Updated: Sep 28, 2021
A hectic schedule can leave your mind feeling constantly preoccupied and make it difficult for you to stay connected to the present moment and focus wholeheartedly on what you're doing. If we look at how this translates to the time you spend working out you might find you naturally go into autopilot and although your body may be performing movements, your mind is somewhere else entirely. Striving for a more mindful workout by improving your mind-body connection is such a great way to help you make the most out of the time you can dedicate to exercising and will not only benefit you in terms of improving your technique but will also help you switch off from the stresses of everyday life and leave you feeling calmer.
Just like meditation, a mindful approach to working out takes constant practice.
You're more than likely already integrating a mind-body approach to your fitness routine by experimenting with your breathing. You might have discovered when it's more beneficial to breathe in through your nose and at what point it's more powerful to breathe out through your mouth. Perhaps you're using your breath to find a rhythm with a particular exercise and focusing your exhales during movements of increased exertion to help you increase your performance. That's such a great place to start and today we're going to chat about how we can expand the mind-body connection from there.
A mind-body or mind-muscle connection is essentially making sure you are thinking about the muscle that is performing the movement to help make it work more efficiently. Our brain tends to think of movements in terms of weight: "move the weight up and down." Instead, try to think of the muscles at work. Can you feel it? Where do you feel it? What do you notice when you change the movement? Something that I love noticing is how hard my muscles work to stabilise my body as I change the direction of a movement. For example, start standing with your hands on a chair for support. Extend one leg behind you and start to lift and lower it. Now keep the leg lifted and draw it down towards the floor but out to the side and notice how hard your standing leg works to stabilise the body to support that change of direction. We can easily go into autopilot and not consider how the muscle feels during these movements and simply focus on making the movement itself but an increased body awareness here can improve your performance by ensuring the correct muscles are engaging. It's like a form of meditation. If you focus on the muscles that you're using you become more in tune with what your body is doing. Your technique is likely to be much better resulting in a safer and more effective workout.
Another great example to think about is a squat. If you're performing endless squats and not feeling the glutes engaging then you might be working your quads and hamstrings and not getting the benefits of the exercise that you're looking for. Working through exercises like this in a mindless way can lead to injury as we start to build incorrect movement patterns. We want to focus on the quality of the movement rather than the quantity of reps. An increased sense of awareness might mean you need to decrease your weights or number of reps at first but this just shows you how much more effective the exercise is with the correct technique and form. Over time you'll be able to increase your weight, safe in the knowledge that you're consistently prioritising techniques to ensure your workout is safe and effective.
With such a key focus on technique, Barre workouts are an education on movement, form and alignment which in turn gives you far greater body awareness and helps you to tap into this mind-body connection. Barre naturally harnesses mindful movements and meditation-like properties by bringing your focus away from everyday life and keeps you mentally in the 'room'.
There are a few things we can do to try and limit distractions and help you have a more mindful workout. If possible try and join online sessions via a laptop or tablet so you're not on your phone and likely to be distracted by notifications. Try to keep your breathing intentional throughout, focusing on deep breaths and utilising each exhale to help with increased exertion. Actively focus on the muscles that are performing each of the movements to create better body awareness and technique. Lastly, know that this is a practice and it's all about finding a balance. Some days it might feel impossible to switch off and keep your focus in the 'room' and other days you'll get to the end of class and realise you thought of nothing other than every movement we performed. I'll support you as much as possible in our classes by bringing your attention to which muscle group should be working in each movement and helping you notice how that changes as the movements change.
This is the key to unlocking more effective workouts but also great for creating a calmer and happier version of you 😘