Movement With Attention

by Stephen Mills on May 14, 2009


I’ve learned something quite interesting recently.  I bought a new book called Move into Life: The Nine Essentials for Lifelong Vitality by Anat Baniel and fell in love with it almost immediately.  In it she shares her nine essentials for lifelong vitality.  I wanted to share some of it with you in this article.  I think it has great potential and I highly recommend you get the book because I can’t do justice to it in a blog post.

Her first essential principle is called “Movement With Attention”.  I am intrigued by this idea and I love the results.

The more habitual our everyday movements, the less we are able to satisfy the brain’s need for growth.  As we introduce new patterns of movement combined with attention, our brains begin making thousands, millions, and even billions of new connections.  These changes quickly translate into thinking that is clearer, movement that is easier, pain that is reduced or eliminated, and action that is more successful.  — Anat Baniel

The brain lights up when you pay attention to movement.  Constantly grooving the same pathways by habitual repeated movements leads to loss of strength and flexibility.  These habitual movements without attention are great when you want to walk and talk at the same time, but they are not great for your brain and body in the long term.

However, if you pay attention to your movements, your brain lights up with new activity.  Researchers can see this on the new imaging equipment that has revolutionized brain research over the last decade.  You establish new connections.  Your movements become lighter and your body becomes more vital.  Your body feels different. Through movement with attention, you are able to assist your brain in finding the best way to manage movement in your life.  WOW!

I understand that this is something that is taught in modern Buddhist practices as well, but I have no personal knowledge of that.

How to Move with Attention

The best way I can explain this is to simply describe what I do.  I have swollen hands and fingers (repetitive stress injury)  and I have used this technique to make them much more flexible and light.  The swelling and discomfort have been reduced significantly.

When I am walking in the morning for example, I play with my fingers and hands.  I move them slowly and deliberately in all kinds of ways, whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.  The exact movement pattern changes every time.  I introduce as much variety as possible.  While I am moving them, one finger at a time, I pay very close attention to that movement.  I feel the muscles, joints, and tendon in my fingers, hands, and forearms.  I try to feel everything I can involved in that particular movement.  I really feel it and experience it.  I also move my wrists, arms, shoulders, and more doing the same thing.

I then focus on my feet and legs.  I focus on one side at a time.  While I am paying attention to a movement, I slow down and make sure I have time to feel all the subtle movements of bone, tendon, and muscle.  I feel my sole as I role up onto the ball of my foot.  I feel my toes and ankle joints.  I concentrate on the tendons on the top of my foot and up my lower leg.  I feel the calf muscles contract and relax.  I try to feel the joint in my knee rolling back and forth.  I continue moving up my leg, feeling the the hamstrings and quads, and finally the butt.  I pay attention to the hip joint and core muscles and feel my hip rolling forward and back.

At first I had trouble feeling the muscles and joints in my hip and so I pressed my fingertips into them as I walked and that helped tremendously.  I did the same thing on my quads and the number of muscles I could feel increased tremendously.

I continue the same process with my chest and abdomen, paying attention to my ribs separating as I inhale on each breath.  I do the same for my neck neck and eyes as well. I just move my head and neck around and focus on the movement.

You can use this for all of your movements.  I used to do a little yoga and I’m going to start that up again.  I think this would be fantastic for yoga.  You can do it while you exercise in the gym.  Turn off the IPod and pay attention!

Movement with Variation

You get tremendous benefit from paying attention to routine movement, but adding variety ups the ante big time.  When I am walking backwards and paying attention to all the different muscles and movements that are taking place in my feet, legs, and hips, my brain must be lighting up like Chevy Chase’s house in Christmas Vacation!  I sometimes walk in zigzags, circles, fast, or slow.

Pay attention as you brush your teeth, eat, or write all with your non-dominant hand.  There is no limit to the variety you can bring.  Dance, do Pilates, or whatever you like but do something different.  Don’t get stuck in a routine.  Your body will love you for it.  Routine is easy because it is automatic.  But your brain doesn’t love automatic.  It loves variety and attention to movement.

I can’t explain this part, but my mind has a much greater sense of calm and peacefulness when I move with attention.  There is a clarity that wasn’t there before.  Maybe part of it is being in the now, I don’t really know.  But I do know my mind and my body feel a lot better all the way around.


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Roger | A Content Life May 14, 2009 at 8:36 pm


“I understand that this is something that is taught in modern Buddhist practices as well, but I have no personal knowledge of that.”

I’ve been studying Buddhism for a short time and thing I can think of is mindful/meditation walking. When I do this, I work very slow in short steps, break down each step into small pieces, and feel and pay attention to each piece. However, there is little variation.

Yoga, on the other hand, is also slow and mindful and has tremendous variation. I’m just starting a Yoga practice and my brain must be on fire!

Are there any additional studies underway?

Great post!


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills May 14, 2009 at 10:55 pm

One way to relax your body before going to sleep at night is as follows: Start at your toes and tighten the muscles for a few seconds then totally relax them. Progressively move toward your head repeating the process for each new muscle group as you go. Finish with your face muscles. As you relax each group after several seconds of contraction, feel all the tension being released and leaving it completely limp and stress free. It is surprising how much residual tension we can carry around in our body. Releasing it right before sleep leaves you much more relaxed and ready to drift off peacefully.


Vin | May 15, 2009 at 7:39 am

Interesting stuff! I bet it could even be useful for injury rehabilitation and athletes or anyone else who needs to learn new movement patterns or reinforce the ones they already know.


Annette Colby, PhD May 16, 2009 at 9:08 am

Great article about living with your body! So often, we ignore the body or attempt to “do” things to it. We torture it with exercise, diet the body into submission, or drug it when it doesn’t feel well. Your practices demonstrate what it’s like to live with your body and to work in harmony. You show us all how to take a breath, tune in to our physical selves, and take responsibility for creating a new unity between the mind, body, and spirit!


Dragos Roua May 17, 2009 at 8:01 am

Really thankful for sharing this, Stephen, it’s fantastic.

I’ve been recently attended some course about EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and I was also surprised by the effects a simple mind-body connection can have on our minds. EFT is very different from what you describe here, but falls in the same league for simplicity and results.

As per the technique described, I do think it can have great results. Being in the now, growing awareness and shifting attention from frozen patterns to new ones can lead to amazing results. I will try this 🙂


orthomol tendo Pain below knee June 17, 2014 at 4:21 am

orthomol Tendo anatomy of a knee Very amusing question


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