Principles of Mind-Body Exercise
Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong are classical examples of exercise that strengthen the mind-body connection. Pilates, NIA, and Feldenkrais are modern formats. But what exactly is mind-body exercise and what makes it different from other forms of exercise?
“Any physical exercise executed with a profound, inwardly directed awareness or focus” is the definition given by IDEA’s mind-body fitness committee. IDEA is one of the largest and most prestigious international associations of fitness professionals.
Ralph La Forge, former chair and exercise physiologist, has identified more than 1,700 kinds of mind-body exercise formats including 700-plus kinds of yoga. He claims 100 new techniques are being developed every year inspired by the “father” and “mother” of all exercise – yoga and Qi Gong.
According to IDEA, a mind-body exercise has one or two of the following components.
The mind directs the movement of the body. There is a mental focus on how the body is moving.
Mind-body fitness consultant Michele Hebert says “When the mind is truly focused, it exists in the present moment, clear and free of distracting thoughts unrelated to events in the here and now.” The mind becomes aware of the body’s posture and the physical activity that is taking place. Joseph Pilates has said that where the mind goes, the body follows.
While most mind-body exercise techniques use an inward focus, there are a few, which have an external focus. Still, the mind is used to harness the power of the body.
The breath is considered the “bridge” or the link between the mind and the body, according to Hebert. “The way we breathe is intimately connected with both mind and body”.
As an example, slow, deep breathing decreases nervousness and actually alters neurochemical substances in the brain.
Each mind-body form of exercise has its own breathing patterns that match the physical movements. The breath is used to keep you focused and “centered”.
Emphasis is placed on correct spinal alignment and developing strength and flexibility in all the trunk muscles. This is to most effectively achieve the desired results from the exercise and, most importantly, for physical safety. Obviously, mental concentration is needed to keep the body in perfect posture.
Perceiving the movement and flow of one’s energy (also called “chi” or “prana”) is an essential element in mind-body exercise. While the words chi or prana sound very exotic, this is actually focusing inward and “listening” to the inner rhythms of your body.
La Forge reports that a “growing body of scientific evidence has supported mindful exercise as a significant means of favorably altering various aspects of health, specifically cardiovascular risk factors and mood state”.
He says, “Hypertension, insulin resistance, anxiety, blood lipid disorders, pain, coronary disease and poor self-esteem all favorably respond to one or more mind-body exercise strategies”.
Other benefits include increased balance, flexibility, coordination, mental awareness and focus.
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