movement and well-being

May 1, 2021
By Audrey Stanton
In Eco-Wellness

Movement & Wellness

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Healing From the Outside-In

Junior year of high school was a pivotal moment in understanding the importance of movement on my mind, body, and soul. After 10 years of jazz, modern and ballet classes, daily movement became a given in my life. I loved being able to wash away life’s problems for a few hours, but didn’t recognize the greater impact it had on my wellbeing until I quit. Mid-way through my junior year, I realized I had been taking that time for granted.

The spring after I stopped dancing, a mentor of mine urged me to carve out time for intentional movement to quiet what I would later understand to be anxiety. He suggested I take a mindful walk– no music, no phone, just the freedom to absorb the senses of a neighborhood. Time to stop and smell the roses, if you will. It was one of my first experiences truly acknowledging my body, breath, and mind as connected. Following that, I started taking yoga classes, dabbled in pilates, cardio movement classes, circuit training, and tried my hand at meditation. While some of these activities lend themselves to mindfulness more than others, all are scientifically proven to benefit one’s well-being. Losing dedicated time for movement showed me how important it is to prioritize.

SCIENCE OF MOVEMENT

A study conducted by Lancet Psychiatry in 2018 analyzed data from more than 1.2 million US adults. Researchers asked participants about depression, stress, emotional problems, and movement in their daily lives. What they found was that those who reported implementing exercise into their routine suffered from mental health issues 43.3% less than those who remained sedentary. This is because exercise calms our sympathetic nervous system, boosts serotonin, and helps to release endorphins. All of these elements and more make movement vital. “Regular aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety by making your brain’s “fight or flight” system less reactive,” Srini Pillay, MD, explained in the Harvard Health Blog. “Through regular aerobic exercise, they can develop a tolerance for such symptoms.”

After a rigorous workout I’m ready to tackle the day, feeling lighter, stronger and expanded. Exercise helps me to stay grounded in gratitude– another powerful tool in stress reduction.

MINDFUL MOVEMENT

If you’re seeking a deeper movement routine, ancient spiritual practices like yoga, tai chi, qigong, and even meditation provide a way to consciously work on your brain and body at the same time. Dr. Pillay found that “frequent yoga practice can reduce the severity of symptoms in post-traumatic stress disorder to the point that some people no longer meet the criteria for this diagnosis.” Even taking a walk, while paying close attention to the five senses, can reduce stress and alleviate depressive symptoms.

On days when I feel like the world is closing in, I’m reminded to take mindful walks. Embarking on an intentional stroll around the block, watching neighbors water their gardens– even with social distancing- brings me so much comfort, just like it did when I was 16. I’m reminded I’m not alone. The swaying trees, the flowers basking in the sun make me feel connected to the world. Exploring different neighborhoods and elevations enables me the chance to view the world in new ways. Mindful and meditative movement gives a fresh perspective.

FINDING WHAT WORKS FOR YOU

Everyone’s body and brain require something different, so make listening to your body a top priority. Ancient techniques are wonderful for expanding your awareness, while aerobic exercise is fantastic for reducing life’s stressors. Combining and rotating through a few different activities is possibly the most beneficial. An article originally published in the 2009 issue of International Journal of Lifelong Education cited multiple studies that learning new skills can benefit mental wellbeing. It’s tempting to stay in one lane but variety keeps our bodies agile and our minds sharp. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Whatever you choose, do so with intention. It will feel like less of a chore if you remain present in your beautiful body and mind.

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