Friday, April 13, 2012

What exactly is mind-body exercise?

Mind-body exercise. The term is as ubiquitous as "core" exercises and functional fitness. But what exactly does it mean, right? Well, let's see if I can clarify a bit.

Labyrinth at Burford Priory, courtesy of St. James's Piccadilly
What's now a hot marketing term, was originally coined by the medical community--as far back as the 1940s--while working with ill patients. Studies showed that people suffering the effects of certain diseases improved, healed faster, or managed pain better through mind-body movements such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi. Patients experienced physiological and physiological responses. Yoga, tai chi and meditation all require patients to think about what they are doing in the moment, what they feel in their bodies and connect the brain to the muscles so they move a particular way.

Fast forward to the 1990s, when yoga and pilates were gaining ground in gyms and studios nation wide. The mind-body committee of IDEA Health and Fitness Association termed mind-body exercise as "physical exercise executed with profoundly inwardly directed focus" and should include one of more of these qualities:
  • inner mental focus
  • concentration on muscular movements
  • synchronization of movements with breathing patterns
  • attention to form and alignment
  • a belief in the "live energy" such as a prana or chi 
Still with me? Good! Here's my take on all this. Basically a mind-body exercise requires you to connect your brain with your body to function in unison rather than just go through the motions with little regard to form, function or feeling. Personally I feel that my choice of movement is a mind-body method if it challenges me to clear my mind of extraneous chatter while really cuing in to what I want my body to do. 

Here are some examples of what I consider mind-body exercises
  • swimming with kick board and applying pilates principles (shoulders back and down, navel drawn in and up, legs straight and butt engaged)
  • hula hooping with my eyes closed
  • walking while focusing on the alignment of my feet and over all posture
  • ballet class
  • pilates, especially on the reformer
  • inhaling for count of 4, and exhaling for a count of 8. (sometimes I do this to help fall asleep)
  • running with attention to form and the sound of the wind in the trees
  • spine stretch forward. This exercise is a whole different thing that just a hamstring stretch when you concentrate on form, deep engagement of the abs and lengthening through the low back! 
And what's not so much*
  • reading while on your cardio machine of choice
  • just going through the motions while on weight machines
  • doing anything at the gym while watching TV
  • taking a yoga class purely for the stretching benefit with little attention to form and breath
* Now, don't get upset if you enjoy these things. They are great ways to exercise and reap the benefits of physical activity. Love 'em? Then by all means do them!

Anyway, just my two cents worth. When I read about mind-body exercises in fitness trade magazines I find a lot of creates an exclusive, sometimes expensive, mysterious feel to mind-body programs, which I think turns off some and leaves others out all together. I think we could all benefit from turning off the electronic hubbub around us and tuning into what were are doing at the moment. 

What do you think? Do you have a mind-body routine? Do you connect to your workouts or prefer to just get them over and done? Would love to hear your thoughts. . .


~Christa~ said...

During my evening runs, the smells of dinner cooking or laundry going are abundant throughout the neighborhood. And, sometimes I would get a tad bit curious and look into the windows to witness the cooking as I ran by. But, mostly I saw the television watching. I am reminded that I am outside, in the fresh air and grateful that I gave up my television a long time ago. Maybe not quite along the lines of mind-body exercise, but at least my butt isn't sitting still in front of a glowing screen in my living room for endless hours every night and instead, I'm out there. Also, when I'm out for a run, I do put my headphones in. The beat of the music and the occasional singing out loud keep my mind engaged while my legs keep pounding the ground. And, the smells remind me that I get to cook my own delicious meal when I'm done. (Well, that, and I wish I had thought to put a load of laundry in before I left the house.)

Marcella said...

This is a great post, Kristin. I think it's important to clear the mind of all things negative to reap the benefits of mental and physical exercise.

I used to dread even going out for a walk for exercise. Then I learned that if I consciously brought up pleasant memories, then coupled the memories with my goals, exercise became easier. Like maybe I remembered what it was like when I was young and ran through the woods to my favorite spot, then sprawled out and looked at the sky. I also stopped calling it "exercise" -- and started calling it healthy action.

That may seem silly, but it works for me. Now when I'm engaged in "healthy action" my focus is on moving my body and my mind in ways that make the "whole me" feel alive. I never feel a need to be "entertained" while doing my healthy actions, so I do not wear ear buds, watch videos, etc.

The outdoors is the best gym in the whole wide world.

trainer, crafter, kristin said...

Christa, I know what you mean about the scent of dinner and laundry in the neighborhood. With the dark winters in the NW you can't help but peek in on what everyone is doing. ;-) Here's to TV-free living!

I like your term, healthy action, Marcella!

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