When people talk about Pilates, they usually say something about the mind-body connection.
But what is this mysterious mind-body connection?
Is it just something people say?
Does it actually mean something?
When I started learning about Pilates, I became familiar with the principle of concentration, almost right away. It was simple – if I didn’t concentrate, I couldn’t get into my breath pattern, I couldn’t move with precision and control, and certainly couldn’t keep up!
We can spend a really long time discussing the mind-body topic, so today, I’ll just scratch the surface.
I think about the mind-body connection as the internal focus, or focus on our body as we move.
It is the foundation of our practice.
The way we move largely depends on the attention of our mind.
Simply put, you can either choose to focus on what your body is doing and how it’s feeling in class, or you can allow your attention to shift outward – to a million other things.
You may think you’re not guilty of this, but pay attention to your attention in your next class. An hour is a long time to focus, and see where your attention moves throughout class.
Before I give you a few tips to help you stay focused in class, let me gush a little about the connection between the brain and the body, a huge topic in research right now.
There is no way to separate the brain from the body in anything we do, but now we know that what we do (or not do) has an effect on our brain.
Our are brains are essentially sharpened by movement.
Scientists are now suggesting that physical activity may have helped make humans smarter (due to the development of a certain protein) as a result of exercise.
This collection of studies indicates that exercise actually made the brain larger. Research also shows that we need physical activity to keep our brain functioning optimally.
How amazing is that?
Joseph Pilates knew that all along when creating “Contrology”, the complete coordination between the mind, body, and spirit, and ensured that Pilates is not just a collection of exercises but a method to connect the integral parts of our being so that we are able to take full pleasure in our lives.
He knew that exercise, and specifically THIS mind-body method, will lead us to live better lives.
He spoke directly about the importance of not just moving correctly, but moving with focus and concentration.
“…always keep your mind wholly concentrated on the purpose of the exercises as you perform them. This is vitally important in order for you to gain the results sought, otherwise there would be no valid reason for your interest in Contrology”.
So this brings me to the big question –
How do we focus on our body during class?
Just like the exercises themselves, it takes practice.
Two words. Internal awareness.
What is the difference between external and internal awareness or attention?
External attention is awareness outside of your body where internal attention is awareness within your body. When we cultivate our body awareness, we’re choosing to focus our attention inward — “how do my knees feel when I’m doing this exercise on the Reformer? Do I feel stressed out?” “Do I feel more relaxed?”
The beauty of body awareness is not getting the most out of your Pilates session, but that it’s transferable. You can take the body awareness that you gain through your Pilates session and take it with you onto the golf course, swimming pool, or even your work desk.
Here are some ways you can keep your focus in class.
1. Get to class early and relax: When you enter your class, you want to be in an alert, relaxed state. Get there a bit early and take a moment to just be with yourself quietly before you start to exercise. Even if you’re running late, just do your own thing for a second or focus inward when you’re doing the warm-up.
2. Know the goal (or ask about it): Our brain understands movement by knowing the goal of that movement. So any time you’re trying to learn a movement, be really clear about the goal. For example, the teacher may say “we’re doing a bridge. I want you to articulate through your spine, one vertebra at a time.” So if that’s the goal, focus on that.
3. Focus inward: Resist the urge to shift your attention to others. One of the best things you can do in any class is to try to enhance your body awareness. There are two streams of body awareness. One stream is, for example, “do you know how your shoulder feels?” The other is, do I feel happy? do I feel relaxed?” Ask yourself those questions.
If you want to learn more about the connection between the brain and the body, be sure to listen to my earlier interview with Anne Bishop, a body-brain expert. It is really fascinating! To listen to the podcast, click here.