February 6, 2012
What is Mindful Exercise?
Mindful exercise focuses your awareness on your body as you workout, whether it is walking, yoga, pilates, dance, it is the bringing of your mind and thoughts to the parts of your body and your breathing rather than thinking of something else.
Mindful exercise involves being aware of our bodies and minds during physical activity. It means tuning in rather than tuning out, and allowing ourselves to be fully present, even in moments of discomfort.
One of my personal trainers in the past would ask me to think and visualize the part of my body that I was most working while exercising. He got me to close my eyes and visualize that part working, whether it was the inner thigh or bicep, I had to bring my mind to that part. At first I did not quite understand why, but now after I researched and understand mindful exercising myself, I am so grateful to him.
Personally, I only do Pilates and I practice the same technique. In fact with pialtes it is even easier to do so, because with the breathing and focus needed on the core and pelvic floor muscles throughout, you can't help but be mindful and focus not only your energy but your thoughts to maintaining your core engaged and also thinking of the other specific body parts or muscle groups you are working.
I used to practice this when I was walking as well, whether on a treadmill or on a path, I visualized fat melting away from my body. I 'saw' myself shedding excess weight as I walked.
Skeptics who say, "So do you do other practical stuff or is your life coaching just about visualizations", have laughed at me. Well, none of the tools or practices I suggest would work exclusively. Yes you have to do the practical work and if you add the spiritual work to it, it will happen faster and more easily.
One research says, "All you have to do is think about exercising and you will start reaping the benefits. You believe you are doing your body good, and that belief leads to some of the well-documented benefits of exercise."
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer's experiment with a group of hotel maids revealed that the ones who were made aware that their daily tasks of vacuuming, changing sheets and scrubbing was actually exercise ended up losing kilos and inches and altered their waist to hip ratio while the other half, who were not told anything, so they were not "mindful", did not lose any weight.
So based on this research experiment, it confirmed that: "Believing you are accomplishing something is an important factor in actually accomplishing it."
When you think about your body and your breathing you are instantly coming into the present moment. You are then able to experience the flow of energy. Becoming aware of your own breathing, the rise and fall of your chest, the expansion of your ribs, your stomach muscles contract, your pelvic floor muscles clench and release, wiggle your toes and fingers, shrug your shoulders, all being aware.
Experience this for yourself by using a basic Pilates exercise.
Lie on your back on a mat or towel. Breath. Inhale through your nose deeply and exhale through pursed lips. Hear the sound of your exhalation. Now pull your belly in, imagine you are pulling your navel into your spine. Try to hold on to this throughout the day. Next, imagine you can lift up your pelvic towards your navel or higher. Think of the muscle you use to take a pee and stop yourself from peeing, that is your pelvic floor muscle. Learning to keep both engaged when exercising, will 1) improve your posture and silhouette instantly making you look taller, thinner and more sculpted and at the same time you will be strengthening these core muscles. Try these mindful exercises:
- Sitting meditation. They were taught to become highly aware of the sensation of breathing and then to expand that to include awareness of sights, sounds, tastes and other body sensations as well as thoughts and emotions. Unlike other forms of meditation, mindfulness meditation does not involve repeatedly saying something out loud, such as a mantra or affirmation.
- Mindful yoga. This type of yoga consists of gentle stretching exercises and slow movements, always coordinated with the breath. Dr. Lazar told me that this type of yoga emphasizes the moment-to-moment experience and a "nonharming" attitude toward the body that pays attention to any bodily limitations.
- Guided body scans. In this exercise, your attention is guided sequentially through your entire body while you observe with nonjudgmental awareness the sensations in each region. Ultimately, you’ll have an awareness of your body as a complete whole.
The only way to do this is to be Mindful. When you forget, your tummy will pop out and your pelvis will relax, it is ok, just be mindful and engage these muscles again. Become aware of your body all day and especially when you are exercising, this is almost a magical practice that will reap benefits and instantly make you feel and look better.
Malti Bhojwani is the founder of Multi Coaching International, a Life Coach, an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) practitioner, a workshop leader and an author. Her first published work is a Journal to encourage guided writing, Thankfulness, Appreciation, Gratitude.