Gentle Movement: What Is It and How to Do It

In today’s fast-paced world, intense fitness trends often grab people’s attention, but a more beneficial approach to wellness could be embracing gentle movement. This concept, as defined by Jenny Flora Wells, a holistic therapist and licensed social worker, is participating in activities that help one flow with a healthy nervous system rhythm. Gentle movement activities include yoga, Pilates, meditation, walking, tai chi, easy swimming, and gardening, among others. These activities are designed to slow down the body and mind, providing respite from daily stresses and helping regulate the nervous system.

While the benefits of gentle movement are hard to quantify, a January 2017 study in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity found that a 12-week yoga and meditation practice improved cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers of cellular aging, suggesting that gentle movement may slow or improve aging in adults. In addition, practicing gentle movement can improve the mind-body connection and help participants let go of stress.

Theresa Barone, senior manager of Pilates at Life Time, notes that intense workouts can be beneficial, but they can also up-regulate the nervous system, while gentle movements like Pilates help facilitate the parasympathetic nervous system—the “rest and digest” system. This regulation can lead to improved sleep quality, energy levels, and the ability to cope with stress. Gentle movement can also help prevent injury from high-impact activities and their focus on burning calories or building muscle.

One original form of gentle movement is the Alexander Technique, created by Frederick Alexander in the 1890s. This technique focuses on conscious awareness of the body, acknowledging habitual ways of moving, and improving balance. It’s beneficial for those with frequently repeated movements, such as musicians, dancers, runners, and swimmers.

To incorporate gentle movement into one’s life, it’s recommended to ease into a practice that resonates with you, whether that be yoga, tai chi, Pilates, or another form of easy, enriching movement. Beginning with just five minutes a week is a great way to start, and resources like online classes, guided meditations, and apps can provide instructor-led gentle movement practices. For Pilates, it’s suggested to incorporate practice twice a week to complement other, more intense activities. The Alexander Technique may require an instructor, but this journey is meant to empower individuals to integrate the technique for themselves over time.

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