5 Ways to Use Movement (Not Exercise) to Support Your Mental Health

“Nothing is more revealing than movement.” ~Martha Graham

As if it were yesterday, I was home with my newborn and kindergartener, as well as two dogs and a husband working remotely when the COVID19 pandemic struck.

It didn’t take long for the stress and tension to build in my body. As my body became stiffer, bounder, less mobile, and more frozen, the feelings of uncertainty, fear, and instability as well as postpartum anxiety took their toll.

My previous methods of using movement to exercise were removed and I was able to learn in-home or Zoom, which did not suit my needs. This was my first experience in many years of not being able to include dance into my weekly schedule.

It seemed very hard to expand, stretch, even breathe, and that’s when it hit me. A little voice inside said, “You need to practice what you preach!” I needed to redefine movement and focus it on my mental health; connecting to movement for emotional well-being and not just for physical activity.

Most of us have an image in our minds of MovementWe think of exercise as movement. All exercise can be considered movement but not all movement can be called exercise.

Many of the movements our bodies make, involuntarily or not, can have an impact on how we feel, and even what we think. Science tells us that molecules of emotion exist throughout the body, so wouldn’t it make sense that in order to manage those emotions, we need to tap into all the ways to move the body that houses them?

First, let’s look at what movement is. Any movement that permits the body to move or change its position is called movement. You can do this by running marathons, resting your heartbeat or blood pumping. Each of these situations involve parts or all of the body changing its position.

With this knowledge, what are you doing right now to move? Consider how this movement is affecting my mood at the moment. Do you think it supports a positive mindset? Or does it perpetuate a bad habit or behaviour that leads to negative thoughts?

As I mentioned, my movements were restricted, rigid, and confined in my particular case. This was made difficult by my infant, who, through no fault of his own, needed my help for survival. I neglected my own body’s needs and it took a toll on my mental health.

Changes in how you move can make a big difference to your thinking and feelings. How can we change our movement? These are just five of the ways movement can support mental health.

1. Concentrate on the movement you are making right now.

When we focus on our movement in the present moment, we minimize the anticipation of what’s to come, which is often tied to fear or anxiety. It is also possible to avoid dwelling on the past which may lead to guilt or doubt.

Each movement offers an opportunity for you to live in the present, since every moment can be found in motion.

Just think about one section of your body. Pay attention to its size, shape, and rhythm. You can start to change this section of your body by moving it in small steps and see how it feels.

My body felt tight and closed. In order to combat the adverse effects of my position, I deliberately made an effort at checking in.

2. Cross your midline.

Cross-lateral movements, such as walking, marching or hugging, encourage the brain’s two halves to communicate. This boosts neural activity across the corpus collosum, which increases neuralplasticity, otherwise known as the brain’s ability to change. It opens up new avenues that directly correlate to emotional resilience and our ability to problem-solve, think critically, and be resilient.

You can start by giving yourself an enormous hug, or just touching the opposite side of your knee with your other hand. It is possible to do yoga and side bends or even bicycling on your back while you are lying down.

3. Move your spine.

You can tap into self-awareness by engaging in spine movement. The vertical plane of our bodies houses our core beliefs, identities, and moral compass. We can become more conscious of how our spine moves and the ways it functions.

You don’t have to be flexible. Instead, explore as gently as possible all of the movements that your spine, hips, and rib cage can allow you to make.

It’s my favorite way to get up in the morning. This allows me to curl my spine as I connect head to tail.

4. Use space and timing to your advantage

Because we are comfortable, we move in the same way that we know.

When we are moving through this world, our bodies have a tendency to follow a specific pace, timing and shape. Our minds can be challenged by changing our body’s timing, shape and space. While this may be difficult, we can improve our tolerance for stress by doing it in smaller doses.

Pay attention to the natural speed of your movement, such as walking, gesturing, and so on. Try speeding up, slowing down or accelerating it. The same goes for space. Can you use more? Is that how you feel?

5. Do more than you think!

We become more resilient when we use all of the movement options at our disposal. You can’t think in as many ways if you move only in one direction.

We can improve our abilities to manage life and transitions, as well as our ability to communicate with our own bodies in new ways. It can help you feel more compassion and empathy for yourself.

Moving more became a way for me to feel more empathy for myself, and also my children who struggled with the same world. My body was able to model the need for safety and regulation that I had, which made us all better as a family.

Your best resource for mental and emotional wellbeing is your body’s movement. This can be as simple as noticing how your body moves now and inviting new movements whenever you are able.

You don’t have to follow a certain path, it is your individual practice to increase the mind-body link. Furthermore, it’s not the movement alone that matters but the execution as well. It is important to be mindful and deliberate when you practice this exercise.

The best way to A.C.E. is by incorporating the tips mentioned above into your daily life. You can improve your mental health. To live emotionally balanced lives, it is possible to become more conscious of how we move.

Erica Hornthal

Chicago Dance Therapy is led by Erica Hornthal. She is both a certified clinical professional counselor as well as a dance/movement therapist. Known as the “Therapist Who Moves You,” Erica is changing the way people see movement with regard to mental health.  Erica is author of the book Body Aware: Recovering Your Mind Body Connection and Stop Feeling Stuck. Improve your Mental Health Through Simple Movement Practices.

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Tiny Buddha’s first post, 5 Ways to Use Movement (Not Exercise), to Support Your Mental Well-being appeared first on Tiny Buddha.

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