“The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness.” ~ Sakyong Mipham
Where is your mind when you exercise? Where is your mind when you’re moving through your day, busy with activities at work, at home, or with others? For many of us, our minds are only partially focused on the activities at hand. Sometimes we’re zoned out completely. Have you ever been looking for your keys, only to find them in your “other” hand? Point made.
Most of us living in 2018 have greatly reduced our attention spans through over-use of technology, including TV, texts, email, and social media. Unfortunately, our abilities to attend to conversations, stories, and relationships, and focus on what’s happening with us in the moment have also diminished. It’s easy for our mindless distraction to continue when we exercise as well. Many runners zone out and watch a movie while running on the treadmill or tune in to their music or podcasts while out for a run. Weight lifting without headphones is fairly uncommon. While this is okay some of the time, to move through every workout in a zoned out/distracted fashion is missing out on an amazing opportunity to increase your mind-body connection. In fact, exercise without attention can actually increase your risk of injury.
What would happen if you tuned out the outside world, the distractions of music/TV and the like, and then tuned in to your mind, your body, and what you’re actually doing? For many of us, this would be extremely challenging due to the desire to be entertained. But you know what? We’re strong. We’re up for a challenge. And meeting this challenge will help us become stronger athletes and more attentive individuals over all. Don’t we want to be clear-headed, capable of focusing, persevering, and overcoming obstacles? Don’t our loved ones deserve to be with someone who is able to “be there,” physically, mentally, and emotionally?
Reducing your reliance on music, pod casts, and videos while exercising can greatly help you tap into deeper strengths while also increasing present moment awareness. However, to deepen your mind-body connection and calm the mind even more effectively, consider incorporating Pilates or yoga into your exercise routine. To be successful in either of these forms of exercise requires the ability to focus on both the outer physical position as well as increased awareness of inner connections. Since our bodies and minds have the capacity to grow throughout our lives, our mental and physical gains can be endless.
With Pilates clients, I begin each session, whether in the studio on the equipment or in group mat classes, with a time of centering. This is crucial in making the transition from the hustle and bustle of life to turning inward to the body. It gives clients the opportunity to let go of the to-do list, pause the review of past conversations, and release any anxiety about upcoming events. This period of external quiet and calm allows clients to simply turn all energy and focus inward. Without this important opportunity for internal connection, clients run the risk of going through the motions and missing something vital: the still, quiet, calm that comes only through a truly peaceful mind and calm breath. With clear minds, clients are able to listen to their bodies more acutely, have a deeper understanding of safe movement patterns, and have a greater appreciation for their place in this world.
I have had numerous clients, from runners, to weight lifters, to Crossfitters, to those who “hate exercise,” try Pilates for the first time in my studio and say, “This is really a challenge for me. It’s difficult for me to slow down and focus on my breath, to pay attention to where my body is in space while I’m moving or holding still.” Instead of relying on momentum to propel them through a movement or outside noise to distract them from the discomfort of challenging muscle work and body positions, they must dig deep internally. This can simultaneously reveal true strength and undeniable weakness and can be quite eye opening to them as movers and athletes. Despite this struggle, they end up leaving the session feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. How is this possible? By connecting deeper with their inner being, focusing on the breath, and coordinating movements to meet the breath instead of the other way around, they have discovered that exercise is not necessarily something to move through but something to truly experience.
The benefits of centering and increased self-awareness gained through Pilates practice are easily transferred to the outside world. It is common for Pilates clients to train also as cyclists, swimmers, runners, tennis players, etc. High intensity sports require considerable concentration and focus. To excel, one must be able to keep calm in stressful situations and remain focused on the body and task at hand. Training in mindful movements helps athletes find their center, push through mental and physical stress, and overcome to give their best.
Even if you are not “an athlete,” the practice of calming the mind and moving with intention in a mindful, deliberate way can benefit you in your daily routine. By making it a habit to practice intentional movements and focus on your breath, your daily tasks can be used as a time to increase your mind-body connection, awareness, and focus. In fact, more challenging household/work tasks can be done more safely. Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t know what happened. I just lifted the groceries, turned, and my back went out.”? With practice in centering and focusing on healthy movement patterns, risk of such injury is reduced. Even your daily chores, family activities, work and child-caring activities can help you connect on a deeper level and live an injury-free life. A calm, clear mind can go a long way in developing and maintaining relationships, saying “the right” things, and being truly present for your loved ones.
My challenge for you is two-part: 1. Turn off your music, podcast, or TV and spend less time with external noise. 2. Spend some time developing your own practice of centering and looking inward to re-connect with yourself on a deeper level. This will be a true gift you can give yourself to increase happiness, quality of life, and help you excel in all that your body, mind, and spirit desire.
If you’re interested in building a deeper connection with yourself, increasing your mind-body awareness while reducing risk of injury, and taking your current fitness regimen to the next level, please contact me to schedule your first Pilates session. I am happy to introduce you to this wonderful world of intelligent movement!