10-Minute Mindful Movements Practice

Before attempting any movement practice, please follow the advice you have been given by your physician, physical therapist, or any health care professional about your range of motion, injuries, and physical limitations.

Recognize that this is your practice.  You must listen to your body and only work to your level of ability.  If the practice feels like too much, please take breaks, modify the movements or just leave some of the movements out.  Recognize that body and energy levels vary day-to-day, so just because you can do something one day, that doesn’t mean you will be able to do it the same way every day.  Doing Mindful Movements is a time to practice respecting your limits and being kind and generous to yourself.

10-Minute Mindful Movements Practice


Download PDF: 10-Minute Mindful Movements Practice

As promised in my last post, Mindful Movements: Yes, you can be mindful even if you can’t sit still, this post sets out a short Mindful Movements practice.  I have called it a 10-minute practice but you can make it longer or shorter, depending on how long you spend with each movement.

Please note that many of these movements can be done seated, so you can do them in a chair if you need to be seated at work, have mobility issues or are just having a low-energy day.

Neck Stretches and Semi-Circle Rolls

Taking a seated position in a chair, plant your feet on the floor, sit up tall and drop your chin toward your chest.  If your shoulders try to creep up by your ears, just relax them down.  Feel the stretch in your neck and between your shoulder blades.  How far down your back can you feel it?

When you are ready, gently rotate your right ear toward your right shoulder and then hold your head tipped toward the right, feeling the stretch along the left side of your neck.  If your shoulders try to come up and meet your ears, just drop them down.

When you are ready, drop your chin back down to your chest and then rotate your left ear toward the left shoulder, dropping the shoulders down away from the ears.  Hold, feeling the stretch along the right side of the neck.

Begin to slowly rotate the head from side to side, dropping the chin down toward the chest between sides.  Note any areas where the movement is particularly smooth and anywhere it is a bit sticky.

Shoulder Rolls

Bringing the shoulders up toward your ears, draw your shoulder blades together and then drop the shoulders back and down, opening up the chest.  Continue to roll the shoulders slowly, really feeling every part of the movement.  Notice where your shoulders move easily and where they may meet some resistance.

When you are ready, switch directions.

Notice any thoughts that arise.  For example, you may notice that you like moving your shoulders in one direction better than the other.  When thoughts arise, just note them and then return to the sensations of the movement.

Notice where your shoulders move easily and where they may catch a bit.  Notice the space that is created between the shoulder blades as the shoulders come forward.  Notice when you tend to inhale and when you tend to exhale during the movement.

Rocking Chair

Sit forward on your chair so that you have some space between your back and the back of the chair and grab ahold of your knees.  As you inhale, draw the chest forward through your arms, arching the back, opening up the chest and looking up slightly.  As you exhale, round the back, drop the chin toward the chest and let yourself hang back, feeling a stretch between the shoulder blades.

Slowly begin to rock back and forth between these two postures, seeing if you can feel the movement start at the base of your spine and ripple up each part of the spine like a wave.

Standing Tall

Stand up and plant your feet firmly on the floor, hip distance apart.  Align your body so that your knees are directly above your ankles; your hips are directly above your ankles, and your shoulders are directly above your hips.  Draw the shoulder blades slightly together, opening up the chest.  The chin is parallel to the floor.

Press into your feet and feel how this action makes you grow a bit taller.

Take a moment to close your ears or just soften your gaze and notice how it feels to stand tall and balanced.

Tiptoes and Heels

Gently rock forward onto your tiptoes.  If that feels like too much, just shift the weight onto the balls of the feet.  As you do so, notice how the whole front of your body engages to keep you balanced.

Rock back onto the heels.  As you do so, notice how your body automatically bends in the middle, your torso moves forward and the back part of your body engages to keep you balanced.

Rock back and forth, experimenting with how far you can go.  Notice any judgments that arise about your balance or what you “should” be able to do.  No need to fight these thoughts.  Just note them and return to the bodily sensations that accompany this movement.

Seated Modification: Press your heels into the floor, drawing the rest of the foot up off of the floor.  Bring the rest of the foot slowly down onto the floor and then press the toes into the floor, drawing the rest of the foot upward.  Alternate rolling onto the heels and onto the toes, seeing if you can notice when each part of the foot touches the floor.

Rocking Left and Right

Come back to being balanced over your feet.  Now, rock a little over to the left and then back to the right and then gently sway back and forth.  As you sway, see if you can notice at what point in the movement you reach a point of equilibrium and at what point the weight shifts onto the left or right foot.

Notice at what point you reach an edge at which you can go no farther without tipping over (and if you pass that edge).  Notice what sensations arise in your body as you approach and reach that edge.

Making the movements smaller and smaller, gently come back to stillness and equilibrium and take a moment to stand tall, appreciating the sensation of being balanced.

Balanced Ankle Circles

The next movement requires balance so you may wish to hold onto the wall or a chair.  Sometimes even placing a finger on the wall or a chair is enough to steady you.

Grounding your right foot firmly into the floor, lift the left foot slightly off the floor in front of the body.  Rotate the left foot around the ankle, noticing any cracking sounds the ankle makes.  Also, notice the micro-adjustments the standing leg makes to keep you balanced.  Switch the direction of the ankle, noticing if any thoughts arise, such as liking one direction better than the other.  When thoughts arise, simply return your attention to the bodily sensations.

Now planting the left foot on the floor, lift the right foot and repeat the same movement on the other side.

Seated Modification: Stretch the legs out in front of you, keeping your heels on the floor.  Rotate your feet around the ankles one direction.  Notice any cracking sounds the ankle makes.  Switch the direction, noticing if any thoughts arise, such as liking one direction better than the other.  When thoughts arise, simply return your attention to your bodily sensations that accompany this movement.

Standing Tall

Placing the two feet firmly on the floor, align your body again as you did in the “Standing Tall” practice above.  Take a moment to notice all of the sensations in the body.  Notice if there has been a shift in the sensations or your energy level between the beginning and the end of the practice.

When you are ready, open the eyes if they have been closed.  You can now carry on with your day, or if you choose, take a moment to engage in a seated mindfulness practice.

Mindful Movements: Yes, you can be mindful even if you can’t sit still.

I am often told, “I know meditation is good for me, but I just can’t sit still!”  Well, here is some good news for all of you twitchy would-be meditators: sitting still is not the only way to meditate.  In fact, mindfulness meditation, which focuses greatly on the body, pairs extremely well with movement.

When we apply the three aspects of mindfulness identified by psychologist Shauna Shapiro—Intention, Attention, and Attitude—to physical activity, we are engaging in mindful practice. We can practice in the following way:

  • Start a physical activity by setting the Intention to bring the full focus of our awareness to the activity. Engage in the activity while keeping ourselves in the present moment.
  • Pay Attention to our breath and the bodily sensations that accompany the activity. Our mind will wander, and when it does, we can gently guide it back to the breath and the sensations.
  • Approach the activity with an Attitude of openness and curiosity. Instead of pushing ourselves to reach a particular goal or comparing our performance to others’ or our past performances, we can ask ourselves, “What happens when I move in this way?” and monitor our breath and our bodily sensations to receive the answer.

Practicing “mindful movements” provides us with the opportunity to increase our awareness of our bodies, improve our focus and practice non-judgmental awareness. Here are six ways to practice.

 

As our bodies only exist and move in the present moment, when we engage in focused, mindful movements, we necessarily enter the present moment. When our minds wander, guiding our attention back to the body and its movements brings us back to the present.

 

Mindful movements take us out of the “autopilot” mode and allow us to appreciate how much our bodies do for us without our conscious awareness. If you are standing still and rock back onto your heels, you will notice that your body automatically bends at the waist and your upper body leans forward to create a counterbalance to ensure that you do not fall backward.  It is amazing to realize that all of this occurs automatically, outside of our conscious awareness or control!  We also realize how many parts of our bodies work together to make even the simplest motions possible.  The basic action of rocking back on our heels engages nearly every part of our bodies!

Mindful movements practiced regularly provide excellent benchmarks that allow us to see where we are at on a particular day. One day we will be able to complete a particular movement without any difficulty and the next day the same movement will make us feel exhausted or make us realize that our balance is off.  Realizing where we are at on a particular day can lead to better decision-making. For example, if we notice that we feel particularly off-balance one day, we may wish to reconsider taking on particularly stressful tasks that day.

 

Mindful movements can provide a good opportunity to play at the edges of our comfort zones. For example, mindfully rocking back onto our heels and forward onto our toes allows us to watch how our breathing changes and our minds react when we are faced with the uncomfortable sensation of being off balance.  The more we become aware of how our bodies and minds react to stressful circumstances, the more skillful we can be in recognizing the symptoms of stress in the “real world” and, in turn, making good decisions regarding how to best manage this stress.

Practicing mindful movements allows us the opportunity to appreciate impermanence. If we hold a squat for a while, we may notice a burning sensation in our thighs and accompanying thoughts like, “I can’t hold this any longer.  My thighs are killing me!  I am literally dying here!”  However, after coming out of the squat, we notice that not only have we survived but also that the sensation has passed within a few moments.  Practicing mindful movements on different days makes us aware that our physical and mental states vary widely from day-to-day.  This awareness allows us to appreciate that all things pass and change with time.

Mindful movements provide a good opportunity to practice non-judgmental awareness and self-compassion. As amazing as our bodies are, they have limits.  Often when we hit a limit, we feel frustrated with ourselves.  While this is a natural reaction, it is not usually logical or helpful.  After all, tipping over in a balance pose is not a catastrophe and says absolutely nothing about our worth.  Berating ourselves for tipping over is not likely to increase our balance!  Practicing how to meet the small disappointments that often accompany physical activity with openness, curiosity and kindness will make us more adept at adopting this type of attitude and make it more likely that we will be able to do so in regard to life’s larger disappointments.

Whew!  Who knew you could be practicing so much through the performance of some small, slow movements?!

While it is possible to apply Intention, Attention, and Attitude to a Zumba class or a run, it is usually easiest to start with a slower practice, like yoga, walking or gentle stretches and movements.  Approach your practice with curiosity and see what arises!

Please watch for a future post in which I will set out instructions for a simple series of mindful movements.

Heather Cross

Heather is a lawyer, yoga instructor, and a Trained Teacher in
Mindfulness-based Symptom Management
at the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic

5 Essentials to Help Your Mindfulness Practice

At the start of our Mindfulness Based Symptom Management (MBSM) program, I ask the participants what they think mindfulness is. They usually say some version of “Being in the Now” or “The Present Moment”.  I ask again at the end of the eight weeks and typically they say, “It’s being aware” or “It’s knowing that everything changes – and that’s ok” or “It’s seeing what’s going on and letting it teach you.”

An academic, scholarly definition of mindfulness is a practice of attention that makes us more aware of our inner and outer experiences so that we can make wise choices and learn from the results. That may seem a lot to try to fit into two hours a week for eight weeks but somehow it does get across. Mindfulness is a practice of developing a discerning mind. And while it sounds simple, it isn’t easy.

Here are five essentials about mindfulness you may find helpful in your practice.

You’re always practicing something; it may as well be something healthy. There’s no getting around this; your brain is constantly taking information in from your inner and outer contact with the environment. When you get angry at every car that cuts you off on the highway, you’re pulling together an inner and outer set of experiences that ends with a reaction. That pattern, reinforced everyday, becomes your go-to action when you feel unfairly treated or threatened. How about building a different set of endpoint responses to those triggers?


The mind is shameless. Beginning practitioners get really upset when they first sit down and try to still the mind. It gets quite overwhelming: breathe, pay attention to the breath, come back when you wander, treat thoughts like clouds. That’s a lot of doing for a non-doing practice. It helps to see that the nature of the mind is to be active. And that it’s quite indiscriminate in where it lands or flits to next. The difficulty is not that the mind is like a drunk monkey that’s been stung by a bee. It’s that we get upset at that poor monkey and try to wrestle it to the ground. Like the nursery rhyme says: Leave it alone and it will come home.

 

 It’s all about the BEST – that’s Body-Emotions-Sensations-Thinking. In other words, it’s not just about thoughts. We tend to give our thinking brain a place of honour and trust every thought we have. Sometimes you may hear “Thoughts are not facts” as a way of unhooking from that belief in the supremacy of cognitions. In fact, the body takes the lead in how we become aware of an experience. Sensations inform the brain. Our past experiences with clusters of sensations provide us with a language that we call emotions. Thinking is a latecomer to the scene, trying to make some sense out of the clusters, looking for causes that explain their presence. Essentially, it’s easier to calm the body than to talk yourself out of a feeling you’re caught in (try yelling at someone to calm down). Practice paying attention to your body, listen closely to see if you can catch the early signals of an arising sensation that builds to a label (emotion).  Use the breath to soothe the sensation in the body.


Give up hope. That sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Hope keeps us going so why give it up? Sometimes, as T.S. Elliot wrote, we “hope for the wrong thing.” Because we suffer, we want to stop suffering.  But when we think in this all-or-nothing way, we’re setting up expectations that can only disappoint us. So, it’s not that we should be pessimistic or inhabit an Eeyore mind. It’s about taking small steps and assessing how it’s working. Don’t expect to sit rock-solid still; that’s not the point anyway. See what minimal shift is necessary to bring some ease or relief. Stay with just this breath; don’t worry about the remaining thousand to get done before the meditation ends. Take just this step, eat just this mouthful, stay just here.

 

Be kind and cultivate skillful laziness. It’s good investment when you’re kind to yourself. The biggest fear is that if we cut ourselves some slack, we will become lazy, useless lumps on the sofa. Mindfulness is really skillfully being lazy. When we practice, we’re attending to the right and minimum dose required to see a change. It’s called a Just Noticeable Difference or JND. What’s the least intervention needed to see a shift in mood, behaviour, thinking pattern? Now listen to your inner critic. It’s likely going on a rant about how risky this laziness thing is! How are you ever going to get things done, get ahead, be successful? The inner critic is thinking in extreme terms: you must always be going at full tilt and success must come now. Skillful laziness is really skillful investment of our resources for the best outcome. What is possible in this moment, given these conditions?

 

Bonus essential 

Mindfulness is a No Fail Zone. Even when you think you aren’t practising, you are –

because you noticed you aren’t.

5 Essentials JPEG version for download

Are you weaponizing your mindfulness skills?

Kwan Yin1Allan faithfully attended each class of the Mindfulness-based Stress Management program we offer at the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic. He shared openly about his anxiety and insecurity as a father to three children and a son caring for ill parents. The heart of his distress though was in his relationship with Debra, his partner of 15 years; their relationship had devolved into a series of sniping comments and hurtful neglect. He wanted so much to restore the intimacy and love they had once shared. He missed how it sustained him through his demanding job and personal illness. He knew she did too; after all they seemed to do a lot of arguing over who was more unhappy in the marriage. Continue reading

I am not this body: Mindfulness for Pain Management

maple shadowPain is unavoidable. We inhabit a system that is engineered to become wonky, cranky, and otherwise uncooperative over time. We know this conceptually but not when and how it matters. Why me? What now? tend to be our responses when the body fails us – as it inevitably does. In case you think this is only a problem for aging folk or those afflicted with strange hard-to-diagnose illnesses, it’s not. Athletes injure themselves. Random acts happen to young and old alike that leave them having to reshape not only their bodies but their mental attitudes towards their entire life.

Joy is unavoidable too. We have a resilient system that is subtly wired to sense into experiences that nourish and sustain us. We don’t know this in the definition of sensing joy; we hope and believe it will be true some day – if we’re really good, work hard, and check off all the boxes that we think entitle us to joy. And it’s not just aging folk who do that. In fact, the older you get the more you begin to see that it’s not the boxes you’ve checked off that brought you joy in any lasting way. Continue reading

Self-Compassion Practices for Emotional Distress: It’s not just about being kind

leavesSelf-Compassion practices and programs are gaining momentum in psychological treatments and look like they might well become the next wave of transforming our painful feelings. Mindful Self-Compassion (1), developed by Drs. Christopher Germer and Kristen Neff, is an approach that can be both an adjunct to conventional therapies as well as a stand-alone treatment model. The interesting and very useful aspects of this approach are its applicability to our multilayered experiences of suffering. First, let’s look at what they define as Self-Compassion.

Neff (2) describes it as a three-fold system that are antidotes to the experiences that cause us suffering. (A sidebar note: Suffering is typically described as Pain multiplied by our Resistance to the reality of that pain (3)). Here’s a table that summarizes Neff’s definition of self-compassion. Continue reading

10 books that are good for your health: Mindfulness, Self-Compassion & Happiness

As we enter the New Year, let’s make 2015 a year of exploring the many gifts from skilled researchers and clinicians which can support our resolution to live better. The participants of the Mindfulness-Based Symptom Management, Burnout Resilience and Pain Management programs at the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic have one wish in common: a desire to find a way to live their lives differently. In fact, this wish is not only that of the participants but also of everyone who works at the OMC. We share together the realization that despite our best intentions, we falter in caring for ourselves and others in a way that is kind, nourishing and supportive. We have strong values and tend to be committed to making ethically informed choices and yet we find ourselves wondering where all the wisdom went as we choose against those exact purposes.

If you’ve taken a mindfulness course, good start! You know over eight classes there can be shifts in your thoughts, actions and speech. You also know it’s not a quick fix and that the Ninth Class is the toughest! So to help with the rest of your practice life, here’s a collection of books that we recommend to support, boost and sustain your practice!

Mindfulness Starts Here: An eight-week guide to skillful living by Lynette Monteiro & Frank Musten. Now you didn’t think I would miss a chance to prop up our own book? If you’ve taken the 8-week program at the OMC, this is a great way to extend your practice. It also helps to come to the monthly Alumni groups! Nuff said. Let’s get on to the books you really need to get for yourself!

Leaves Falling Gently: Living fully with serious life-limiting illness through mindfulness, compassion & connectedness by Susan Bauer-Wu.  This is likely my all-time favourite. Bauer-Wu is an expert in the field of pain, oncology and mindfulness. The book is infused with compassion and an open-hearted approach to the vagaries of chronic pain. The exercises are easy and helpful, realistic and encouraging. The sections on the impact of chronic illness on memory, attention, emotions, etc. is invaluable. This book also is unstinting in its honesty about life-threatening illness and offers opportunities to change our rigid stance to the reality of living and dying.

The Practicing Happiness Workbook by Ruth Baer. This is a terrific book that brings together Dr. Baer’s skills as a clinician, methodical approach as a researcher and clear understanding as a mindfulness practitioner. I loved the set-up of the workbook because it … well, it works. Start with a nice pithy overview and then jump in at your own pace. The second section explores four very important traps that can derail our practice:  rumination, avoidance, emotion-driven behaviours and self-criticism. The section following on mindfulness skills is clearly written and I truly appreciate the inclusion of values and goals. The chapters are punctuated with stories about people with whom we can identify and the worksheets are very user-friendly. It makes me happy just to read it!

Hardwiring Happiness: The new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence by Rick Hanson. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson is well-known for his ability to pull together neuroscience and psychological mind states in a way that is immanently understandable by most of us non-neuroscientists. There are so many catch phrases used in the mindfulness circles that originate with his teachings and in his books! Velcro for bad/Teflon for good, HEAL yourself, metaphors for resilience and vulnerability, the list is endless. What is important though is his ability to explain why we act the way do and how this is hard-wired. The section “Paper Tiger Paranoia” is my favourite and has helped me out of many a flight reaction! Mostly, in this book, we get to practice the ways in which to make changes to those survival instincts and hard-wire responses to experiences that sustain and help us. If you find this book helpful (or if you’re curious), also try his new program called Foundations of Well-Being which is a year-long on-line program and worth taking.

Living Well with Pain & Illness: The mindful way to free yourself from suffering by Vidyamala Burch. This book is written by and is based on the Breathworks program developed by someone who truly understands the challenge of physical pain. Vidyamala Burch’s history is unlike anyone I’ve read about and her strength is apparent throughout the book. Chapter 2 explains what is pain and is one of the clearest and most useful descriptions available. The use of research-based information is well-placed and does not overwhelm the information in each chapter. I totally fell in love with the third chapter. It’s my favourite allegory of how we create our suffering out of pain. And Burch patiently tells the story in gentle sequences making it come alive. The exercises and case stories are accessible and very user-friendly. I prefer the book to the e-book simply because the text set up is more compelling.

Empathy: Why it matters and how to get it by Roman Krznaric. This is an important book to keep the practice of mindfulness from becoming a self-centered practice. While we start our practice because we suffer the effects of personal difficulties, it is important to see that we are created, and can be undone, in a social context of family, community and global events. Mindfulness brings our awareness to our suffering and we practice so that we don’t repeat the same cycles of interactions with ourselves and others. However the deeper intention of mindfulness is to create a compassionate world and that change can’t happen without seeing that others too want to be free of the same suffering we endure. Empathy is the capacity to walk in their shoes, to make choices that are informed by understanding that what others need is not what we think they need. The exercises and examples in the book are wonderful and challenge us to find a different way to know the world. Grow your connection with those you love and beyond!

Mindful Compassion by Paul Gilbert & Choden. Paul Gilbert is well-known and respected for his work on compassion and cultivating the compassionate mind. In this book, he teams with Choden, a Buddhist monk who helped develop the graduate program in mindfulness and compassion at Aberdeen University. I particularly like the way they organize the book so that the arising of compassion is a natural outcome of how we organize the world as we know it. Gilbert’s perspective of compassion as a social mentality which helps us negotiate through relationships and interactions is an important understanding. In other words, being compassionate is far from being soft and squidgy or a door mat. The exercises are nicely explained and inviting. The definitions of compassion clear up misconceptions. The development of a compassionate self (Chapter 10) is probably the most important part of the book. However, it rests on all that precedes it; I especially liked that the exercises in this chapter are also empathy cultivating ones. An important addition to your mindfulness practice!

The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-week program to free yourself from depression and emotional distress by John Teasdale, Mark Williams & Zindel Segal. This book is a user-format version of the previously published A Mindful Way through Depression. The first section lays out the foundations and the next section takes us through the eight weeks. I liked how the issue of traps and obstacles is re-framed as “another way of knowing” which opens up the thought patterns and is subtly a practice in cognitive flexibility. It is focused on addressing depression through mindfulness however, the various exercises also might be useful for anxiety and general stress. I had trouble with the layout of the book (too many boxes for a book that wants us to get out of our mental boxes) and the excessive number of balloon quotes are distracting (not cool for a mindfulness book). I have used it as a guidebook with individual patients and found it organizes the sessions well. Be patient when you use this but do try it!

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions by Christopher Germer AND Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself by Kristin Neff. These two books come as a perfectly balanced pair. Germer approaches self-compassion with a clinical understanding of the emotional impact of our often harsh inner critic. Neff comes from the perspective of a research-based understanding of what self-compassion means and how it works. With both the experiential practice and the knowledge base to ground it, I find the practice of self-compassion inviting and easy to integrate into my life. As both Neff and Germer remind us in their workshops: don’t chose a practice that sets off an argument in your mind about it. Folded into both books is also the much-needed practice of forgiving ourselves for not being that superhuman being we think we need to be.

The Mindful Way to Study: Dancing with your books by Jake Gibbs & Roddy Gibbs. For all you students out there and those of us who are perennial students, this is a terrific guide to setting down and getting the work done. And more. I like the way this book addresses the various obstacles we encounter (traps) by setting the perspective of “gumption”. Just do what needs to be done! Well, it’s not that easy and Gibbs & Gibbs walk us through a number of gumption traps. The first one was ego (but I figure I already know how that works so I skipped it… no, not really). Check out the section on procrastination though; it’s not just about boredom or priorities! Gibbs & Gibbs’ focus on Right Effort (the last section) is helpful and has a nice balance of meditative practice with insight to our actions.