Exercise is about more than physical appearance. It’s about how you feel inside your own skin.
Healing your relationship with your body is vital to well-being.
Why do you exercise?
Think of all the reasons.
If your reasons for exercising pertain to weight loss or changing the shape of your body you would be among the majority. How could it be any other way when we are immersed in a culture that idolizes images of fit and thin bodies. And not just culture in general, but specifically fitness culture is a major contributor to unhealthy and narrow perspectives of women’s bodies.
Science is showing us that these cultural influences are harming how we relate to ourselves and our bodies and are significant contributors to poor mental health. It seems ironic to think that while we are pursuing improved physical health we may be causing other parts of ourselves to suffer.
It is part of our core beliefs that cultivating a relationship around exercise that is based upon how you feel and take care of yourself is paramount to having a healthy relationship with yourself. The aim of exercise is to enhance your physical and mental health through enhanced connection with yourself and others, and increased wellbeing.
With culture influencing us to view health as a certain size or shape, how do we find a way to love and accept our bodies while engaging in practices like exercise that portray such unhealthy and unrealistic targets?
While I don’t have all the answers to these questions I am a woman grappling with these same issues on a daily basis both for myself, in my research, and with the women I work with. This issue is complex and requires a multifaceted approach that addresses body shame, body acceptance and cultural beliefs. One way that I have found to be a powerful and an instantly accessible resource for how I relate to my body is mind-body movement.
Mind-body movement is an integral piece in establishing a healthy exercise routine.
All mind-body philosophies share a common threads. They use the movement of the body to increase self and body awareness, quiet the mind, increase relaxation, control muscle tensioning and improve mood. They are all also useful in improving physical literacy through increasing strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and stamina.
As our lives become increasingly busy and complex, many people are realizing that the “traditional” or “Western” notion of pushing hard and forcing the body to achieve what you want is not always appropriate and leaves us more disconnected to ourselves than ever. Our stressed-out bodies and cluttered minds need a more thoughtful approach, with strategies, both ancient and new, that include and encourage being in the body in a restorative way. When our focus is wellbeing, we understand that a healthy body is only appreciated when combined with a peaceful mind. Mind-body movement addresses these needs by integrating the ancient physical and spiritual practices with modern psychological practices. Mind-body practices include Pilates, Yoga, Tai-Chi, Tae Kwon Do and Qi-gong.
While I believe in the value of all the movement practices mentioned, my business encourages education and understanding of Pilates.
I first started training in Pilates 10 years ago and from the initial teachings the practice has been transformative for me and in ways I could never have anticipated. In the first session I learned about the pelvic floor and engaging the deep abdominals. Something that I was never introduced to during a 4yr Kinesiology degree. This teaching had implications on how I perceived core strength, my sexuality and relationship with the female anatomy that has been life changing. And here is the thing. Whenever I teach these methods to other women they have similar experiences. Maybe it’s not something everyone feels comfortable talking about. But in my opinion this is required learning!
As I progressed through the method I developed a body awareness that has become foundational to how I connect with and take care of my body.
When I run or swim I can apply the principles to increase my success in the technical aspects of these sports. When I am feeling stiff or in pain I use the exercises to awaken, stretch or strengthen parts of my body that need support. Which I believe has allowed me to continue competitive athletics for multiple decades. Even as my body ages and changes.
Five core principles
Similar to the other methods, Pilates has a repertoire of exercises that are learned, practiced and perfected over time. But where contemporary Pilates is, in my opinion, superior to the other methods, is in the learning and integration of it’s core movement principles. I teach the 5 core principles of Pilates to all my clients because they have the ability to transfer to all forms of exercise and sport. Breathing, engaging the core, correct body positioning and being aware of the body are fundamental to healthy movement and foundational to learning how to move well. Science indicates that learning relaxation and imagery skills during movement allows you to experience the most benefit from these practices. They can be powerful aids in managing stress, nervous system arousal and anxiety.
Another benefit of Pilates is that it genuinely caters to a wide variety of needs and abilities.
Contemporary Pilates is often combined with physical therapy. This allows us to consider how movements can be modified and tailored to needs of the person performing them. Various tools and apparatuses have been created within the method to support a wide variety of needs.
For instance if you are just learning a skill, we might start with something simple and fun like this. (Modified Swimming Exercise. Essential level)
As your strength and ability improves we can cater to a more athletic clientele with moves like this.
Side Bend (Intermediate Level)
I could go on about Pilates and its’ benefits but in truth, movement is an embodied experience. This means you have to feel it in your body to truly understand how it might benefit you. With this in mind, could we try something together? Below is a simple breathing practice that teaches diaphragmatic breathing to reduce neck and shoulder tension, encourage improved core engagement and creates relaxation.
Begin sitting in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and one on your upper belly. This will help draw your mental attention to these areas.
Next close your eyes. Start your breathing by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
Now imagine that the lungs are divided into three distinct areas: a lower, middle and upper portion. As you begin to inhale, first focus on filling the lower portion of the lungs with air. You will feel your bottom hand moving as the diaphragm expands. As it fills up, focus next on the middle portion. Now notice the rib cage expand. Finally, filling the lungs right up to the top, notice your collarbones and shoulder blades widen.
As you exhale, notice the air draining out of the lungs first empty the top of the lungs, then the rib cage relaxes and finally the belly flattens as you push the last bits of air out of the lungs.
Feel the stillness and calm in this moment.
Repeat this process for 10 breath cycles.
Let’s take this further…
Join me on March 24 for a Pilates Immersion Workshop hosted at The Well Collaborative.