There is a distinction that should be made between physically working out and exercising with the intention of being mindful of how you move. But what is it? We’ll explore what mindful movement means and why Pilates is considered a mindful movement.
We’ve all felt that cleansing-bliss from a sweet sweat. It feels like a washing away of stress, a release through movement for a need for control, accuracy, or restraint. It can feel like freedom! If a dirty sweat sesh and a push of everything-you’ve-got-feels like a washing away, then mindful movement is pushing for a deeper understanding of how you move with control, accuracy, and restraint.
Why is mindfulness important?
Mindfulness refers to keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality. You could think of it as the exact opposite of daydreaming!
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness says, “Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves”.
Through moving with control, accuracy, and restraint we regain mastery of our minds and calm our thoughts. It’s a practice of being aware of our feelings and perceptions. It’s both what you feel, the physical landmarks around you, and what you don’t feel, the negative space around you.
What about Pilates makes it a mindful movement?
It’s not the goal to move but to discover the enlightenment of how one moves. If you know your body clearly you will understand the effort of each exercise. If you cannot sense your body by calming your thoughts and placing your mind’s eye in the exercise, the effort will be wasted.
Pilates instructors will ask you to be specific in your movement and clarify how and where you should be feeling the exercise! The work is not easy or hard so you are not a better or worse student per se. But through mindfulness, you become aware that the effort is challenging. The important thing is to become aware of your body. You are not exercising from the neck down. Connecting to your brain is part of the effort. Most of us sit at desks working our minds all day and then jump right into pumping iron. But when you are mindful of your physical body through its efforts of movement you can connect better to the body.
Breathing, the first principle of the Pilates method is, as Joseph Pilates says “the first act of life and the last.” Breathing is a tool that builds up our concentration power which strengthens our mindfulness. When we master our breathing, we master our minds and our body. In Pilates, the breath is integrated into every movement in order to focus our awareness. The steadiness of a light, even breath helps create a rhythm. Don’t think of it as the power of a single inhale or exhale, but a gentle expansion improving the flow of oxygen in our bodies and improving the capacity of our lungs.
Breath and using the breath and as a tool towards whole-body health is about maintenance. The Pilates method, with breathing as a fundamental principle, is a perfect example of what mindful movement means. It’s part of realizing mindfulness, not an end unto itself.
The Take Away
The benefits of mind-body movement expand your power of concentration to create an inner sense of calm. You’ll feel your body opened and serene but you’ll also feel refreshed and a broader, clearer view of things.