Movement as a Spiritual Practice
By: Denise Medved, Creator of Ageless Grace
Can going for a jog connect you with your inner self? Can dancing be a form of spiritual self-expression? Can you commune with a higher power while lifting weights? I think you can!
Spirituality is often limited to sitting quietly with little or no movement while praying or meditating. This is a limited view of spirituality and it prohibits many people, especially children who are notorious wiggle worms, from being spiritual. There are many ways to be spiritual and in this article I would like to explore the concept of movement as a spiritual practice.
No separation between mind and body
The mind / body connection is often talked about, but there really is no separation between the two. The mind affects the body and vice versa. I once heard someone say that the mind body connection was clear – it’s your neck! So if the mind and the body are to work in harmony together, surely we should include the body in our spiritual practice by incorporating movement.
Not surprisingly, your body is very often a reflection of your mind. If you are very stiff and rigid and begin to stretch your muscles every day, then you may discover that while your body is becoming more flexible, so too are your thoughts. There is real benefit in incorporating movement when you are trying to make changes to the way you think and live. Sometimes the only way to fully rid yourself of anger, grief, shame, etc. is to move and allow yourself to really experience the full spectrum of your feelings. And different feelings call for different kinds of movement.
Being In the Present Moment
From Wikipedia: Flow, also known as Zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
Take a moment to reflect on when you are naturally in the ‘flow’ of life and you will discover that being present is most often connected with movement. Whether it’s raking leaves, walking in nature, or hitting the perfect tennis shot, it is easiest, and certainly most natural, to focus one’s mind when moving.
Taking Tai Chi and yoga are great ways to align the body and mind, but they aren’t the only classes you can take to connect with yourself. If you enjoy kickboxing or Zumba, both very active classes, and are able to immerse yourself to the point of full involvement, then that is no less spiritual than a yoga class.
Movement allows us to experience the full range of spiritual connection. Examples:
Quiet and Reflective Movement:
- Tai Chi
- Meditative walks
- Jumping on a trampoline
- Hula hooping
Repetitive movement / Mantra movement:
- Jogging / walking
- Weight lifting
Movement to clear anger:
- Chopping wood
- Hitting a punching bag
- Quickly shaking your whole body taking one body part at a time: head, hands, feet, legs, arms, etc.
Of course, many exercises fit into more than one category. Swimming can be reflective and joyful as well as repetitive, and there are many more categories of movement than I have listed above. These are merely meant to serve as a guideline.
If you are already moving and grooving, then you can embrace your spiritual side in the exercise you’re already doing. The key is to be mindful while you are moving. And if you have trouble getting into ‘the zone’, then bring affirmations or a mantra into your exercise routine. Affirmations or a repeated mantra can actually help you set the pace of a run, and you will feel much better while jogging if you’re thinking positive thoughts rather than how much further you have to go.
Another simple way to make exercise reflective is to simply focus on your breath in the same way you would when meditating.
Moving with Grace – Movement as a Spiritual Practice
I created and designed Ageless Grace, a cutting-edge brain fitness program, to exercise and stimulate both the body and the mind as well as nourish the spirit. The exercises in Ageless Grace activate all 5 functions of the brain – analytical thinking, strategic planning, kinesthetic learning, memory/recall, creativity and imagination – and simultaneously addresses all 21 physical skills needed for lifelong optimal function.
Intentionally nourishing the mind-body connection on a daily basis can help improve health and well-being, reduce stress, and keep the brain agile and the body responsive. When body, mind, spirit and emotions are in balance, health and well-being follow. Ageless Grace offers something for each of these dimensions.
For the mind, there are right- and left-brain movement activities, numbering sequences of physical movements in patterns that play games with the mind; and there are mind-body directives that encourage the brain to consciously choose and direct the movement of the body in either a random or specific sequence.
For the emotions, there are sounds, words, expressions and “pretend” emotions that are used to inspire, stimulate, and release endorphins, while simultaneously allowing the body to release tension and tightness.
For the spirit, the movements incorporate imagery, creativity, variety, playfulness, polarities, sound and games, all performed to a wide range of music that encourages self-expression, nourishing the authentic self.
At the end of each of my Ageless Grace classes, I take a few moments to connect my students to their spiritual selves. I have 5 or 6 different closings that vary from reading an inspirational verse, poem or scripture, to creating a triangle with their hands and “placing inside” their intentions and prayers for themselves or others, to looking into their empty palms and knowing they are waiting to be filled up with the gifts, blessings, and joys of the day.
Sometimes I do a short “ritual” where I ask them to raise their hands prayer style to the heavens where we receive inspiration, touch their hands to their hearts where we find compassion, reach their hands down toward the earth where we receive sustenance, and bring their hands back up through their hearts and out to the community around them where we find opportunities for friendship, service, and PLAY!
Even though we are connecting with spirit through movement the entire class, I always take time to nourish their souls and spirits specifically at the end of class. On the one or two occasions where I have ended class with just a round of applause someone always asks me, “Aren’t we going to close with our verse?” or “What about setting our intentions?” etc. My students crave and understand the importance of spiritual connection!
Movement is good for ALL of you.
Finally, movement is just good for you. Movement teaches you appreciation for your own body, it is healing, it relieves stress, and so on and so on.
It’s ok to be skeptical about the link between movement and spirituality. So much of what we have been taught in the west separates our body from our spirit. It can be tough to accept that there is more to our bodies and to movement than meets the eye. Rather than taking my word for it, I encourage you to investigate and find out for yourself if you can develop a spiritual practice that celebrates and embraces the entire person and bring more movement into your life!
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