A Mindful Approach To Exercise

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

#mindbody #breathwork #mindfulmovement #stressmanagement #health



Exercise and Health

It is a well-known fact that physical activity is beneficial to your physical and mental health. Leading health organizations go as far as to justify that exercise Is a form of medicine essentially. People have different reasons for exercising – for health, aesthetic goals, fitness goals, or for enjoyment. Whatever reasons identify with you, there is a universal approach to exercise that can add value to the experience of reaching your goals.


Mindful Movement

Mindful movement has been one of the top health and fitness trends in recent years and would benefit any health and fitness goals. If you think about it, we interact with the world on physical, intellectual and spiritual levels. Think of these three things as engines that you need to fuel from time to time and mindful movement helps you do that. What’s so significant about this approach, you might ask? Your attention is directed internally towards breathing and awareness of how your body is positioned in space. It is an introspective approach that coordinates the activity of your mind and body. Rather than a focus on outcomes like “how much” or “how fast”, an instructor guides you in being intentional about how you move and where your focus is placed. Mind-body exercise provides an opportunity to practice guided breath work, which stimulates relaxation through the parasympathetic nervous system (think of rest and digest). Specifically this slows down your heart rate, decreases blood pressure, muscle tension and pain perception. These are symptoms associated with stress, anxiety and chronic pain conditions.



Run Your Own Race

While mindfulness principles can be applied anywhere, certain exercise methods have these at the core of their respective movement philosophy]ies – Pilates, Qi gong, Tai chi and Yoga to name a few. Normally they are not synonymous with high-intensity training, but there’s no shortage of training benefits and the intensity can be increased when it is appropriate to do so. Usually there is a progression in movement complexity. When you are ready to effectively progress depends on your consistency of practice and mental focus required to achieve the movement objectives. At the same time, how complex an exercise feels will differ for each individual based on movement history. and differences in body structures.


A good instructor will analyze and respect your movement restrictions at the time and provide modifications that still challenge you. An instructor will also use cues to develop good quality of movement, rather than just imitate a movement. You could think of it like walking - you have to struggle through the transitions from crawling, to walking with assistance, until you finally have the coordination and balance to walk unassisted. Patience, consistency and a teachable spirit will serve you well. By the time you master an exercise, you have undergone mental and physical conditioning processes to obtain control over your body and mind in that environment, and in some cases this transfers into your daily life. This ties in with the health benefits associated with mindful movement.


Trying out a Mind-Body Exercise Class

In my personal experience before and after becoming a certified Pilates instructor, I have realized that there are some misconceptions about mind-body exercise methods, possibly due to cultural influence, limited access and narrowly-targeted marketing. My advice is to speak with an instructor and gain an accurate understanding of their method. Better yet, try out a session with an open mind - movement is an entirely different language, and how your mind and body interpret it can be different to someone else's experience and perceptions. Try out a beginner-friendly class with a friend. If you’re not comfortable with a group dynamic, request a private session initially. I recommend this as a beginner to any exercise method to ensure you understand the key principles when you join a group setting.


Yours in Wellness,

Natalie



References

La Forge, R. (2016). Mind-Body (Mindful) Exercise in Practice. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 6-8.

McClafferty, H. (2018). Mind–Body Medicine in Clinical Practice. New York: Routledge.

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