By Vanessa Bartlett
(Pilates Instructor and Presenter)
When you think of the word ‘mindful’, what images does it conjure up?
Do you see yourself as being fully present?
Are you fully aware of your thoughts? Emotions? Your physical actions in that moment?
That’s what I associate with the term ‘mindfulness’.
Imagine living each day in this zen-like state of equanimity. Of not being at the mercy of your emotions while simultaneously keeping physical ailments at bay.
Modern research shows points to a direct correlation between heightened stress levels and compromised levels of biological functioning.
Today’s health practitioners are turning to mind-body connection approaches to treat anxiety, immune disorders, and many other physical and mental conditions. Certain physical responses like increased blood pressure, which were once thought to be involuntary, are now found to be within our control.
It is actually impossible to be mindfully present in the moment and feel ‘stressed’ or anxious at the same time.
I find certain exercises (either on my own or as part of a Pilates class) leave me feeling grounded and more in control. The ‘mindful movement’ vanquishes my frenetic thoughts and creates a certain spaciousness and clarity within my mind.
Practising these exercises I hope that you too will feel the same way. Sure I won’t happen the first time you do it but persistence is the key here.
Here are my top 5 exercises designed to establish an excellent mind-body connection. I recommend doing them first thing in the morning or at night – 3-5 days a week.
Stay focused entirely on tightening your abdominals and breathing fully. Really focus on combining each breath with movement in a controlled fashion.
Have you ever felt that you are running around in a frantic
state? I certainly have at times! The interesting things is this : if you can
physically stop moving for a few minutes and get into a position of rest you
will calm down.
I recommend the ‘rest’ position we use in Pilates where you
are kneeling and have your chest touching your legs, hands supporting head or
stretched out. This brings your energy inwards and you can actually hear the
breath and can physically slow it down.
Take 20 long, slow deep breaths. If this position hurts your knees or neck, sit on a chair with your feel grounded to the floor, hands resting on legs.
Ensure hands are under shoulders, knees under hips and the back of your neck is lifted (not drooping). Extend your opposite arm and leg while maintaining stability through lower back and chest. Keep abdominals tight. Complete 3 sets of 10 (slow and controlled).
The Hundred is an excellent way to build strength from the core, a strong core
helps reduce back pain.
Lift the shoulders off the floor while the legs are at 90 degrees. Imagine a belt wrapped around your waist and pull in your stomach. Keep this position for 100 pumps with your arms.
The arms move up and down quick with short range of movement while you breathe in for a count of 5 and breathe our for a count of 5 … until 100 arm pumps are completed.
Place your head down if your neck hurts and your feet down if your back hurts.
Lie face down and extend your arms and legs outwards lifting them off the floor while pulling in the stomach firmly. Then just like you’d do while swimming,
complete 30-40 quick fluttering movements- opposite arm and leg moving
together. Breathe deeply and keep the body stable from the centre (no tipping
to one side).
This is great to strengthen the back of the body. It’s awesome if you tend to be seated for most of the day.
All of us use our front muscles a lot more than our back muscles. This can lead to imbalance.
There is something calming about stretching the muscles. Provided you’re taking deep breaths and feeling the tension release as you do it.
While kneeling step 1 foot forward and press the hips forward till you feel a stretch through the front of the hip. Hold each side 45 seconds, 2 x each leg.
What do you do to reduce your stress levels?
I’d encourage you to give one or more of the exercises a go right now. Do it in this moment while it’s fresh in your mind. You’ll be impressed with the results.
And don’t forget to drop me a line once you’ve done them.
I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me directly via email on email@example.com or leave your comments in the comment box below this post.