There are a growing number of neuroscientists who believe that our brains are big and complex compared to other species because our brains support a complexity of motion unrivaled by other species. Neuroscientist Dan Wolpert of University of Cambridge, puts it like this, "I would argue that we have a brain for one reason and one reason only. And that's to produce adaptable and complex movement. There is no other reason to have a brain. [...] Things like sensory, memory and cognitive processes are all important, but they are only important to drive movement."
If we have brains so that we can dexterously and creatively move, it seems to follow that muscle and its ability to contract efficiently becomes a focal point of all of the processes of the brain. Indeed, motion can involve all regions of the brain, including the sensory, motor, cognitive, memory, and emotional centers of the brain. The relative amount of activity in these areas depends on several variables of the motion. The brain and the systems with which it interacts are orchestrating the use and necessary support of the contractile-connective tissue continuums, i.e. your muscles. When this orchestration is executed optimally, we feel alert, strong, capable, compassionate, and present. Furthermore, specific types of movement initiate hormone cascades that prepare the brain for learning, tune emotional responses, and train memory. Victorio Gallese, Professor of Human Physiology at the University of Palma italy goes so far as to say, "I move, therefore I think".
I have become, in the words of Professor Walpert, a "motor chauvinist". More specifically, a mindful motion chauvinist. If you want to get smarter, shift your attitude(s), transform your body, and change your world, get moving. But not just in any old way. The number of failed diets and exercise programs and the general trend towards more sedentary lifestyles, indicate that traditional exercise models are not compelling or do not work for most people or over a lifetime. There is, however, compelling evidence that mindful motion is the key. To explore and strategically use mindful motion, I am compiling a list Essential Variables of Salubrious Movement. Here are a few of them.
1.) Have fun! However you choose to mindfully move your body, be sure that it is something that you enjoy. You do not have to be skilled at the activity, it is more important that you simply enjoy it. If you do not know what you enjoy, experiment. Try out a few activities and note how many times you smile, laugh, or feel uplifted. If you need to hire someone to make sure you show up, that is not a good indicator a enjoyment.
2.) Choose a sustainable activity (even if it is seasonal). Painful or uncomfortable activity is not sustainable, so find something that feels good to you. Your friend feels great when they run, but your knees hurt every time you try. For you, running -at this time- is not a sustainable activity. Keep trying out different things until you find one that immediately feels workable and painless.
3.) Pace yourself. To reach your health and fitness goals, your body must adapt to the stimulation imposed by your activities. Consider doing just a little bit more than you did yesterday. Add a little more time, motion, or intensity. Too much too soon is never better.
4.) Try to find something to appreciate and celebrate about yourself as you perform your activity. Focus on those attributes, use them well. As disparaging thoughts and attitudes arise, bring your mind back to the activity and see if you can rediscover what you like about it and what you bring to it.
There are an infinite number of ways to be mindful while moving; from the choice of the motion to what you are thinking about while you move. As we move more mindfully, there will be some powerful changes happening on the inside which will be radiantly projected by your smile on the outside.