Before I started making any changes within my health, I wasn't so sure what any of this "mind-body" stuff meant. In all honesty, it sounded like a lot of fluff to me.
At that time, I was in the gym lifting 6 days a week for at least an hour each day. I was much more focused on "train insane or remain the same". I wanted results and I wanted them now.
I never thought there was different, and maybe even smarter, way for me to reach my goals. (I'm not so sure I even really knew what my goals were.)
I didn't realize that I should be using my mind while I exercised to make my workouts more effective. "Geeze, Kelly, of course you need to think while working out." Yes, that much I get. My brain was on and it knew which exercise was next, how many reps, and how many sets. But, it wasn't actively there. I had trouble (as I do in all aspects of life) being truly there in the moment and connecting to my body.
Now, I simply think of mind-body exercise as an awareness of what my body is doing and why.
The IDEA mind-body fitness committee defines mind-body exercise as “physical exercise executed with a profoundly inwardly directed focus.” The committee states that the term mind-body exercise first became a part of the fitness industry by way of mind-body medicine, based largely on the “inseparable connection between the mind and body—the complicated interactions that take place between thoughts, body and the outside world.”
Connecting my movement to this inwardly directed focus slowly opened the freedom to explore human movement as a whole. It's an opportunity to bring creativity to my practice and truly use exercise to increase my quality of life.
Here are 6 of my top tools to get the most out of each workout:
(in other words train smarter, not harder)
- Focus on body control
Body control has quickly became a fitness game-changer for me. I love the challenge to control my body and give "each muscle it's own job". In order to be successful, I need to completely shut out the outside world and focus on the task at hand. This is not easy for me to do, since I have a tendency to always focus on the next thing or that thing I really don't want to do later in the day. By bringing in this awareness of how my body is intended to move and wants to move, I can better train for my goals. As a great bonus, a basic level of body control makes exercise much safer.
- Think about your breath.
Focus or awareness of breath is a tool to bring us back in the moment. Proper breathing circulates oxygen to the working muscles, removes waste, and increases flexibility. We can use our breath to go deeper into a pose or a particular exercise, master our bodies and strength, and evoke the benefits of the relaxation response.
- Practice concentration.
Complete concentration during your exercise practice is great for body control, increasing strength, using muscles properly, contracting as many muscles as necessary, and moving more efficiently. Concentration during exercise will make everyday tasks more automatic and easy. To practice concentration, work on a general control of your mind. Try to catch your thoughts wandering and center yourself back in the present. When working out, it's important to set an intention to be present and forget about the to-do list, kids in the next room (if properly watched, of course), your work day, and anything what needs to happen tomorrow. When exercising, there is absolutely no where else you need to be and no one else you need to help. This is 100% you-time. Relish in it.
- Pay attention to form and body alignment.
Proper form and body alignment (which happens with proper form) is absolutely underrated! Start practicing proper form right now in order to make your exercise practice more efficient and much safer. Start slowly, and build work capacity gradually. I recommend working with a fitness professional to really master proper form and body alignment.
- Bring it back to the core.
The powerhouse is the group of muscles in the center of the body, specifically, the abdomen, lower back, hips and butt. It is also known as “the core”. We rely on this powerhouse for all activities of daily living (things we do every single day) and our posture. Part of this mighty powerhouse is the transverse abdominus. It's actually the main part and you can't see it. This transverse abdominus is like our own internal weight belt, connecting to our spine and pelvis. It is the biggest stabilizer of the spine and acts almost like a corset surrounding our body to maintain vertebral alignment and therefore keep us protected and in good posture. Therefore, for any movement we produce in our body, the transverse abdominus is crucial! Without it engaging during movement (and I mean any movement), our spine would not be supported or protected. We can improve overall movement efficiency, as well as posture, by focusing on this transverse abdominus and other powerhouse muscles. You typically want to think about “bracing your midsection”, “pulling your naval to your spine”, and “engaging the abdominals and core”. You ideally want to contract your abs from the front, back and both sides all at once.
- Have a purpose.
It can be useful to set an intention before a workout in order to set the tone, clear your head, and remind yourself of what you hope to accomplish. Remind yourself of why you work out, why you are changing your relationship to health, and what you intend to achieve from it. Use these intentions as move through the workout. In general, try to ask yourself the following questions when determining which exercises are best for you:
- What will the result of the exercise be on my body? Is it a positive result? Does it put any negative stress on my body?
- What will the exercise help me do better in my daily life?
Giving a purpose to all exercises and workouts will make it easier to live in the moment, control our muscles, and see the bigger picture.
All in all, I hope you bring a sense of play back to your practice. The greatest thing about movement is the opportunity to explore it.