Beyond Movement: How Moving Mindfully Rewires Your Brain for Stress Resilience
Hands up who feels like they face stress nearly everyday, however small or large? In our current world where the days have a tendency to feel fast paced alot of the time, pressures can creep up. However, there's a simple, potentially game-changing habit: incorporating mindful movement into our daily routine can be a soothing aid for stress reduction.
Mindful movement is doing physical activity whilst incorporating intentional awareness and attention as you are doing it, which emphasises the intricate connection between our body and mind. Like.. paying attention to the feeling of the wind on your skin as you walk, focusing on the breath moving in and out, using that pace of breath to be a guide to your physical motion.. anything that brings a focus of the present moment into what you are doing.
Scientific studies have shown that engaging in mindful movement can bring about physiological changes in the brain that directly contribute to stress reduction! One such study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that regular participation in mindfulness-based activities leads to changes in the brain's gray matter. In particular, areas that are associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection show increased volume, while the amygdala, the part responsible for our stress response, decreases in size. This incredible structural shift in the brain is indicative of the positive impact mindful movement can have on our mental well-being.
Moreover, mindful movement promotes the release of endorphins, often referred to as the "feel-good" hormones. These chemicals act as natural painkillers and mood elevators, creating a sense of euphoria and well-being. A study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience highlights how physical activity, including mindful movement, can trigger the release of endorphins, ultimately reducing stress levels.
During class, you probably have heard emphasis on being aware of a steady pace of breath, or even to notice the pace you are breathing. Or how we have sections in a class that are more physically challenging, which requires slightly more focus to maintain balance whilst remaining calm. It is all to cultivate and practice yes a physical side of movement but also to engage a mental side of practice in us. This mind-body link that has to work together in moments like these can help break the cycle of rumination and worry that often contributes to stress. A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology suggests that mindfulness-based interventions can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress. Hurrah!
So simple practices like taking short mindful walks (without a phone!), taking a break to stretch, a daily yoga practice, can make a substantial difference. AND by making these activities a regular part of our routine, we can build habits that positively affect our brains, bodies and wellbeing for the better to create a more resilient and stress-resistant mind.
Moving mindfully is an incredible habit to cultivate in the push back against stress. From physiological changes in the brain to the release of mood-enhancing endorphins, the benefits are both physical and mental. So, the next time you feel a slight bubbling of stress arise, consider stepping out of that path into your chosen positive, mindful habit—and notice how you feel after!