Mindfulness, the ability to focus on your experience of the present moment, is often associated with meditation. Many people think mindfulness means sitting on a cushion and focusing on breathing or a mantra. Yet mindfulness can be applied to many other aspects of our lives.
Mindful movement has been shown to be an effective wellness tool and, according to the Global Wellness Institute, is a growing trend in the overall wellness space.
In this article, our third in a series of four blogs connected to GWI’s Global Wellness Economy report, we cover how movement can help you stay engaged in both your mind and body, and enhance your overall well-being.
What is Mindful Movement?
Mindful movement isn’t a specific practice, but an approach to how we move. That means the principles of mindful movement can be applied to many kinds of practices. When we move mindfully, we focus on the sensations of our body, specific aspects of the body or movement, or the overall experience of that moment. Through the practice of mindful movement, the individual can calm the mind, ease the nervous system, improve concentration, and promote well-being.
The Origins of Mindful Movement
Tracing the origins of Mindful Movement doesn’t have a single path, but many traditions inform current practices. Mindfulness has a long tradition dating back thousands of years, with roots in Buddhist philosophy.
When Jon Kabat-Zinn began studying meditation at the University of Massachusetts medical school in the 1970s, his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes included a form of traditional walking meditation. Similarly, yogic practices based in Hinduism and forms of martial arts like tai chi, kung fu, and chi gong are all examples of mindful movement practices.
Key Components of Mindful Movement
These many mindful movement traditions have a few key similarities that can be applies across many activities and movement modalities:
• Present Moment Awareness – A hallmark of all mindfulness practices, the individual focuses on what is happening in the current moment. In mindful movement practices this means focusing on the sensations and feedback in the body.
• Intentional Movement – Mindful movement means moving intentionally. In mindful movement traditions like tai chi or yoga, that can mean moving through preset sequences such as a yoga flow. Through intentional movement the person practicing learns to tune into the sensations of the body more completely.
• Non-Judgement – Another foundation of all meditation practices, the individual learns to connect to their body and experience it without a sense of judgement. Difficult thoughts are met with non-attachment and self-compassion.
• Controlled Breathing – A special focus is given to breathing in mindful movement practices, often timed with the pace of movement, used to release tension stored throughout the body, or to bring awareness to specific parts or aspects of the body.
While these commonalities have their roots in multiple traditions, modern modalities offer more current examples. Practices such as Feldenkrais or Pilates have gained popularity while embracing these same foundational keys to mindful movement.
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The Growth of Mindful Movement
According to the Global Wellness Institute’s U. S. Wellness Economy Report (2023) the Mindful Movement sector was a growing trend in the wellness space before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mindful movement is considered a subset of the overall physical activity sector, which has seen a significant rebound from pandemic lows.
It’s expected that mindful movement will continue to be a growing trend in the fitness and wellness space due to multiple industry factors:
• Growing awareness of mindful movement’s benefits to mental health, stress reduction, and holistic well-being
• Increased interest in physical activity for mental and emotional well-being (Mintel, 2022)
• Increased offerings of mindful movement classes in gyms and fitness studios
Learn more about Global Wellness Institute’s research by reading its report here.
Fitness Professionals and Mindful Movement
Because mindful movement is not a specific modality, but an approach to physical activity, fitness professionals can embrace a mindful approach a variety of ways. With interest growing in movement for mental health and well-being, personal trainers and group fitness instructors are likely to encounter clients and students interested in improving their mind/body connection, reduce stress, and boost overall health.
Practitioners interested in a specific modality may seek certification to become a qualified instructor, such as Pilates or yoga. Those interested in a more general mindful approach to incorporate into their current practices, such as resistance training or mindful cardio, could seek further education through NASM’s Certified Wellness Coaching course.
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Benefits of Mindful Movement
Mindful movement practices, such as yoga or chi gong, have been shown to have a wide variety of benefits. Some of those include reducing stress through regulating the autonomic nervous system, improving concentration which in turn benefits skilled attention and therefore skilled learning, which combined result in improved productivity and self-control (Clark, Schumann, Mostofsky, 2015). Decreases in stress response also improve overall health, including digestive, immune, and cardiovascular functions (Cocchiara et al., 2019).
Because of the variety of ways to practice mindful movement, getting started will vary person to person. Here are a few tips someone new to mindful movement will want to consider:
• Make a current practice more mindful – For someone already active, look for ways to make a current movement practice into a mindfulness practice. For example, someone who is already going on daily walks might go for a mindful walk, focusing on the sensations of their feet and the sounds around them instead of listening to music or making a phone call.
• Embrace a new discipline – It’s often easier to learn mindfulness with an experienced teacher. Explore your curiosity and try yoga, Pilates, Feldenkraise Method, tai chi, chi gong, or another mindful movement discipline.
• Find a mindful movement coach – Many wellness coaches are also trained in mindful movement.
Want to know the difference between a health coach and a wellness coach? Click here!
The fitness and wellness spaces are embracing the ideals of mindful movement practices, which have been woven into human wellness and well-being for millennia. With the wellness industry on trend to exceed $7 Trillion by 2025, the practice of and interest in mindful movement will likely continue to grow.
Individuals interested in maximizing their personal wellness, and savvy fitness professionals seeking to enhance their client’s results, will continue to grow and innovate as these practices become more mainstream.
Clark, D., Schumann, F., & Mostofsky, S. H. (2015). Mindful movement and skilled attention. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9, 297.
Cocchiara, et al. (2019). The use of yoga to manage stress and burnout in healthcare workers: a systematic review. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(3), 284.
Global Wellness Institute (2023). The Global Wellness Economy: United States
Mintel (2022). Exercise Trends – US – 2021