Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biologist who first coined the term “mindfulness” in the ’70s, defines it as a state of mind: the act of “paying attention on purpose” to the present moment, with a “non-judgmental” attitude. The Atlantic.com; image: mumsdreamsignite.com
After just returning from a physically and mentally challenging, world Dancesport competition, I was reminded again about the beauty of focusing on the now – not 10 minutes ago, not next week, but the current moment. Putting the practice of mindfulness into the physical actions at hand is an absolute must in any sport – competitive or otherwise. From a mental and emotional perspective, being “in the moment” during the experience heightens awareness and appreciation. And how completely rewarding it is when the focus is achieved, distractions fade, and the body reacts as the mind desires!
In today’s A.D.D. style society, where we multi-task, mentally leap ahead to what’s coming next and get an adrenaline rush from distractions,
simply being mindful is becoming a lost art. Yet one which (I realized, again) is critical to performance and fulfillment.
The Physical Practice of Being Mindful
Being in the moment does take practice. It’s all too easy to go into auto-pilot with routine tasks. Take a look at our personal fitness efforts…do our minds wander as we step through a work-out, or jog along the same route, or meander from machine to machine at the gym?
Most of us do this to some extent – it can be a stress reliever to just “go work out” and not think. However, not paying attention while working out, or doing chores or some other physical activity can risk unexpected injuries and less effective actions.
Hence, practice being purposeful. Our bodies react to what the mind envisions. When we can focus on our training time and really zero in on how our bodies are working, what we’re asking our muscles to do, while perfecting form with function, it’s then we can kick it into overdrive (i.e. with competition) or slide into auto-pilot (i.e. simply getting out for a walk) with our bodies ready to perform. The practice of being mindful and paying close attention to how we move will pay off with improved action and less chance for injury.
How Do We Practice Mindfulness to Improve our Fitness?
First, identify a reason. Why do we work out…To lose weight? Train for a sports activity? Run around with the kids? Feel better overall? Once we identify our true motivator for exercising – and more than simply “because it’s good for me” – it’s easier to become purposeful in our actions. And when we have that goal in front of us, we can truly ‘be in the moment’ and enjoy it!
Next, try getting out of the normal routine. This is great for mental health, such as spurring our neuroplasticity, which is “the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.” Medicinenet.com. Incorporating new activities perks us up, helps us learn new patterns and inherently helps us pay more attention to the physical details.
Add in some “mind-body” work. There’s a reason why Pilates, yoga and Barre classes are so popular. They provide the opportunity for us to focus inward and concentrate on perfecting movement, which only serves to enhance our efforts, actions and performances with any other physical activity.
Consider my personal fave, Pilates: “The very structure of the Pilates method requires mental focus, a process that forces your muscles to respond more quickly to training. Rather than performing monotonous and reflexive repetitions, you will carefully execute a limited number of compound movements with an eye toward perfecting every possible detail. By integrating body and mind, you will achieve an effective, efficient and balanced workout.”Pilates Body in Motion, Alycea Ungaro
I love this quote by founder Joseph H. Pilates, in his book Return to Life Through Contrology: “To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life, we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limit of our ability.”
Yes, I’m a Pilates enthusiast and tell people that I “do Pilates” so that I can “do the things I love to do”! And I can attest to the fact that incorporating Pilates techniques results in heightened mind-body awareness. Meaning, the realization of how our bodies move and react in space works wonders for agility and coordination.
Correct movement can be trained to be second nature, so that if we’re not paying attention and take a misstep or get bumped into, our strong core and active muscles can accommodate for the unexpected.
Pay Attention on Purpose
Let’s help our bodies out and focus in on the how and why we’re exercising. By practicing mindfulness, we’ll move stronger, feel better, improve our balance and overall actions. And Bonus!…We’ll enjoy the here and now!