Mindful Movement Improves Performance
You hear the phrase “Be mindful” all the time. As we know, everyone uses his or her mind throughout the day. This isn’t news! Many of our activities of daily living are so automatic we don’t even think about them anymore. For example, we walk, sit, and even drive so often that our mind has a certain routine for these activities. Granted, this is a great thing that our human bodies can do. It allows us to focus on other things while doing basic daily activities. Just think of how overwhelmed we would be if we had to think about each little step we walked every minute, every hour, of every day. Thank goodness for automation! However, when we are intentionally mindful about some activities; we can actually better ourselves over time!
Intentional mindfulness is trying to break through the “automation” that occurs in our daily life. It means focusing on the task at hand with full concentration. Intentional mindfulness creates greater awareness of what is happening “right now,” which allows our brain to turn off some of the “automation” we are so used to relying on. How amazing would it be to create a new pattern in our bodies to improve a particular task or favorite sport activity? Taking the time to focus, to clear our minds of all the outside noise for a short period of time allows us to re-train our bodies in ways that can help us over the long haul!
Breaking through this automation may not be so simple. Think of the amount of hours, months, and years our body has done the same activity over and over again. Our brain definitely has a pattern in which it does activities and now we are trying to alter that? Don’t worry! This task may seem overwhelming but it definitely is attainable. Our minds learn new things all the time. So the more we practice a new pattern the more the mind will accept the pattern.
A great way to introduce this concept is to focus on your breathing. You can start by just noticing how long it takes you to inhale and exhale. You are now creating awareness to one activity that your body is accustomed to doing 24/7. Notice if there is a gap between your breaths. Do you put more effort into the inhale or exhale? There isn’t a right or wrong. You are simply being mindful of your pattern. If a certain pattern of breathing brings you tension, try another version of breathing. For example, a slow inaudible breath at times can be helpful for stress relief. At other times, it may be useful to create a slow audible breathing pattern, like the “Darth Vader” noise from the movie Star Wars! Try that and see if you create calmness in your mind.
Imagine using this mindful approach during your favorite fitness activities. What if I told you your performance could improve using intentional mindfulness? How amazing would that be!
Let us look at the activity of walking. Finding optimal body position will surely improve your walking performance. You can decide what body parts you will be intentionally mindful about. For example, if you focus on having a natural body rotation while walking, you can unload unwanted gravitational force from the body. To do this means concentrating on allowing your arms to naturally swing in opposition to your legs with just a little torso rotation. Notice if your body rotates more to one side. Try to make slight adjustments as you walk. These little, yet intentional, changes will help your stride over time. How about giving focus to your foot strike as you walk? Too much heel striking may cause aggravation in the spine, while walking on the balls of the feet places undue stress on the knees. Focus on aiming your foot strike toward the front of your heel for efficiency, economy, and ease.
Over time you will notice the transition from automation to intentional, mindful work. The more you practice the better you will get. The body will adapt to the new ways you are introducing walking, breathing, or whatever else you want to focus on. The beauty of the human body is that it can adapt. The only caveat is that we must be intentionally mindful to make these changes happen!
Try the three techniques shown in these video clips to get started!
If you'd like to learn more about mindful movement, check out the collaborative fitness education experience, the Movement Tour, presented by BOSU® and Balanced Body®.
Nico Gonzalez is a Master Trainer for BOSU®, Balanced Body® and SURGE®, and the owner of Fitness Physique in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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