At the core of our approach in helping our clients along their journey toward better health as they age is building a mindful movement practice.
So what is mindful movement? Mindful movement is for everyone, from elite athletes to couch potatoes.
Over our years of practice in the medical field, we have noted much of the messaging thrown at us by the fitness industry can be more of a detriment to health than a help. So, we set out on a mission to change the thought patterns around movement to encourage an emphasis on the many positive health benefits of exploring your mobility.
One of our first steps with new clients is guiding them through establishing what we call a "movement practice". A movement practice is individualized based on the health goals of the person in front of us. A movement practice continues to evolve over time.
We recommend some level of movement practice for everyone, but realize that this might not be for everyone at the time they are first introduced to it. By being mindful, learning how to study yourself, and avoiding perfection you set yourself up for success. It's important to start to understand and apply these concepts while learning to explore your mobility with time, patience, and practice. As we will discuss, many of these concepts of a movement practice overlap and build on each other.
Continue reading to learn the basic principles of a healthy movement practice.
The first and most important principle of movement is mindfulness. Much of the mindfulness has left our modern view of movement. We tend to think “no pain, no gain” but the opposite is true of a movement practice.
Nothing is meant to be forced and the idea is NOT to strain your body into certain positions. This is where mindfulness and awareness come in.
For example, you might be focused on stretching your calf, but are you straining your neck or holding your breath to achieve a better stretch? Focusing so much on one area of the body that losing the sense of what's going on elsewhere defeats the purpose.
This is an art that takes time, patience, and awareness. To develop this skill, ask yourself questions and observe your movement. Make note of what about your movement feels good, and what areas might use some improvement.
We encourage using mindfulness as a method of self-study. Learning how to observe and study your movement is one of the most valuable skills to develop to be proactive about your health. Studying yourself involves a certain level of awareness, as discussed above.
When we encourage our clients to study their movement, the goal is not perfection. Movement and alignment are highly variable between individuals, not easily defined as “right” and “wrong” movement. The goal is to understand that your body adapts to how it is used, therefore if you want to create change start by observing your typical movement and work toward adding more variety. This process starts with self-study.
We highly recommend using a mirror, particularly as you start learning, for visual feedback. Over time, however, we don't encourage dependence on the mirror because it's not practical in real life. You can't travel with a mirror in front of you everywhere you go in order to constantly check your alignment. Instead, the mirror is a tool meant to be used to help you develop a sense of body awareness, and over time decrease dependence on visual feedback.
We also recommend taking notes on what you're learning or noticing with your body. Keeping notes supplements the learning process.
Alignment points and how they relate to movement can be complex. You can turn one exercise into 50 different exercises by adding layers of multiple alignment points. For example, you can focus on your foot, knee, hip, or torso alignment during a calf stretch. Or you can focus on just one of those points. Tweaking a little bit of each changes the stretch entirely. Our approach is to start by focusing on just one point and add others in later, which is also where mindfulness becomes essential. Any movement can become complicated too quickly if you try to adjust all of the alignment points at the same time, making you less likely to maintain a practice.
As stated above, we use alignment points as a reference system. NOT to encourage perfection at all times. The goal of a movement practice is to use body awareness to improve your quality of life. "Mistakes" are an unavoidable part of the process and also provide the most valuable learning.
It's human nature to want to shy away from activities we don't get right the first time. However, the art of a healthy movement practice is to identify those areas you encounter difficulty and spend more time with them. In this way, we foster a growth mindset when it comes to our health. When you find an exercise that's difficult, it's an indicator to you that those muscles are not moving well due to weakness or tightness.
In all of life, most of us want to spend time on activities we are already good at because it makes us feel good. However, there is so much more potential for learning and improvement by spending time with activities we don't feel confident with.
One of the most difficult aspects of our work is to undo the typical "fitness mindset" the exercise industry promotes. You gain so much more from a mindful practice than by blindly jumping on an Elliptical for 30 minutes while watching television. But the exercise industry tells us we need to get our cardio in and how it's accomplished really does not matter. This leads to people walking into our office feeling broken and confused because they thought they were doing the “right” things when it comes to exercise.
We have been told if we are not straining ourselves or “feeling the burn” then we aren’t doing fitness right. This is not the mindset of a healthy movement practice. If you find you are grunting, making faces, or holding your breath to achieve a certain body position, it's time to listen to your body and back off. We spend more time trying to undo this thought process than anything else.
A movement practice involves being kind and patient with your body. However, this is not to say a movement practice is easy. Simple exercises done mindfully are meant to be challenging.
Consistency of a movement practice is essential. Your body adapts to how you move most frequently, so the more time you spend with your movement practice the greater the benefits. The idea is to use the corrective exercises to incorporate new movements into larger, natural movement patterns like squatting. By using your newfound strength and mobility throughout the day, you may find you no longer need corrective exercises over time.
The way to do this is to practice with consistency. Consistency will look different for everyone. Some may be able to devote an hour per day and others may have 10 minutes. Any amount of time you can fit in will benefit you, and the more time the better.
We frequently make recommendations on how to incorporate corrective exercise or different movement patterns into your day the way it's already structured, avoiding the need for setting aside massive amounts of time devoted strictly to exercise. Corrective exercise and more movement are easy to incorporate into your work, time spent on house chores, and time spent with your family. However, we avoid giving a specific prescription for the amount of time to spend on your practice. That is entirely up to you.
It takes time and patience to start to change the mindset around movement, exercise, and fitness habits but the above concepts will help you get so much more out of your practice. The most important principle to remember however is just start moving! How can you get started today?