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Mindful movement

Mindfulness doesn’t just mean sitting around with our eyes closed. We can practice it in any moment. An excellent way to do this is through movement.

Mindful movement simply means to bring a curious, open, nonjudgmental awareness to whatever activity we are engaged in in any moment. For example, when walking we can pay attention to our feet hitting the ground, the movement of the muscles, the balance and the way the body is breathing.

Even if we are walking quickly because we are late for our train, keeping the attention with the body prevents us from starting to worry or obsess about missing the train and what will happen if we do. We get to the station just as quickly (quicker, actually, if it means we don’t take a wrong turn because we are distracted) and in a much calmer, clearer frame of mind.

Many elite sporting people and their coaching staff are turning to mindful movement to improve performance. For example, professional tennis player Novak Djokovic learned mindfulness so he can realise when he starts obsessing about the outcome of a match (or dwelling on the last point he dropped) and simply bring his attention back to his body.

National Basketball Association (NBA) coach Phil Jackson (who won nine championships) famously used mindfulness with his players, teaching them body awareness and efficient movement. And Australian swimming legend Murray Rose, when asked about the secret to his success (which included winning three gold medals at the 1956 Olympics), said “When you’re swimming, you do nothing else but swim, and I think that by doing that you achieve the greatest satisfaction by devoting your whole self, your whole energies, your whole thoughts to just one activity at a time. And I think that perhaps would be the essence of my personal philosophy.”

How to do any physical activity mindfully

Here are some suggestions for helping you to do any physical activity in a more mindful way.

  • In the morning, take a few moments to stretch and breathe before getting up (or reaching for your phone).

  • When walking, pay attention to the experience of walking. Remember, mindfulness doesn’t have to be done slowly – just mindfully.

  • Likewise, when driving, pay attention to the feel of the steering wheel and the seat, as well as what you can see.
  • At the gym, take out the headphones and tune in to the body sensations and breath.

  • When moving around, try to do it in a graceful way, without wasting effort or bumping into things.

  • When you open a door (or open a stuck jar lid), try to use the minimum amount of force necessary.

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Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance

Monash University

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