3 Mindful Movement Exercises

Thich Nhat Hanh offers three mindful movement exercises for well-being, “a wonderful way of connecting your mind and body in mindfulness.”

Thich Nhat Hanh
22 May 2024
Man standing on cushion.
Illustrations by Vietske Vriezen

Mindfulness is our ability to be aware of what is going on both inside us and around us. It is the continuous awareness of our bodies, emotions, and thoughts. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others, and we can work wonders. If we live mindfully in everyday life, walk mindfully, are full of love and caring, then we create a miracle and transform the world into a wonderful place. Clarity flows from mindfulness. When we are mindful, we can practice right thinking and right speech. With the energy of mindfulness, we can always return to our true home, the present moment.

The practice of mindfulness encompasses all spheres and activities, including ordinary actions and our every breath. We often assume breathing is just a natural skill; everyone knows how to inhale and exhale. But breathing is a miracle. Being aware of our breath not only helps us manage the difficulties in everyday life, it also helps develop our wisdom and compassion. We can sit and breathe, but it is just as important to practice mindful breathing while we are moving.

Life is a path, but life is not about getting to a certain place. The mindful movements that follow are a way to practice moving without a goal or intention. They are a wonderful way of connecting your mind and body in mindfulness. When you do them, please enjoy each part of each movement. Do what you can. They are not like aerobics, where you have to move as quickly as possible. There is no need to rush. When I do them, I find I cannot help smiling. I hope they bring you joy.

To begin, stand with your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Your knees are soft, slightly bent and not locked. Stand upright and relaxed. Your shoulders are loose. Imagine an invisible thread is attached to the top of your head and it pulls you up toward the sky. Keeping your body straight, tuck your chin in slightly so your neck can relax. Allow your in-breath to come down into your belly. Then exhale completely. Continue to breathe slowly, aware of each in-breath and out-breath.

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1. Earth and Sky

Your feet are hip-width apart. Breathing in, bring your arms up above your head, palms forward. Stretch all the way up, and look up as you touch the sky. Breathing out, bend at the waist as you bring your arms down to touch the earth. Release your neck. From this position, breathe in and keep your back straight as you come all the way back up and touch the sky. Touch the earth and sky three more times.

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2. Be Like a Flower

Breathing in, lift your arms out to the side, palms up, until your arms are shoulder level, parallel to the ground. Breathing out, touch your shoulders with your fingertips, keeping your upper arms horizontal. Breathing in, open your arms, extending them until they’re stretched out to a horizontal position again. Breathing out, bend your elbows, bringing your fingertips back to your shoulders. When you breathe in, you are like a flower opening to the warm sun. Breathing out, the flower closes. From this position with your fingertips on your shoulders, do the movement three more times. Then lower your arms back down to your sides.

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3. Leg Circles

Begin with your feet together and your hands on your waist. Put your weight on your left foot and, breathing in, lift your right leg straight out in front of you, then circle it away from you to the right. Breathing out, circle it to the back and bring it down behind you, allowing your toesto touch the ground. Breathing in, lift your leg up behind you, then circle it away from you to the left. Breathing out, continue the circle to the front, then lower your leg and put your foot on the ground, allowing your weight to again be on both feet. Now do the exercise with the other leg. Repeat the series of movements three more times.

Adapted from Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being, by Thich Nhat Hanh, with permission of Parallax Press.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) was a renowned Zen teacher and poet, the founder of the Engaged Buddhist movement, and the founder of nine monastic communities, including Plum Village Monastery in France. He was also the author of At Home in the World, The Other Shore, and more than a hundred other books that have sold millions of copies worldwide.