Mindful movement: what is it en how do you apply it?

mindful exercise basketball

You probably know that movement is very healthy for your body and mind. But have you ever heard of mindful movement? What exactly is it, what are the benefits and how exactly do you do it? You will find out in this blog.

The importance of exercise

We live in challenging times: climate change, corona, war in Ukraine, rapid technological changes … All this has a detrimental impact on many people. For example, some are regularly tired, suffer from low immunity, are stressed, feel depressed, and so on. Do you experience any of these symptoms or feelings from time to time? Start exercising! This is extremely good for your physical and mental well-being. Why is this? Exercise …

  • triggers the production of endorphins. These happiness hormones induce a positive state of mind and reduce stress.
  • boosts the production of serotonin and dopamine, which, among other things, helps with emotion and mood regulation, and increases concentration.
  • has a positive effect on our immune system, making us less susceptible to disease.

And not just that: regular exercise helps to prevent depression, burnout and anxiety. So even if you are currently feeling very good, it is a good idea to prepare yourself, in case you enter a more difficult period later on.

Would you like to do some more exercise or start with a specific sport? You can choose an intensive form of movement, such as jogging, dancing or basketball, but working in the garden, walking or doing household chores, is also beneficial. Find out what kind of exercise you like. If you are committed to exercising every day or every other day and want to avoid dropping the ball, it is best to choose something you enjoy doing. For example, don’t force yourself to go to the gym every day if that doesn’t make you happy at all.

What is mindful movement and how do you go about it?

mindful movementMindful movement means that during your physical activity, you are consciously in the moment. You focus your attention on what you are doing. This has various additional benefits, in addition to the general advantages listed above, including experiencing more joy and reducing the risk of overusing your body.

But how do you actually practice mindful movement? Here are some examples:

  • Let’s say you decide to go for a walk or jogging session in nature. Focus on the sound of the birds, the scent of the trees, flowers, or plants, or the contact of your shoes with the ground during that activity. You can also direct your attention to the movement of your body or your breath. Observe your thoughts. If you can be focused in the moment, your thoughts won’t run away with you.
  • Other recommended activities include tai chi, dancing, yoga … These are types of what I call conscious movement. You can do this on your own, if you already have a lot of experience, or you can take lessons. There are a lot of clubs and centers today where you can attend these types of classes. During the session, focus your attention in the here and now. Whenever thoughts or emotions arise, observe them, without judgment, and then bring your attention back to the moment, to your body, to your breathing …

Would you like to practice mindful movement? Take a look at our page with activities. Also check out our screensavers, cell phone wallpapers and posters, to support and remind you to move mindfully (more often) (materials via the link under ‘Sports and exercise’).

Mindful movement in top-level sports

Top-level athletes face unique challenges. For instance, injuries, having to sit on the bench, performing under high pressure or fatigue, losing competitions … In addition to the general benefits I mentioned above, mindful movement helps you perform better, be less susceptible to injury or overexertion, experience more enjoyment and sharpen your focus. The latter can be useful, for example, when you need to do a particular movement that requires you to apply a specific technique that demands high concentration.

An article in the Los Angeles Times, featuring several doctors, MBSR founder Jon Kabat-Zinn and athletes, describes this meditative state as “the zone”. When athletes are in “the zone,” brain waves change, more blood flows to the brain and skin and less to the muscles, and they feel calm, alert and free of fatigue. This mysterious mental and physical state makes the performance peak last longer. Read the full article about “the zone” via this link.

“Most athletes have no control over the zone,” said Jon Kabat-Zinn, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. “If you want to put yourself in the zone with any regularity, the best way to do it is to train yourself mentally using meditation.”

Moreover, this is not a vague theory. It has been scientifically proven that mindfulness is helpful for high-performance athletes. I have experienced it myself. Years ago, I was a fixture at the national level and part of the national basketball team. I regularly felt anxious or angry, such as when I had to sit on the bench during a game. Since this bothered me quite a lot, I went looking for solutions. I was a fan of the Chicago Bulls, the team Michael Jordan was playing on at the time, and at some point I discovered that Michael Jordan’s coach was a meditation teacher.

After that I began to study mindfulness. It was then that I discovered different meditation exercises, for example mindful walking, sitting meditation and yoga. After a while, I began to apply what I had learned in the basketball games. I noticed that I started performing better and better, and became calmer!

“Wherever you sit, that’s where you sit.” ~ Marisa

During that period, I also began to delve into the research and books of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of MBSR. Some time after that I decided to start studying psychology and wrote my thesis on the subject of MBSR. After my studies, I took a course to become an MBSR trainer. And this led me to found the Center for Mindful Living. Through the center, I now help anyone who would like to start practicing mindfulness, by organizing group workshops.

How does one practice mindful movement during sports?

While exercising, most athletes think about what could go wrong, that everyone is watching them, or the technique they need to use. In addition, there are often many distractions, such as noise from fans who are shouting.

On top of that, top athletes are often under pressure when a game doesn’t go quite the way they had hoped, such as when the score is tied or their team is a point behind. By applying the principles of mindful movement, you reduce the impact of such emotions and thoughts, so that you can be focused and perform better.

So how exactly do you do that? Suppose you are a basketball player and you have to take a free throw. Mindfully taking a free throw goes like this. Focus your attention on what is here, right now, in this moment: the position of your body, your movement and/or your breathing.

mindful movement marisa john bakerBy doing this, you won’t go along with upcoming thoughts, and you will be able to take the free throw better. Moreover, by applying this technique during the rest of the game, you are going to be (generally) more efficient and calm.

Years ago, when I was a basketball player myself, there were times when the coach would send me to the bench. At times, I would get really overwhelmed by anger and thoughts. By looking into and practicing meditation, I learned to apply the following exercise:

  • Concentrate on the contact of your seat with the bench and your feet on the floor.
  • Follow your breath and focus your attention there.
  • Then move your attention back to your body for a moment.
  • Repeat these steps over and over until your emotions and thoughts begin to feel less strong.

This meditation helped me to see this moment as a new beginning. Afterwards, I also had more concentration and focus during the game.

Of course, something like this takes practice and every situation is different. But if you practice with it a lot, outside of competitions, you will find that it eventually becomes a new (mindful) automatism. Would you like to learn more about this? Sign up for one of my mindfulness courses. During this course, you will learn from A to Z how mindfulness works and how best to apply the principles of mindful movement, in your specific situation.

What if I am unable to exercise at the moment?

You just learned about the benefits of mindful movement and how to engage in it in the previous sections. But what if you are unable to do this for a while, because you feel very tired or because you are sick, and have covid, for example? Mindfulness is also about being mindful of your body’s limits! If you can’t manage to exercise, you can do another practice to come back to yourself for a moment.

How? You can take a walk, sit quietly on a bench in the garden, read a book, put on music, drink a tea or eat a piece of cake … and do a meditation exercise at the same time. Focus your attention on your breathing, your body, the sounds around you … Try to be in the moment and also return to it when you notice that emotions and thoughts are coming up.

Some examples

Recently, a participant of my MBSR group program told me during one of the sessions that she had been ill with corona and was still feeling very tired. She did not feel comfortable participating in the exercises. I then suggested to go outside for a while, to sit on a bench in the garden and to bring her attention to the feeling of the warmth of the sun on her skin. Afterwards, she told me that this brief moment had brought her tremendous joy, despite her illness.

“I wasn’t feeling well that day and didn’t feel like joining the exercises. But after this mindful moment in the sun, I felt a lot better. ” ~ student (anonymous)

Another participant, an older man, had a similar experience. At one point he said that he couldn’t manage to do anything. He had been suffering from covid for a long time. His immune system was severely compromised. He was often short of breath. I suggested sitting quietly on the chair and to simply be aware of his breathing. I told him he could join the group to do the exercises whenever he felt better.

After a while, he went outside to get some air. Afterwards, he returned to the group. He said that he managed to do the mindful walk, at his own pace. He was able to focus on the sounds in the environment and his feet in contact with the ground, instead of focusing on his thoughts of powerlessness, anger … He was surprised that it was still feasible for him to do the exercises in the end, despite his anxious and limiting thoughts. During the rest of the course, he walked mindfully every day. At the end, he left the course with a smile.

Would you like to learn more about mindfulness? Check out the page ‘What is mindfulness?’.

Are you not feeling well at the moment? Are you struggling to get past certain situations or issues? Talk about it! Contact your doctor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Some useful links:

We add new content and update our social media channels regularly. Follow us at:

Meer blogs