE Wellness®, Elaine Economou helps people move with ease, strength, and joy. Her passion is empowering people to understand their unique bodies and build strength to support moving well through their unique life. Elaine has created Movement Essentials: Getting Started with Pilates to help people move well and live a life they love – wherever and whenever.

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