We are often asked about the best physical movements to pair with the practice of meditation in the Plum Village tradition.
If you took part in any of Plum Village’s off- or online retreats, you already know that they are not only about sitting meditations and dharma talks. Movement is central, but is equally mindful.
The ten mindful movements
These movements are a series of ten physical exercises introduced by Thich Nhat Hanh, many years ago, into the practice of mindfulness. They are often practiced by the community as a group, but can also be practised alone, at home.
Typically, they are performed outside after a walking meditation, or occasionally indoors during a dharma talk, in order to stretch the body.
Here are some general instructions:
➛ Each movement should be carried out at least three times before proceeding to the next
➛ Body movements should be flowing and graceful, but not too rapid. You may like to repeat a movement several times before changing direction
➛ Each movement is coordinated to be in harmony with our breathing. They allow us to get into deep contact with our body, and to cherish the simple facts that we have a body and that we are alive.
These mindful movements are not practiced in order to attain a goal like fitness or health, but to experience happiness, joy, and connectedness, right away, while performing them.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, “The ancestral teacher who first taught these movements was a British educator, sociologist, and philosopher by the name of Herbert Spencer. He was quite an unusual philosopher, because he was not so much interested in speaking but in practicing what he spoke about.
“About 60 years ago, I learnt about the Ten Mindfulness Movements of Herbert Spencer. After that I embellished them in five ways:
➛ Making the movements more soft and flowing
➛ Adding mindful breathing
➛ Making the movements follow successively, one upon the other
➛ Making them a practice of mindfulness. For Spencer, [they] were simply physical exercises to promote health
➛ Practising the mindfulness movements not [in order] to have health and happiness in the future, but to have happiness here and now, right while we are doing them.
“With mindfulness, happiness is possible. As we stretch our arms upwards to the utmost extent, we can see many things. In my case, I see [that] most of my peers have died. Those who are still alive are not in good shape, either in wheelchairs or not able to stretch up like that. If we have broken our leg we cannot lift it up. Knowing that we have these good conditions to be able to exercise, we feel very happy all the time we are exercising.
“These Ten Mindfulness Movements have been practiced in Plum Village for the past thirty years. In Buddhism, we say that Buddhism is made of non-Buddhist elements. If we know how to do it, we can make many non-Buddhist practices into Buddhist practices.”
On the Plum Village App, you can also find a version of the Ten Mindful Movements for kids. 🎈
Another popular type of mindful physical exercise is the ancient art of qigong.
Here is a practice video where Brother Phap Dung offers guidance about some warm-ups and four sets of qigong exercises, very similar to the bamboo stick qigong movements.
Bamboo stick exercises
In this video, lay Dharma teacher June Mitchell demonstrates and explains the 16 qigong exercises often practiced in the Plum Village tradition.
This qigong method, also known as “Life Sustaining Way of the Heart”, consists of four sets of four exercises based around the use of a long, light stick.
The movements in this qigong method were created by the Vietnamese practitioner Mai Bac Dau, and revised by Zen Master Thich Tinh Tu, of Kim Son Monastery in California, where many monks and nuns have mastered this form.
📯 Watch this space on the Plum Village App for more videos on mindful movement. More qigong practice videos for beginners will be added soon.