I never considered myself a “Zen” person and during the pandemic I definitely let my emotions get the best of me sometimes. I didn’t always remember to practice self-care and I absolutely got overwhelmed. I don’t meditate in silence on a yoga mat in my personal movement studio. On the contrary, I run around in my sweatpants while chasing after my toddler while two French bulldogs bark in the background. But here’s the thing: If we are always waiting for the “perfect” environment and time to “get Zen,” we may be waiting forever.
What is Zen?
According to Merriam Webster, Zen refers to a “state of calm attentiveness in which one's actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort.” This ancient Buddhist practice doesn’t require silence. It can be about finding the quiet within especially when life gets loud, which for those of us with young children can be a daily occurrence. Zen isn’t external and doesn’t rely on only our environment. So I began to wonder what it would take to incorporate more attentiveness, how I could support my intuition, and reclaim the state of calm I so desperately needed.
[Related: Ask an Expert: Mindfulness tools for parents]
As if I didn’t have enough on my plate during the last two years, I decided to write a book. As a dance/movement therapist, I’ve been working with clients for years, helping them rediscover their mind-body connection in order to reclaim their lives and improve their mental health. Body Aware, which comes out this August, is all about using your movement to support your mental health. That’s when it dawned on me: This is the foundation for cultivating calm attentiveness and learning to trust your intuition. This pandemic has taught me many things, but the most important lesson I have learned is to take care of my mental health, and that begins with how I move and show up in my body.
Everyone can access this ability with the right tools and a bit of practice. These may feel elusive, but I’m here to tell you that they are not only accessible, but you already have all the tools you need inside of you. Here is what I have used, what I practice with my clients, and even teach my children.
Step 1: Become aware of your current movement
Begin to examine how you move on a daily basis. What are your natural tendencies with regard to your posture, facial expressions, and mannerisms? These contribute greatly to your mood and influence how you are thinking. This allows you to connect to what you feel and to begin harnessing that intuition.
Step 2: Challenge your current movement
Allow yourself to move out of your comfort zone. Try walking at a different pace, taking a different type of movement or exercise class, maybe even trying on different postures. Change your relationship to personal space and try slowing down, especially if you are always used to moving quickly.
Step 3: Expand your habitual movement
When we move more, we feel more. If we can expand the range and ability of our movement we have the ability to express and feel more emotionally. We can find grounding, calm, and focus. This means we find more opportunities to "get Zen” because we can move through the challenges and overwhelm.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to harnessing the power of your movement to improve your mental health. Awareness is the key to change, and sometimes even the smallest movement can have the largest impact. So, no need to work on “getting" Zen: simply start by noticing all the ways you can bring Zen into your current life.