The Secret to De-Stressing with Mindful Exercise
Here at the Pilates + Yoga Studio, we see about 500 people a week who want to get longer, leaner and stronger. But they also come seeking a mindful connection to their body. Why? Because when you focus your attention on breathing and moving your body in space, you drop into the moment. You experience “flow”, which gets you out of your head and helps you de-stress.
Most of us live inside our minds, caught up in our thoughts. What are we thinking about? Mostly we anticipate what lies ahead (which calls up anxiety, worry, fear), or re-think what we could have done differently in the past (regret). I call this “hamster in the cage” mind—it runs and runs and gets us nowhere.
We intuitively sense that like clothing, these thoughts can be put on or taken off--they are not fully us. It’s exhausting to your spirit (not to mention a huge stressor!) to let your mind be your constant master. It serves us better as a servant, a powerful computer which is rightfully employed when it’s helping us to live a full life.
So how do we regain sovereignty in our own being? One easy way is to practice mindful movement: Cue in on your breath, on the alignment of your body in this moment, and be fully present.
Let’s try a simple Pilates exercise to strengthen your core--using your mind as a tool, instead of a tyrant--to focus in the moment. As Joseph Pilates taught, a focused mind gets the best results:
- Sit on a mat, carpet, towel, anything that will cushion your spine a bit.
- Key in on your breath. Deepen the exhalation, really pushing all the stale air out. In Pilates, proper breathing helps the body both exert itself and then recover. Generally you inhale as you begin a movement and exhale as you execute it.
- Inhale, and really scoop your belly in—hollow it by pulling it back and in toward your spine. This scoop is the center of your core, and is maintained throughout the exercise. If you catch yourself bracing your tummy out, pull it back in!
- Place your hands behind your knees (see photo). Tucking your chin a bit, tip your pelvis back as if someone poked you in the low belly. Roll your pelvis back and down slowly as you exhale, to the point where your lower back begins to touch the mat. Don’t collapse your head, neck and shoulders—think long and lean. Imagine a string is pulling you back and out from the base of your skull as you tip back.
- Now keeping that tummy knit and scooped, inhale again. Then exhale as you curl back up, one bone at a time. It’s ok to use your arms to help you back up if needed.
Repeat a few times—if you’re doing it right, it’s a real challenge to mind and body. Much harder than a “sit up” that merely works your hip flexors without getting deep into the powerhouse of your core. (Most people do sit ups incorrectly.) And notice how much better you feel when you breathe and focus? The core principles of Pilates are Concentration, Center (always work from your core), Control, Fluidity, Precision, and Breath. Adding a mindful workout to your routine gets dramatic results, usually in just six weeks. You feel more poised and “in tune” with life. As my clients report: “Ahhh, now I feel better!” as they float out the door.
Remember, there are very few things you can do for yourself that feel more pleasurable and are more beneficial for you than exercise. The endorphins created help you sail through your days, as well as delivering wellness, insight into yourself, and energy to go about your day. We specialize in Pilates, Yoga, Total Body Conditioning, Kettlebell—many different disciplines with one unique quality: the total luxury you experience when you make a mind-body connection, drop into the moment, release stress and grow stronger!