Wendy Hassenpflug, owner of Vayu Yoga®, shares how mind-body practices can enhance any type of activity
By Wendy Hassenpflug, MS, E-RYT
When you think of mind-body activities, which of the following come to mind: yoga, Pilates, riding a stationary bike, weight training, soccer, riding a mountain bike, dance, tai chi, running, walking on a treadmill, taking a group exercise class, martial arts?
What criteria do you use to determine that one of these exercise formats was mind-body and another was not? What constitutes “mind-body” exercise? If you asked 5 fitness professionals for their definitions, you would probably get 5 different answers.
We must first develop an understanding of what the term “mind-body” means, perhaps then we can classify activities more effectively.
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Experts in the field of kinesiology may focus on internal bodily sensations, while psychologists may emphasize the integration of the mind and body in the experience. A research editor for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, Ralph La Forge, states five likely criteria for mindful, or mind-body, activities:
- The activity contains a self-reflective, present-moment and nonjudgmental sensory awareness
- It includes a perception of movement and spatial orientation
- There is a focus on breathing and breath sounds
- Attention is paid to anatomical alignment
- The activity has a quality of being “energycentric,” or involves an awareness of the movement and flow of one’s intrinsic energy (chi or prana)
Studies show that there is a close correlation between what we think about ourselves and how we feel in our bodies. Exercise needs to be something that makes us feel good, if not better, about ourselves, in every way. For whatever reason the message that fitness is all about sculpting our bodies into ‘socially accepted’ shapes and sizes may actually be a deterrent for many people.
In my experience, mind-body activities focus more on the process or journey, and body-oriented activities are more focused on the outcome. This means that the outcome becomes secondary because it is the process that creates intrinsic rewards for people, and that’s what makes them more long-lasting. People typically don’t stop doing yoga or Pilates just because they accomplished a goal – they are not necessarily goal-oriented activities, at least yoga isn’t.
For example, when people are exercising merely for weight loss or body shaping, they are focused on the outcome. They relate their success in the activity to their success in weight loss or shaping their body, not in other more ‘mindful’ benefits. When people participate in activities without a mind-body connection they can create dysfunction in their whole purpose.
Examples of this could include physical imbalances in their body, exercise-related injuries, and/or lack of focus on proper form. This is why there is such a large focus nowadays on mindful exercise and mind-body activities. When we connect people to the process, and their present state of being, we create long-lasting outcomes that carry into other aspects of their lives in a positive way.
They are doing activities that they enjoy doing for the sake of doing the activity, no strings attached. The health benefits or physical improvements become secondary to the self-acceptance and approval that is fostered. Studies have shown that mind-body activities increase body awareness, this tends to be one of the main differences between mind-body and other forms of exercise.
Additional benefits include extraordinary mental, physical, and spiritual healing that goes well beyond any scientific evidence.
People may argue that traditional Western exercise forms, like treadmills, stationary bikes, and group exercise classes are portrayed as being mindless and even perhaps meaningless. People that like to have someone else tell them what to do, how and when to do it, are attracted to group exercise classes. Many exercisers listen to music perhaps to disengage their minds from what they are doing.
Research shows that this type of ‘tuning out’ does not enhance goal-relevant attention, and does not encourage one to be aware of their thoughts and emotions about exercise. Nearly all group exercise classes, rely on external cues, not internal awareness of the participant. Today’s trends of escaping into headphones and/or a tv screen that is connected to the cardiovascular equipment aids in the ‘mindlessness’ factor.
It brings up an interesting question of what are we escaping from and why do we feel the need to be distracted while we exercise? The answer may exist not so much in the forms of exercise, but rather in how they are practiced. Therefore, if the mind-body connection helps to successfully achieve one’s goals, how can it be applied to training in the gym and other facilities?
Participants in yoga, tai chi and Pilates may develop greater sensitivity and awareness of their bodies than other traditional forms of exercise. This is, of course, accompanied by greater body acceptance and satisfaction, development of compassion, and a greater transfer of training principles to daily life. Mind-body activities embed both physical and mental health benefits and in addition, build self-efficacy and self-mastery with which to achieve one’s goals.
The focus of mindful activities needs to be on the present moment, instead of conventional exercise performance measurements like fat burning or body sculpting. Mind-body practices, similar to mindful sport interventions, need to focus on self-awareness and developing a non-judgmental attitude toward the self. Many exercisers enter the gym to give their minds a break after a long day at the office.
Think about how much more beneficial it will be when we incorporate the mind, body, and possibly even the soul into this break.
Some questions to ponder:
- Can mindful activities change us from mindless followers to thinking individuals?
- Or will it make us simply more aware of needing to discipline our bodies to lose weight, tone-up, or adopt healthier habits?
- Will mind-body activities create thinking exercisers or direct our thoughts to even more effective bodily discipline and control?
- Can mindfulness aid in greater awareness and a more non-judgmental attitude towards one’s self or one’s body?
Mindfulness, has been defined as involving ‘non-judgmental and moment-to-moment awareness of the present experience’.
Three components that characterize mindfulness:
(1) awareness of thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations of the present moment;
(2) acceptance – observing with a non-judgmental attitude toward one’s current thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations;
(3) commitment towards maintaining goal-relevant attention focus and behaviors.
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Vayu Yoga® provides a broad range of specialty instruction that pertain to training the body and mind via floor-based yoga, aerial yoga, YogaWall®, Pilates®, and other related stretching and therapeutic practices.
We offer many styles and levels of yoga, including Restorative, Gentle, and Therapeutic Yoga, as well as Pilates®, Reformer, and prenatal yoga. Our experienced teachers provide personalized attention to our students through small group trainings (1-8 students).
Vayu Yoga® gives students the tools they need to perform a safe practice for their individual bodies, teaching how to listen to their bodies, and create a strong awareness in their practice.
About Santa Clarita Vayu Yoga® Owner Wendy Hassenpflug
Wendy Hassenpflug is an E-RYT (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher), through Yoga Alliance, Certified Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Pilates Teacher (Pilates Method Alliance), Certified Personal Trainer (National College of Exercise Professionals). She holds a Master of Science in Kinesiology and a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science, and has over 26 years of experience as an educator in secondary and higher education.
Wendy teaches private, duet, and small group trainings at her studio Vayu Yoga®, located at 24353 Main Street Newhall, CA 91321. Visit http://www.vayuyoga.com for more information or to schedule an appointment or book a training.
Wendy hosts “Vibrant Living with Vayu Yoga®” on AM 1220 KHTS radio in Santa Clarita, CA, Tuesdays from 11:00am till Noon. Click here to listen to podcasts.
Source: Santa Clarita News