A group of instructors for the local Fit, Fun and Fully Alive seniors fitness program invited me to describe how mindfulness training might be of use to them and their program participants. These would be mostly women in the 55+ age group. So often I teach mindfulness and meditation in the context of emotional difficulties, such as anxiety and depression, this invitation pushed me to explore the benefits of practice in terms of fitness and body awareness, most particularly the aging body.
I began by emphasizing that mindfulness had nothing whatsoever to do with values fitness programs usually emphasize - building core strength, maintaining muscle flexibility and tone. Instead, I contended, training in mindfulness benefits fitness training in other ways. Mindfulness practice improves :
- awareness of the integrity and the multiple spaces within our bodies; with greater clarity of both gross and fine motor movements;
- awareness, functionality and control of the breath;
- balance, and weight distribution, thus improving safety and endurance;
- symptoms of conditions like hypertension, diabetes, arthritis and other pain disorders, anxiety, depression, stress and others, thus reducing risks in physical activities;
- personal purposefulness, and persistence through reduced expectation and judgements and cultivation of regular practice effort.
To illustrate this, I taught them the “Five-minute breathing exercise”, familiar to most mindfulness practitioners. This I followed with a demonstration of Thich Nhat Hahn’s “Ten Mindful Movements”. I was struck at how appropriate these movements were for seniors, and how similar to those exercises promoted by the speakers who preceded me, namely a dietician and a physiotherapist. I also taught them indoor mindful walking (kinhin).
It can be easy to isolate mindfulness as an activity of mental cultivation. One needs to remember that the first two aspects of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are body and breath (with vocal expression and mind cultivation as the other two). Mindfulness of body, especially mindfulness of the body in motion is every bit as important as any sitting practices.
Thanks to Lara M for the invite and eager participants of FFFA