Exercise is well known to be a good stress reliever and to help support and improve our mood. When we are active, we can boost endorphins (the feel-good hormones), whilst also allowing ourselves to become distracted from the daily worries that cause us stress. By focusing on a single task, we provide an opportunity to restore our energy and improve our disposition. Some form of exercise, however simple, can support us in remaining calm, clear and focussed. Whilst there exist many different forms of exercise to choose from, movement (even in its gentlest form) can be a particularly useful tool to develop, especially as it can be performed at any time and in any location.
Movement Exercises for Calmness
Movement exercises can range from large shapes that involve the whole body to small movements that focus on only one specific area of the body. Importantly, they all encourage you to focus your attention on a single task, thereby allowing your mind the time it needs to pause and refocus. Another added benefit of such movement exercises is that they can be performed for as long or as little as you choose. The more frequently you perform them, the easier they will become, allowing you to ‘sink into’ them more quickly. As with any form on ongoing practice, the longer you do them for, the more opportunities you also create for yourself to be able to explore further depths of experience.
Breath and Movement
For this exercise, you can begin in either a sitting or standing position (whichever one you find most comfortable and calming). If standing, aim to stand with your feet hip-width apart and allow your knees to be soft, not locked. Throughout the exercise, try to keep your shoulders still. This may take some time to accomplish, but remember that it’s alright to not get it entirely ‘right’ the first time. Keep your eyes open, but allow your gaze to be soft. You may find it helpful to focus on a point straight ahead.
Begin by simply shifting your focus to your breath. Notice the inhalations and exhalations and how they move your body in tiny ways. Try to increase the length of your breaths.
On the next inhalation, with your arms extended forwards, allow your arms to be raised. Your arms should be soft and not locked at the elbows. Imagine that they are being pulled upwards from the wrists. Stop when your outstretched arms reach shoulder height. On the exhalation, allow them to gently flow back down to your sides. Imagine that the inside of your wrists are being gently pulled downwards by a thin thread. Repeat this upward/downward exercise with your arms, led by the breath, for 1-2 minutes.
Walking exercises can be particularly effective as they combine movement with the outdoors. If you can, try to do the following exercise in a green outdoors space, as being around nature has been shown to help relieve stress.
Aim to begin with a simple 5 – 10-minute walk. Over time, you can extend this to as long as you desire. Find a walking speed that is comfortable and natural for you. As you walk, allow your awareness to shift to your breath. Do not try to change it, but simply observe it.
How does your breath change over the course of your walk? Does it speed up on an uphill? Do your inhalations/exhalations increase in length over the course of your walk?
As you walk, notice the movement of your feet. Avoid looking down at them, instead focusing on the sensation of your feet as you walk. How do they strike the ground? Which part of your foot carries the most amount of weight? How do the shoes you are wearing make your feet feel? How do they affect the quality of your walk?
End your walk with a cycle of five full breaths. You can add the breath and movement exercise above to the end of your practice too.
This short walking exercise can be repeated as many times as you like throughout the course of the day. You can also experiment with going for walks at different times of the day, wearing different footwear, or even going barefoot (where it is safe to do so).
Movement improvisation can seem daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. However, it can also be one of the most liberating and stress-relieving forms of movement practice. One of the most important things to remember when it comes to movement improvisation, is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It is only about what feels natural to you and your body in the moment. It is a practice for you and you alone, free from judgement or preconceived ideas about what it ‘should look like’.
This exercise can be performed indoors or outdoors. Find a place where you are comfortable and have some space to move. Your movements may be large and take up a lot of space, or they may be very small. Find whatever works for you each day.
Begin standing or sitting and draw your focus to your breath. Begin with stillness, simply allowing yourself to tune in to your breath and its rhythm. The breath will be your guide during this exercise. One movement on an inhalation, a new movement on an exhalation.
When you feel ready, on an inhalation, move one part of your body. It could be any part at all. The lifting of an index finger… The right elbow being pulled upwards…The left knee drawing down towards the ground…
On the exhalation, move another body part. Perhaps the right elbow returns to its original place… The head tilts to the left… Or maybe the top of the head reaches up towards the ceiling…
Follow the body’s impulses. Avoid trying to force the body into any particular position or shape. The only ‘rule’ is to let the breath lead the movements – one movement on an inhalation, another on an exhalation.
Life is busy and there are many daily situations that cause stress and anxiety. It can be hard to find large chunks of time to exercise or engage in mindful practices. However, we can all find 5 minutes at some point in the day. Incorporating just 5 to 10 minutes of focused daily movement into our routines can provide us with a much-needed moment to pause, reset and find some calmness, which benefits our overall health and wellbeing.
This week, we invite you to find 5 minutes per day to engage in one of the three movement exercises above. Commit to doing it every day for one week and note what happens. Observe how you feel at the start of the week and at the end.
Let us know your experiences and connect with us via the comments below or via our Facebook page.