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How Movement Can Shift Your Mind

March 16th, 2018 / Be Well Meet Them
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By: Vanessa Lauren

Ever have those days where one thing goes wrong and then moment-by-moment things just  G E T   W O R S E?

Or maybe you glance in the mirror and have nothing but not-so-nice words to say, leaving the house in the morning feeling… not so great.

These (all-too-common) experiences share a common thread; your emotions are dictating your experiences.

I know I have personally experienced each one of these scenarios. As a dance instructor and choreographer, if I walk into a classroom of 30 dancers and I bring along my negative self-talk, I already know how the next hour or two will go, and it won’t be pretty.

But, if I take the time to move and get my mind in the headspace that I would rather be in, then I can create the experience that I want. Dance psychologist, Dr. Peter Lovatt, explains in more detail here; dancing can boost happiness, improve creative-thinking patterns and lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone, that when reduced allows you to feel happy and relaxed.)

You won’t be asked to choreograph a combo while reading this article, but you will be required to recognize the power you have within yourself and your body! Because whether you are a dancer or not, everyone can move in their own way.

Let’s take a look at how movement can actually shift your mind in these three common examples:

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Example 1: You’ve started your day off with sleeping through your alarm, a majorly stubbed toe AND a coffee stain all over your recently dry-cleaned white sweater.

Normal Reaction: Expect the rest of your day to go the exact same way.

New Reaction: Pause for 5-minutes before leaving the house for a quick stretching session. This tool is going to allow you the space and time to release those negative feelings and instead embrace the present moment.

Start by taking a few deep breaths in and out to bring yourself to the present moment. Roll down from the top of your head, release your hands to the floor and let your upper body hang heavy, bend the knees a couple of times and then lengthen the knees all the way and for at least 60 seconds.

When I’m stretching I like to start standing and eventually move to the ground, depending on my time constraints. Be sure to hold each stretch for at least 60 seconds, this is the amount of time your muscles need to actually release into the position. While you are stretching, your brain will be regulating certain functions in your body and those functions in turn regulate your mood. Thus, the combination of breath and lengthening of muscles will help to get you centered.  As long as you allow yourself to leave your morning mishaps behind (Hey! No more talking or thinking about it!) you will be able to actually shift the trajectory of your day!

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Example 2: The classic pre-event mirror gaze: insecure thoughts begin flooding into your head and you can’t imagine stepping into the interview you’re about to have, the date you’re about to go on, or giving the presentation that’s about to begin.

Normal Reaction: You listen to the negative self-talk and start worrying about what might go wrong.  You start to feel your palms getting sweat and walk out of the bathroom only to allow the anxiousness begin creeping into your body with each step.

New Reaction: Step into a bathroom stall and stand just like Wonder Woman for two minutes. Am I joking? Nope. This idea came from social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, an expert in the study of posture posing and its affects on making you feel more powerful aka the “fake it till you become it” philosophy.  She believes our body language illustrates what we are feeling inside. So, when we create the body language that depicts how we would rather feel, can actually elicit those feelings.

Here’s how the posture looks in detail:  You are going to stand with your feet apart and place your hands on your hips, take up as much space as possible and puff up your chest like you have that lasso on your side and golden tiara on your head!  Try and hold this posture for two minutes before going into your meeting, interview, social event, pretty much anytime you need to get your head right and feel like a BOSS!

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Example 3: You receive some news that royally upsets you or stresses you out. You can’t seem to focus on what needs to be done to fix the problem or to let it go and leave it behind you.

Normal Reaction: Your frustrations make it hard for you to focus on what you need to and your lack of solutions just makes you feel worse and worse.

New Reaction: Dance it out! (tried and tested by yours truly!) Find a song that makes you smile and want to jump around like a five year-old!  While you’re dancing like a maniac, smile like it’s the best day of your life (even though this is probably far from the truth). PS- when it comes to this smile, it needs to be a full-commitment, cheeks raised and eyes squinting. This is important. Your brain senses the specific facial muscles that are used to make this gigantic smile happen, which begins the chemical reactions (of dopamine and serotonin) associated with happiness. So, this smile will eventually become genuine. Bonus: dancing is a way to exert exert stress from your body, and… of course, everyone loves a good song, so that helps too.

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With any of these recommendations, its important to remember that you may not go from super stressed to super happy.  You must be patient and allow yourself to trial slowly.  If you are able to move just a bit further from the negativity, maybe the next movement takes you to a place of, “ok, this is where I’m at right now and that’s ok,”.  I say, that is a great step! YOU decided to go in a different direction and take control!  You chose to shift your mind with your body! And like anything, practice and repetition is critical here.

Every one of us can move in our own way. So, allow these new tools to simply motivate you to get in touch with your mind-body connection and take your self-awareness to another level. No matter what type of day begins unfolding in front of you, you now have the movement, and a little more tools in your toolkit, to shift your mindset so that you can create the experiences YOU want.

About Vanessa:

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Vanessa Lauren has always been a mover, from dancer to instructor, choreographer and barre teacher.  She was born and raised in the Bay Area and now resides in San Diego. Her most impactful training growing up was under So You Think You Can Dance choreographer, Sonya Tayeh. Vanessa graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in journalism and dance and then began teaching and choreographing locally. Her former students can be found dancing at some of the most prestigious universities in New York and Los Angeles. Her journey with dance now takes her throughout the country to teach and choreograph, allowing her to impact as many students as possible.  Along this journey she has found her love for all types of fitness, specifically becoming a barre instructor and working on her personal training certification. Her work with both adults and children has shown her her true passion in this life, making movement available to everyone, and using it as a tool to bring students closer to their best-self. You can follow Vanessa on her personal and professional movement journey on instagram @vanessalauren_
All Photos via Vanessa Lauren
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