by Chanda Hinman
The use of “mind body” to describe fitness disciplines like Pilates and yoga has sunk into the foggy lake of clichés and lost its meaning. Mindfulness is in the moment intentional and nonjudgmental awareness.
Contrary to myth, mindfulness is not about emptying the mind of all thought or trying to change your feelings; it is about turning off the autopilot and expanding your awareness. What does the room look like, how is the lighting, is it cool or warm, what voices can you hear, can you hear the traffic outside, what colors do you see, can you feel your breath, how is your body feeling?
How Does Mindfulness Relate to Pilates?
Take note of the six principles of Pilates: (1) Centering; (2) Concentration; (3) Control; (4) Precision; (5) Breath; and (6) Flow. How many of these require a disciplined mind? Yes, all of them! The mind must assist the body in bringing focus and initiation of energy to the center of the body, the mind must concentrate to become present, the mind must control the body and its movements, the mind must signal to the body precision of movement, the mind must tell the body to breathe, especially in the rhythm called for, and the mind must be sharp to enhance the flow of the series of movements.
This is a lot to think about! When you are aware of the words of the instructor, your own breath, which muscles are firing and which ones are relaxed, you are in the present; you are experiencing mind body movement.
How Do I Stay In the Moment?
Notwithstanding our best efforts, our minds might continue to wander. This is one of the reasons I constantly ask my clients how an exercise makes them feel. This question requires the brain to note what muscles are doing the work, whether anything changes if the smallest adjustment is made, and even what emotions are in play.
See if you can focus on breath, an area of the body or something in the room to return to your present state. The only life we have is this very moment. Nothing else truly exists.
What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness In Pilates?
Why be mindful if our bodies can perform the Pilates exercises just fine, even as our minds wander? Because we are not gaining the full benefits of Pilates if we neglect the mental component of the mind-body connection.
Proven Physical Benefits of Mindfulness:
- Stress relief
- Alleviating heart disease
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing chronic pain
- Improving sleep
- Alleviating gastrointestinal issues and acting as medicine for inflammation (see http://www.jsonline.com/news/health/uw-study-shows-benefits-of-mindfulness-meditation-for-inflammation-ju8e3em-187618081.html).
New research is showing that mental focus can result in physical changes to the mind and the body. In fact, if you focus your mind on a specific muscle during a workout, findings are revealing that you are working that muscle 22 percent more, which means you may increase the speed in which you get into shape!
Mindfulness improves mental health and can be used to combat:
- substance abuse
- eating disorders
- obsessive-compulsive behavior
Mindfulness improves overall wellness by:
- Supporting a feeling of satisfaction, calm and content
- Opening the door to savoring the pleasures of life
- Enhancing your ability to stay fully engaged
- Strengthening your ability to handle adversity
- Promoting a strong connection with others
If we can become present in Pilates, and let the movement and breath assist us into a deep state of focus, we will not have the capacity to worry about whether we signed a homework paper, have gas in the car, or think about that not so nice conversation with our boss yesterday. Those outside stressors will melt away, even just for that hour. In addition, we will be better able to execute the principles of Pilates, leading us to feeling the exercises in a new way and discovering more “aha” moments.
I have a confession: I used to assist my clients in distracting themselves when working on sidekicks. Why? Because sidekicks burn and it is not that fun to move towards pain. But after writing this blog, I am going with a different approach. What if we instead notice the discomfort, allow our bodies to feel it and see how we can cope with it instead of leaving our bodies? That is the essence of the mind body challenge. As utopian as it may sound, maybe the next time we face a challenging situation outside of class, we will be able to refer to that practiced mindfulness to have more strength and mental will to confront the situation, be there in the thick of it, not judge it and cope with it, rather than heading for the nearest escape.