Mindful Movement and Deep Breathing a Self-Care Tool: MBX-12 at Harvard
Presented for Introduction to Lifestyle Medicine, Harvard Extension School: PSYC E-1037
Notes by Sang H. Kim, Ph.D.
These notes are intended as additional resources for my brief presentation on October 21, 2014, for Introduction to Lifestyle Medicine, which is a Psychology Extension course at Harvard University. This is based on my personal notes while preparing for the research and the published research findings.
I will blog about them as a series.
On Movement-based Mindfulness Practice
Background: What Body Knows
Our body remembers what we experience every day, especially the shocking memories of traumatic events, learns from them and adapts to what comes next. The memories are stored not only in the brain but in the body. As memories stored in the brain affect the body, the information collected in the body does the same to the brain. They reciprocally share stored information, often causing an abnormal reaction, triggered by memories, to a certain event, people, place, smell, or sound.
When the information shared counter-balances each other, with the brain keeping the body in capable condition and the body facilitating sufficient provisions of energy, the optimal condition of the self is maintained. When imbalanced, incremental discrepancies develop. When the gaps go unchecked for a prolonged period, the reciprocal chain weakens, and may in the end break, leading to health problems such as traumatic disorders. The less the brain and body communicate, the less we are capable of coping with the stress.
To bring back the relationship between body and brain, we need to do something physical, with the body, as early as possible after exposure to stressors.
Mindfulness is a quality of consciousness that is associated with control of attention and awareness. When we engage in a movement mindfully, for example eating a chocolate slowly, we have an increased awareness of the movement of the jaws, of the sensations on the tongue, and perhaps of the surroundings in which we can afford to taste the sweetness, thus experiencing positive psychological and behavioral responses.
I learned first-handed that when I play hard in sports in the middle of roaring spectators or when I meditate in a silent temple, I forget everything else. Instead I focus on just doing the sport or the sitting when my awareness fills me in full.
The mind in full mode then calms, restoring inner peace and a sense of oneness. As the body takes the lead, tensions lessen, reversing the negative curve of the mind-play into quietness. This happens more often when I engage with a specific part of the body in an intended action following certain rules, for example in playing soccer or practicing yoga or tai chi or taekwondo or qigong or playing guitar. There is a sense of intrinsic self-control over my being. More so when the activity is self-initiated.
Additionally, experiencing and mastering one movement after another provides a sense of directionality that can reduce the feeling of disorientation or hopelessness. This movement-based mindfulness practice, therefore, may elevate the perspectives of the situation, helping one restore inner balance and reconnect the broken chain between the mind and body. That idea is what planted the seed for my research.
To be continued in Part 2.