Stress Management Techniques: Mindful Movement

Sandi Anders, MDiv, RYT, CSC

There are a group of healthful practices that are often referred to as Meditation in Movement. Just as you can engage in meditation through a state of stillness, you can also practice meditation through gentle, mindful movement. (For those of us who find it challenging to "just sit", these techniques might be more beneficial.)

Walking Meditation -- Stillness in Motion

A slow, mindful walk helps to center and relax you. Walking Meditation is practicing mindfulness and meditation while walking - a kind of stillness in motion. A wonderful book on walking meditation is The Long Road Turns to Joy by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Walking Meditation Suggestions:

Walk slower than your usual pace. As you walk, notice your breath. See if you can enjoy each step - walking to walk rather than walking to arrive at some destination.

Feel the nourishment of each inhalation; with each exhalation, let go of tension in your shoulders, as you also let go of burdensome worry.

Be aware of all the sensations in your body. Notice the feel of your feet as they make contact with the ground. Feel the sensation as the heel of one foot strikes the ground and the toes of the other foot begin to lift off.

Feel the inter-related movements in the motion of walking: shifting the center of gravity forward as you lean into the next step; pushing off with the toes of the rear foot as you swing the foot forward; contacting the ground with your heel. Notice how the weight of your body is focused on different areas of the load-bearing foot, moving from heel to ball of the foot to the toes.

Give your focused attention to all the sensations of walking in your feet, your legs and your carriage. As humans, we've invested a lot of evolutionary time in learning to walk upright. It is a complex and amazing phenomenon -- allow yourself to marvel at it!

Blend together awareness of your breath, your body's movement and the peace and beauty of the present moment. See if you can fully be with each step, each breath. If you can do it for one step, one cycle of breath, you can do it for the next and the next and the next.

As you breathe in, take a step and say to yourself, "Just." As you breathe out, take another step and say to yourself, "This."

Movement Meditations: Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga

There are other ways of creating the experience of inner stllness through posture and motion. When you practice any of these movement meditations you benefit from motion coupled with awareness of the breath. Breath is the key to mindful movement and the bridge between the body and the mind.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese mind-body practice made up of a series of slow, fluid movements and coordinated breathing. It provides a host of health benefits to the practitioner. Some of these are: enhanced balance and muscle strength, improved aerobic capacity, greater coordination, relief of stress, stronger immune system, and a sense of well-being. When you practice Tai Chi, you are enhancing the flow of internal "chi" or vital life energy, and this provides health and wellness benefits.


Qigong is an ancient Chinese healing art and is also a form of alternative Chinese medicine which blends together breathing, meditation, and gentle slow rhythmic movement. When practiced regularly, it elicits all of the components of the relaxation response while ehnancing balance and flexibility. As with Tai Chi, Qigong facilitates the smooth flow of "chi" throughout the meridian pathways of the body.

By increasing stamina, improved blood circulation, enhanced immune function, flexibility, relaxation and overall quality of life through the combination of movement, meditation and breath regulation that is Qigong, you encourage and accelerate the healing process.

In China, it is estimated that 200 million people practice Qigong everyday. Because Qigong can be used by the healthy as well as the severely ill, it is one of the most broadly applicable systems of self-care in the world.


Yoga is an ancient system of movement and philosophy based on teachings that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. Most people in the West are more familiar with the physical form of yoga, a system of physical postures designed to create proper alignment in your body.

The physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation practices of yoga have been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, regulate heart rate, and even retard the aging process. Yoga practice increases flexibility and coordination, releases muscle tension, and enhances tranquility. It is an excellent way to develop body awareness and elicit the Relaxation Response.

Movement Meditation to Try Right Now

You can experiment with movement meditation right now as you sit in your chair!

Slowly stretch through your upper body by extending up through the spine as you read these words.

Let your shoulders drop away from your neck. Feel the grace and strength in your sitting posture. Relax your eyes and drop your tongue onto the floor of the mouth. Soften your jaw.

Slowly raise your arms from your sides and extend them over your head as you inhale. Then, slowly lower your arms as you exhale.

Repeat that motion with awareness of your breathing three times.

After you have finished, what do you notice?

The Cure for Stress Is Relaxation

We unwittingly elicit the Stress Response in our bodies through holding chronic muscle tension; through anxiety, worry, and catastrophic thinking; through lack of exercise and proper sleep; through a hectic, fast-paced stressful lifestyle. The Stress Response leads to a compromised immune system, greater vulnerability to disease, and to more rapid aging.

The antidote to the Stress Response is -- the Relaxation Response, which undoes the harmful effects that result from thebody being chronically "reved-up" as if to fight or flee from danger.

Time Is All It Takes

Take a little time, today, to practice one or more of the relaxation techniques described in this article. Twenty minutes of Relaxation Response per day can reverse the effects of chronic stress.

Give yourself this gift -- you'll be glad you did.

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