Mindful Movement: The Cutting Edge of Exercise and Mental Health

Have you heard about Mindful Movement?

Mindful walking, running, swimming, biking, hiking and even pole dancing all exist. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. He is also a leader of mindfulness research, and has even trained the US Men’s Olympic Rowing Team in mindfulness exercises. Some of whom even went on to win gold medals!

Mindful exercises exist for the purpose of improving physical well-being and also mental health.  Dr. Dilip Jeste, former president of the American Psychiatry Association and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience,  and colleague Dr. Helen Lavretsky at UCLA, have done extensive research. They have demonstrated the positive impact of mindfulness exercises on medical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, depression and anxiety disorders.

Can you just move and be mindful of it?

Dr. Dilip Jeste, defined mindful exercise as “physical exercise executed with a profound inwardly directed contemplative focus.” Mindful exercise combines the core principles mindfulness with mild to moderate physical exercise. Helen Lavretsky expanded this definition stating that mindful exercise consists of five elements:

  1. A non-judgmental and non-competitive attitude. The goal here is not to try to prevent judgements. Jon Kabat-Zinn, explains, “It brings awareness to how judgmental we actually are.” Be gentle with yourself
  2. A focus on the movement of your body’s muscles and their position in and through space.
  3. Centered breathing. Breathe deeply from your abdomen. Place a hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Breathe in and observe which hand rises with the breath. Try to raise the hand on your belly. Notice the breath in your body and the rhythm of your inhale and exhale.
  4. An intentional focus on correct physical form and body alignment, specifically the spine, the trunk, and the pelvis. Proper body positioning when exercising helps keep the mind and the body focused.
  5. An awareness of the energy generating body movement. Pay attention to the strength needed to exert each movement. Our bodies have become incredibly skilled to lift, stretch and bend. Concentrate on the work needed to complete each move.

Dr. Gary Foster, founder of Living Well and international speaker, suggests several things to avoid when practicing mindfulness.

What mindful exercise is NOT

  1. Losing yourself in your thoughts and feelings. While it is normal to have a thought or two enter your mind, try not to focus on them. Observe the thoughts or emotions and let them come and go like waves. Avoid daydreaming.
  2. Lunch, laundry and deadlines.  Focus on the present moment and not your to-do’s for the rest of the day.
  3. Disregarding the pain. As you exercise, pay attention the subtle tension and possible discomfort coming from a body that is becoming healthier. Avoid movements that cause pain.
  4. This is a big “no-no”. If you catch yourself becoming concerned about your time, pace, distance, or number of repetitions in a manner that causes you to lose perspective of yourself and the world —you aren’t practicing mindfulness. Rather, allow yourself to enjoy the exercise.

Maybe mindful pole dancing isn’t exactly your thing.

Mindfulness is a valuable skill gained through practice. The easiest way to practice is to incorporate it into activities you engage in regularly. Check out the following links to add mindfulness to a physical activity you may currently .

Fuller Life is here to help you live a more mindful life.

Contributed by

Angela Blocker , M.A, LMFT Associate

Clinical Supervision by Amy Fuller, PhD, LMFT, LPC


  • Alidina, S., & Hickman, S. D. (2010). Mindfulness for dummies. Chichester, West Sussex, Eng.: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Foster, G. (2015). Mindfulness exercises | Living Well. Retrieved March 15, 2016, from http://www.livingwell.org.au/mindfulness-exercises-3
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.
  • Lavretsky, H. (2013, May 19). Mindful exercise and mental health | OUPblog. Retrieved March 15, 2016, from http://blog.oup.com/2013/05/mindful-exercise-cam-mental-health/#sthash.rz8yKPph.dpuf

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