In popular media we often hear the word “mindful.” It is often applied to our daily activities, but yet I find there is an exception when it comes to popular exercise activities. Here’s my story…
I walk once a week with a friend. Several weeks ago she told me how excited she was to be returning to her gym. A week later, when we were to walk again, she couldn’t walk; instead we had a cup of tea together in her kitchen. She met me at the door holding a bag of frozen peas to her shoulder/neck region. I, of course, questioned her about her neck and she shared her worrisome story.
Several days prior she had woken to such pain in her neck that she could not turn her head what so ever. That evening she cried as she got into bed because the pain of putting her head on the pillow was so intense. She had seen a surgeon who gave her a reasonable round of medications and by the time of our visit she had some mobility in her neck and was reasonably comfortable.
As a Pilates Instructor I could not help myself and question what activities she had done prior to this terrible attack of neck pain. My friend’s response was “nothing out of the ordinary.” I wasn’t happy with that answer so I asked for more detail about the day prior to the attack. “Well, I went to the gym, I took this class I love….” I stopped the conversation, “what kind of things do you do in this class?” “Well, there’s this great music, lots of fun people, high energy, and some weights. The kind of class that makes you forget you are exercising.”
My thought about a class that “makes you forget you are exercising” is that it is “MINDLESS” exercise. Yes, your heart rate is elevated, yes you are burning calories and yes you are building muscle and bone; but at what expense? Weeks of inactivity? A trip to the surgeon’s office? A round of anti-inflammatory and pain killing drugs? All of which erase any benefit you got from the class.
I believe that exercise should be MINDFUL. I want clients who are aware of their movements and how their activities’ can affect their physical well being. Being conscious of one’s physicality takes work, mental work. Being conscious of one’s bad habits that cause pain or injury is not easy or always fun but it beats being injured.
In a Pilates session, I teach MINDFUL exercise. I could teach any exercise, I like the variety and veracity of Joseph Pilates’ exercises. My clients build muscle and bones, they increase flexibility, and their heart rate and respiration increases during a session. In some cases they lose chronic painful conditions and in most cases they reduce their propensity to injure themselves in the rest of their lives’. Together, my clients and I build healthy movement habits so that they can go out into the world and do whatever activity they love without injuring themselves. No matter what they are doing, they are MINDFUL of their bodies’! Now that is what I call FUN!
An Authentic Pilates Studio
Breathing…Have you ever thought about YOUR breaths? Have you ever noticed how many phrases we use that include breath? For example, “she’s a breath of fresh air” or “I took a breather” or “I’m just catching my breath from….” How about not just talking about it but really thinking about the mechanics of breath?
I’m an advocate of breathing through your nose. I often say breathing is so important that we have two vehicles, the primary is the nose and the backup is the mouth. I also say that the primary route is the preferred route, most beneficial. As air enters your nose it is cleaned, warmed and moisturized by your sinuses before it enters your lungs. If you exhale through your nose, you must engage muscles deep in your “core” to push that air out through the long passageway of your sinuses and nose. Hey, that means you can strengthen your “core” by just exhaling; why not try it, you’re breathing anyway?
Here's an easy way to practice while you are sitting quietly, my favorite place is at red lights. If you don’t normally exhale through your nose, you might feel uncomfortable at first. Tell your self you are going to tolerate the discomfort for FIVE (only) breaths and then return to your regular pattern until the discomfort dissipates. Then repeat the exercise. When you find that you aren’t so uncomfortable, try six and then seven breaths and so on. You can do this any time, anywhere and for as long as you can stay conscious with it, when your mind wanders, leave it. Then return the next day.