“The Pilates Method of Body Conditioning is complete co-ordination of body, mind and spirit”. Joseph Pilates
What is Mindfulness?
Have you ever turned on the television to watch a program and then become distracted by thoughts about your day, problems, life, etc and realised you haven’t seen or heard anything of the program you sat down to watch?
Or had a conversation with a friend but halfway through realise that you haven’t been listening and can’t remember what they said?
Or driven somewhere on ‘autopilot’?
Or ‘switching-off’ to a person, noise, etc?
Most of us have done this at one time or another and they are great examples of being ‘mindless’. When we are mindless, we are not concentrating on the task in hand, our mind is elsewhere.
So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness can be described as being in the present, being in the moment or just ‘being’. It is focusing your mind on the here and now, not thinking about what to have for dinner later, or that piece of work you need to get finished.
Being mindful allows us to tune in to what it is we are doing. It allows us to experience every moment fully. It allows us to experience every moment using all of our senses; seeing, hearing and feeling every moment.
Pilates and Mindfulness
Pilates is a series of slow, defined exercises carried out on both the mat and resistance equipment. The exercises should be performed correctly, taking the time to establish the technique rather than rushing through them.
Everyone who participates in a Pilates class knows just how much there is to think about; breathing, alignment, using the right muscles and relaxing the others, listening to the instructor and so on. This can feel a little overwhelming at first but it is normal and will get easier as the body learns the new ways of doing things. When you are thinking of all those things, you are in the moment, living it and doing it – there is no time to think of anything else! However, by the end of your class, you will feel energised and calm.
The breathing method used in Pilates exercise encourages relaxation and has been shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety. Using the breath will activate and energise the muscles and as you bring your attention to your body, you will be able to execute the movements precisely, with control and mindfulness.
A Mindful Pilates Exercise
- Sit tall, lengthening the spine. Have the feeling of your weight dropping down your seat bones and the crown of your head lengthening upward. Place your hands around the lower part of your ribcage towards the back.
- Inhale through your nose, focusing your breath to your back and the sides of your ribcage. You will feel your hands being gently pushed out as the sides and back of your ribs expand.
- Exhale through your mouth ensuring there is no tightness through the jaw. As you exhale, you will feel your back retreat away from your hands as the ribs compress. When you exhale, ensure that you expel every drop of air from the lungs and try to keep the abdominal muscles contracted.
- This time, as you inhale imagine that you are taking the breath to the left side of your lower back and ribcage. What did you feel? You will find that the left side expands more as your focus and awareness has been taken to that area. Repeat this on your right side.
This simple exercise shows just how much control we have over our body when we are mindful. What else can we achieve by incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives?