Exercise

  • 5Rhythms: A Call to Dance!

    Woman Dancing

    Written by Alexa Frey

     

    Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. Not just by sitting on a cushion. Dance is one of the many ways we can practice and it is indeed a very fun and beautiful one.

     

    The most widely-known mindful dance practice is the 5Rhythms approach to movement meditation, which was founded by Gabrielle Roth in the late 1970s. As a practice it is very much about about being in our bodies as they are being put into motion, while at the same time allowing the mind to quieten.

    Teachers of 5Rhythms offer a gently guided framework for exploring our inner world and outer experience, creating a "dynamic movement practice ... that ignites creativity, connection, and community." Here are a few ways in which this beautiful practice can enrich our lives and our mindfulness practice.

     

    Connecting with the Body

    As we dance, we naturally connect with our bodies. Moving to the beat, we might feel our feet on the ground, our arms swinging through the air, our head shifting back and forth. We might notice that our shoulders feel tense and start loosening them up through movement. We notice our body, the pleasant and the unpleasant, the tingly sensations and the drum in our hearts. The mind quietens, and we become present.

     

    Moving Through Emotions

    Emotions arise in every dance, as they do in every day life. Just as we move consciously, we notice our emotions with more awareness. We might notice that our belly feels cramped from anger, or that our chest feels heavy from sadness, or we notice an expansive feeling of joy spreading out from our head. During a 5Rhythms session, we get to know our emotions, we move with them, shake with them, we breathe through them and we move. We just keep moving.

     

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    Processing Trauma

    Each of us carries trauma in our minds and bodies. As we live, we experience trauma. Trauma tends to send us into fight, flight, freeze, and sometimes even into faint. Through the dance, as we move, we make contact with our trauma.

    We might notice that at times our bodies want to freeze in response to a negative thought. Or that we want to grab our phone and text an angry message to a friend. As we dance with the rhythms we notice such impulses and we … keep moving. We move with and through our trauma with self-kindness and acceptance.

     

    States of Transcendence

    As we dance, there might be times when we completely loose ourselves in the dance. In those moments, we might tap into something bigger and experience a sense of interconnectedness and love for the earth, the animals and our fellow human beings.

    At other times, we might clearly see one of our destructive and painful patterns so clearly, that we dance and break through it. Or we might just simply become fully present in our bodies as the present moment just unravels beneath our dancing feet.

     

    Community

    As we dance with our fellow beautiful dancers, we connect. Even if we don’t want to talk to anyone, we can connect through dancing. Maybe just by observing another dancer for a while, maybe by smiling at another dancer and sometimes we choose share a dance with another dancer.

     

    Being in Dance

    As we dance, we don’t have to achieve anything. We don’t have to dance well. We don’t have to look good. We don’t have to be good. We don’t have to dance the way our internal judge might think should be dancing. In the 5Rhythms dance we dance the way our bodies want to move. Moment by moment. We are free.

     

    Dance Is Always Possible

    Dancing is always possible. On some days we might be too weak or tired to fully move. On those days we might just lay on the floor with our legs up the wall tapping our feet against the wall.

    On other days we might feel like giving our bodies a good stretch before we start fully moving to the beats. At other times we feel full of energy and bounce around throughout the whole dance. There’s no pressure during the 5Rhythms.

     

    I have been doing the online 5Rhythms dances with Sue Rickards for the past year and a half during lockdown and have experienced her teaching to be hugely transformative. She is an absolutely unique and wonderful teacher. She makes everybody feel welcome, and embodies pure presence, acceptance and kindness.

    Sue's online dance groups over Zoom take place every Tuesday and Sunday evenings (UK time). Everyone is welcome and you can join by registering directly through the 'A Call to Dance' website.  

     

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  • There’s More to Looking After Our Bodies Than Diet & Exercise

    1

    Let’s start by saying that a good diet and exercise are super ways to nurture our bodies! However, there is no shortage of advice on eating well and working out. Instead, we will look at other, less obvious ways to ground ourselves in body and find enriching physical experiences.

    Becoming more connected and in tune with our physical bodies is an effective way of being more mindful. In bringing awareness to our physical experience, we naturally come to the present moment, using our senses as anchors. It can also help us adopt a more self-nurturing and self-compassionate approach toward ourselves.

    Mindful Movement

    Mindful movement practices sometimes double up as exercise. For example, yoga is great for strengthening muscles as well as practicing mindfulness. Yet, there are other ways we can practice mindful movement; ways which focus less on fitness or weight loss, and more on enjoying simple bodily movements.

    Those of us who spend all day at a computer may particularly benefit from connecting with our bodies more. How often do we reach the end of the working day and discover tightness in the shoulders or an achy back? We can be so focussed on our work or studies that we disconnect from the body. Yet if we make a habit of regularly checking in with the body, we can give it more movement and flexibility.

    So right now, tune in for a moment. How does your body feel? Sense into your feet, legs, back, shoulders, even down through your hands to your fingers. Are there any parts of the body that want to stretch or wiggle? If you feel comfortable with it, why not stand up for a moment and get curious about how your body wants to move.

    Maybe you feel like bending forward to touch the ground, rolling your shoulders, circling your hips, or raising your arms above your head for stretch. You can’t get this wrong; it’s all about noticing your current experience, and meeting it with openness. Notice how any stretching or movements affect your mood or energy levels. Have some fun with it!

     

    Sign up to our 6-Week Mindful Eating Course with Dr. Cinzia Pezzolesi, starting 1. November.

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    Comfort and Cosiness

    There’s nothing like putting on your favourite pyjama’s and curling up in a freshly made bed to read a good book. Or perhaps your favourite comfort is to wear some fluffy socks as you watch TV with your cat. Whatever makes you feel cosy, try to do these things regularly, as a way of treating your body with kindness and care.

    Sensory Pleasures

    This could mean so many different things; from finding a shower gel in your favourite scent, to being touched by your partner in a certain way (or touching yourself). Getting to know what feels, smells, looks or sounds good to us, and consciously gifting them to ourselves, is important for our well-being. It helps us engage with the physical world around us.

    We can use these pleasurable sensations as a type of meditation. For example, we can listen to our favourite songs and notice all the musical elements. We might place things around our home that we enjoy admiring in detail. Bringing more awareness to our sensory experiences may help us start to enjoy things we normally do in auto-pilot, such as brushing our teeth or applying moisturiser.

    Our bodies don’t need to be perfect in order for us to enjoy the physical world around us. Having fitness or healthy eating goals can be very rewarding, however taking the time to look after our bodies in other ways is important too. When we step out of thinking of our bodies as a ‘project’ that needs work, we can start to enjoy the fact that we have a body that can move, feel and experience the world.

     

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  • Applying Mindfulness in Sport

    SportsWritten by Oliver Dixon

    Whilst the hectic, high pressure environment of professional sport might seem like the last place you would expect mindfulness to be utilised, the practice is actually becoming increasingly popular among professional organisations, particularly in the US. Michael Gervais uses it with the Seattle Seahawks, George Mumford has used mindfulness with numerous championship winning NBA teams including the Lakers and Bulls, and Novak Djokovic, who is considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time, has described mindfulness as the secret of his success. Here we look at several ways that mindfulness can be applied in sport.

    Improved Focus

    A major issue in sport which leads to poor performance is misplaced focus. This can be caused by ruminating on previous mistakes (e.g. a missed shot), or trying to predict the future. An example of this is when athletes are said to have ‘choked’; surrendering a lead because they felt the pressure, and more than likely have run through hundreds of possible scenarios in their mind for how the rest of the match could pan out.

     

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    Applying techniques such as mindful breathing can help keep you grounded in the present moment. Being more able to move on from mistakes or stop yourself thinking too far ahead ensures that you can stay fully focused on the next play.

    Mindfulness teaches us to become aware of the thoughts we have, not in a judgemental way but to simply recognise and observe them. This awareness is the first step in recognising what you are mentally saying to yourself during sport, and the results might be surprising. You’ll often find just how critical you are; comments you wouldn’t say to other people. When these thoughts are illuminated by awareness it then becomes easier to let them go, or at the very least not believe in them as truth.

    Novak Djokovic commented, “I used to freeze up whenever I made a mistake... Now when I blow a serve or shank a forehand, I still get those flashes of self-doubt but I know how to handle them: I acknowledge the negative thoughts and let them slide by, focusing on the moment.”

    Self-Regulation

    The practice of mindfulness helps us cultivate self-regulation of our emotions. The ability to react to another player’s action without emotion is often the difference between a wise decision and one that loses the game. Sport can be a hugely stressful environment, with so many factors being out of your control, and mindfulness practices have been shown to greatly reduce stress.

    Mindfulness also teaches you how to connect your mind and body, through exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation. This heightened mind-body connection means you can be more attuned to signals your body is giving off during sport. For example, you might notice when the red mist begins to descend earlier than before by recognising stress and tension in the muscles, or become aware of a possible muscle injury before it becomes serious.

    Visualisation

    One of the most powerful techniques in sport psychology is visualisation. By picturing your next shot or game, you can plan responses to different scenarios. However, if practiced incorrectly it can lead to negative results. Incorrect use of visualisation usually occurs due to a lack of control of the images you create, and can cause visualisations to be ineffective or even negative. For example, excessively visualising what could go wrong would likely result in a loss of confidence or cause anxiety. Mindfulness can help to increase the level of control you can have over your visualisation, through quieting the mind and allowing you to focus on only relevant information. It can also help you utilise all five senses to increase the vividness of the image, increasing the effectiveness of the exercise.

    So next time you’re playing sport and you miss an easy chance, or make a mistake, rather than let negative self-talk and rumination distract you from your game, take a deep breath, centre yourself in the present moment and carry on enjoying the game!

     

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  • Mindful Walking: At Home, In Nature and in the City

    walking

    Mindful walking is a wonderful practice that can really centre us in our bodies and the present moment. By becoming more familiar with the intricacies of movement, we can experience a new-found appreciation for something that we do all the time, usually without giving it much attention.

    How we practice mindful walking will vary depending on where we are doing it. Here are three different ways that we can practice mindful walking in our day-to-day lives.

    Walking Meditation At Home

    The easiest place to start practicing mindful walking is in our own home. In the privacy of our own space, we can take the time to really slow down, creating a more intimate connection with how our bodies work and move, away from noise, other people, etc.

    Start off by finding a clear space to walk around in. It doesn’t have to be a big space; just enough room to take a few mindful steps back and forth will do.

    Before taking the first step, close your eyes for a moment and focus on the breath, gently trying to let go of any worries or thoughts. If it’s helpful, you can imagine your thoughts melting away through the breath, letting them leave the body as you exhale.

    Opening your eyes, you can then begin with the first step. Lift your leg as you normally would, only slowing the movement right down, so that you become aware of how the leg feels as it lifts the foot away from the ground. As you step forward, bring awareness to how the hips, thighs, knees and calves all work together, on both sides of the body. As the foot reconnects with the floor, notice how the toes, the ball of the foot, and the heel feels as they individually make contact with the carpet or tiles.

    Is the ground warm or cool? Soft or hard? If the mind wanders, simply bring it back to the movement of the leg or foot and notice the different qualities of the process. Try walking up and down for a while in this way, remembering to breathe, and gently re-focussing the mind when it drifts onto other things.

    Does the practice change your mood?

    How does it feel in the body to slow down in this way?

    Whatever experiences or sensations arise, try to be open to them, noticing them with a sense of curiosity, in the same way as when we are doing a seated meditation.

     

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    Mindful Walking In Nature

    “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Thích Nhất Hạnh

    When we’re in the countryside or at the beach we can not only practice becoming aware of our individual bodies, but we can also start to see ourselves as one small part of a bigger picture. Our body takes its place as one instrument in nature’s orchestra of wildlife, swaying trees, breezes, flowing rivers or waves on the sea. Seeing ourselves as a valid and equal part of life in this way can be very healing, and can offer us opportunities to cultivate gratitude and self-compassion.

    To build on our mindful walking practice, we can expand our awareness to how our footsteps or presence affects our immediate surroundings, and reversely how our surroundings affect us. For example, if we are walking on grass or sand, we can notice how our foot sinks into it, flattening it, perhaps leaving an indentation behind us.

    We might not feel comfortable walking quite as slowly as we do at home, but this is okay. However quickly or slowly we walk, there is always the opportunity to bring awareness into it. And if we need to duck under branches or jump across streams along the way, we can also do this mindfully, noticing and enjoying the different movements of the body.

    Resisting the City Rush

    It’s one thing to walk mindfully at home or in the tranquillity of nature, but staying mindful in a city or town can be challenging. With so much noise and activity all around us, it’s hard not to get swept away by the rush.

    This is especially true when we’re walking along routine routes, for example walking to or from work. We’re sometimes so focused on our destination that we completely switch off for the journey. However, even in the hustle and bustle of city life, we can still add some mindfulness to our steps.

    If we want to walk more mindfully in such a busy environment, it’s important to centre ourselves. Using the breath as an anchor can help us feel grounded in the midst of sensory overload. By taking some deep, conscious breaths we can take a step back from our thoughts about everything that’s going on around us, and we can find a place of inner strength and calm.

    We can then set the intention to notice more about our movement, starting a similar process as the walking meditation, only not as slowly. We’re bound to find our minds wandering frequently in the city, but again, each time we notice this we can gently return our attention to the breath, and to our steps.

    Why not experiment with kissing the pavement, the underground escalators and the Tube train floors with your feet, and see how it changes your journey?

     

    Would you like to learn more about how mindfulness in nature? View our upcoming course and workshop calendar. 

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