Hearing the word “exercise” makes some people cringe. They think of a loud gym, with the expense of a membership, or cannot fathom how they are going to make the time during their hectic day. I refer to this core principle as “movement” and not “exercise,” because mindful movement happens throughout the day. It is an awareness of our static posture and body mechanics during daily activities such as carrying groceries, opening a jar, and lifting children. It is as much about how you move as it is about the amount you move. This approach is about developing an awareness of your body throughout the day, so you can sense when you are moving in a manner that could harm your body.
Mindful movement can also be very grounding. When we have proper postural alignment, our confidence and self-esteem may improve, not only as others see us through our body language, but as we feel stronger. As you begin to integrate the core principles into your daily life, you will see how they overlap. This overlap shows how everything we do is connected. Actions in one area of our life effect change in other areas.
An example of a core overlap is an awareness for improved posture and movement during daily tasks in relation to improved digestion. Proper seated alignment during and after eating allows your diaphragm and abdominal muscles freedom of movement. If you are slouching in your chair or immediately bending or twisting after a meal, your muscles are placing pressure on your stomach impeding digestion.
Additionally, by taking the time to sit at a table, away from a TV, allows us to focus on just eating (an overlap with the nutrition principle) and permits the nervous system to enter the rest and digest phase. If you suffer from heartburn, indigestion or reflux, being fully present and aware of posture during and after mealtime can have a tremendous positive impact. Are you beginning to see how creating mindfulness in one area of your life naturally spills over into another?
With improved posture comes increased core strength, improved balance, and freedom of movement.
Below are two mindful posture practices to stay present, improve postural alignment and core strength. Once you have practiced them at home and gain an awareness of how your body feels when aligned, begin to practice them during activities such as standing at the sink and washing dishes, waiting on the checkout line at the grocery store, or while brushing your teeth. These postures are especially helpful during stressful times. Give your chattering mind a timeout. Take a moment to ground into your body, focus on your breathing, and let that negative thought go. It may come back, but for a moment you can let it trail off and return to it with a calmer perspective.
Try this while seated at your workstation and during meals.
When seated, can you plant both feet on the floor and sit back far enough in the chair so that your back is supported? At five foot one inch tall, I can tell you this is often not the case for me. To resolve this, my dining chairs have removable lumbar pillows. Otherwise, when your feet do not touch the floor, you may feel a strain on your knees and lower back. Are you above average height and often slump your shoulders at your desk to see your computer screen? If your screen is not adjustable, stack a few books underneath and see if there is an improvement. If this works for you, invest in a permanent riser, maybe something with a drawer or open storage so small items can be at your fingertips. Slouching your body not only leads to a decrease in abdominal and back muscle strength but may induce headaches due to cervical malalignment.
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While seated in this manner, engage your core gently by imagining an invisible string drawing your belly button towards your back. Keep your chin level. Try moving your head forward and backward until it feels centered over your body. It does not sound challenging, but you may find your stomach muscles or back feel fatigued after a few minutes. You have now developed an awareness of which muscles in your core are strong, and which muscles could use a little TLC.
Stand naturally and have a friend or family member take a profile picture of your natural stance. How does your posture look? Is your head or stomach protruding forward? Is your upper back hunched over? Now, stand with your back to the wall. With your heels approximately an inch or two from the baseboard, and your sacral area and shoulders as close to the wall as possible. Take another picture. Do you see any differences in your posture when comparing the free-standing picture and wall picture?
When you begin a posture practice, it is preferable to stand on a wooden floor or even tile surface. Remove your shoes. Feel your feet against the floor. Do you feel all your toes contacting the floor? The balls mounds and heels? Relax your arms at your sides. Ground yourself. Build from the foundation of your feet up. Slightly shift your weight by rocking back forth between your heels and balls of your feet. Connect with your body to find your center of gravity. Find that sweet spot where you don’t feel as though you are leaning too far back or too far forward. This movement activates the soleus muscle in your calf, which aids in balance.
Next, concentrate on lifting your kneecaps towards your pelvis by contracting your quadriceps muscles. This may be difficult at first, especially if this muscle is in a weakened state. If you have difficulty connecting with this muscle, sit on the edge of your bed or chair. With your foot in the flexed position, lift it off the floor and extend your knee to ninety degrees. You should see the quad engage. Now visualize your connection to the earth. Ground yourself mentally in a place that gives you a sensation of strength and peace.
With your feet grounded and kneecaps lifted, begin to align your pelvis. You can do this by slowly lowering your chin and gazing towards your feet. Can you see your toes? If not, slightly put more weight into your heels so your body moves backward. When you can see the tips of your toes, your upper body is aligned with your lower body. You may find it helpful to place a yoga block between your thighs to engage your legs muscles, provide appropriate leg spacing, as well as a single point of focus.
My yoga teacher, Paul, frequently refers to Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar’s phrase “effortless effort.” When we stop trying to force something and approach it from a state of uncomplicated grace, we are more likely to reach our goal. That being said, it is also important to acknowledge your body and state of mind are different every day and that’s ok. Especially when you are introducing new positive shifts in your life, it’s essential not to unleash your inner critic. There will be days you feel you made progress, which is great. But, there will also be days you don’t quite get there, and that’s great too. And here is why, if you realize you were off today, you are building self-awareness. It is only not helpful when there is no self-realization or appropriate acceptance of responsibility.
More thoughtful content is on the way. . .visit again soon for more approaches to be well.