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Mindful Movement – Discovering Embodied Presence

by Vanessa Hope

I have been teaching MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) since 2001 and have been a member of the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice core training team since 2007.

However, I always feel that my mindfulness journey began when I attended yoga classes in preparation for the birth of my first daughter 36 years ago … and it felt like coming home.  As a child who was frequently ill, I was often kept indoors and spent a lot of time buried in my books, more often in my head than my body.  As I grew older I began to enjoy some very physical activities but I was still seeing my body as a separate part of me.  Yoga, like the word yoke, means to unite – and, as I practiced more, I began to find moments of deep peace as my body, mind and heart came to rest together.  This meditative movement then seemed naturally to lead me to explore the practice of sitting meditation and this is now the foundation of my life.

This is why, eventually, I began to teach MBSR and, as a mindfulness-based teacher, I have frequently seen a similar process happen for participants on my courses.  Many find mindful movement a way into the simple – but not easy – practice of being present in each moment.  The movements themselves can become a focus for our attention, steadying us in the here and now whenever our minds begin to get caught up in thinking of other things. 

The Centre for Mindfulness in Massachusetts regard mindful movement as so important that yoga is practiced in every session of their MBSR programme.  However, there are many other ways to practice such as Tai Chi, Qigong, walking, dancing, swimming, running – indeed any movement can be done mindfully.  So in our everyday life, where we are so often on the move, the movement we engage in can be a constant invitation to be mindful and present in the moment.

There is also much learning in whatever mindful movement practice we choose to do regularly.  I have found my movement practice a wonderful way of developing the capacity to listen to what my body has to tell me.  Instead of waiting till my body screams at me, I notice more often when I start to feel tired or stiff or tense and can then act appropriately.  So being aware of my body’s needs also helps me to be kinder to myself.

As I practice the same movements on a regular basis, I also become aware of my patterns.  How I love some movements and avoid others.  How I can get into trying to move as far into a posture as I did yesterday and being disappointed when I can’t and how I feel sadness when I realise that getting older means that I am coming up against new limitations.  Here I have the opportunity to acknowledge and work with the challenging thoughts and emotions that arise and to see them coming and going throughout my practice.  There are times when I can allow things to be as they are and times when I want to change my experience. There can come a time when I am no longer ‘doing’ the practice but simply feeling into my body with a gentle curiosity as I flow with the movement.  There are also times when I find myself struggling and frustrated.  The microcosm of the practice allows me to explore just how it is to be human in each moment.

So my movement practice brings me much joy and also much insight and these are the gifts that I hope to offer to my course participants.  I like to offer a variety of movement practices so that there is a way in for everyone.  It is also, I feel, an area for more exploration among mindfulness-based teachers, where there could be an opportunity to share the different practices that are taught, especially those for groups for whom movement is particularly challenging.

At heart, for me, my movement practice has become a place to come home to, an opportunity to be with myself in my own body which is always here and now, a place to be embodied and present, a place that offer me glimpses of wholeness. 

As Mary Oliver says:
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Vanessa Hope is a teacher and trainer in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindful Self-Compassion.  She taught on the Masters in Mindfulness-Based Approaches at Bangor University for 5 years. She also facilitates both Mindfulness and Mindfulness and Self-Compassion retreats 

Some resources for you:

Mindfulness Yoga, Frank Jude Boccio, 2004, Wisdom

Moving into Meditation, Anne Cushman, 2014, Shambhala

Breath, Sandra Sabatini, 2000, Thorsons

Embrace Tiger Return to Mountain – The Essence of Tai Chi, Chungliang Al Huang, 1997, Celestial Arts

Running with the Mind of Meditation, 2013, Sakyang Mipham Rinpoche,  Shambhala

Gesture of Awareness, Charles Genoud, 2006, Wisdom

Vanessa Is teaching a Mindful Movement Workshop in London, May 23rd and 24th

Publication date: 1 March 2017