What is Mind/Body Exercise, And Why Should I Do It?

Photo by Ed Yourdon. Used by Creative Commons license.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is that attracts me to Pilates and dance. Besides the fact that I’ve been doing them for just AGES at this point. Why? Why do I like it? And, why do I think these things are better, for me and for my clients, than other forms of exercise?

 I have a lot of answers, but I’m just going to focus on one of them today. Both Pilates and dance, when taught well, are Mind/Body exercise forms.

Mind/Body, to me, has a bad rep. For many, it means meditating, sitting quietly or moving VERY slowly. That’s not what it means at all! Mind/Body exercise means, in the words of Joseph Pilates, “The brain must work at least as hard as the body!” You must move with consciousness. You have to know where your body is, what it is doing, where it is going- and WHY.

We partake in unconscious exercise often when we are in the gym by ourselves-  Running on a treadmill and reading a book and listening to an iPod and watching the E! News headlines. Distracted exercise is less effective than conscious exercise. We don’t work as hard, and our energy isn’t focused on the muscles that need it. Elon professors recently conducted a study that showed distractions definitely don’t make us work harder, and often make us work less. Common sense to me, and yet, you can find distracted exercisers in every gym across the country.

We do it too, when we are in group classes. Remember the sing-along videos from when you were a kid? There was a bouncing ball that you followed to learn the words. I call the aerobics classes in most gym (and, very sadly, many of the Pilates classes too), “Follow-the-Bouncing-Teacher” classes. You keep your eyes on the example and follow along, never checking in with your own body for feedback, but relying on someone else’s image of what you should be doing. We turn off our brains and just follow, unquestioningly, the movement in front of us. While many instructors will call out what muscles should be working (“Use your quads!”), very rarely will they say WHY.

The WHY is key to entering into Mind/Body exercise. Understanding brings about better “doing”. Our movements become more intentional, our energy becomes more focused. And most importantly, understanding WHY a movement is being done allows us to translate that movement and that muscle into our everyday lives.

And that is when exercise is most effective. When you can use it. All day everyday. The average person spends about 3 hours in the gym each week. That’s 165 hours each week spent doing other things. Things like sitting, carrying bags, sleeping on our sides, and driving cars, that counteract that gym work.

Conscious exercise is where it’s at, people- effective work that can last into your daily life. And, isn’t that the point?