One of my biggest pet-peeves in the gym is when people try to engage me when I’m in the middle of performing an exercise. I consider the singular focus of the mind on movement to be essential to getting the most out of your training, and when someone interferes with that, I feel like they have compromised my workout to some degree. My neurosis aside, bridging the gap between the mind and body is integral to athletic development and will help you get the most out of each workout. Prepare for a healthy dose of speculation; this topic is a bit abstract.
Our minds represent the intangible interaction of vast networks of neurons and are essentially what makes us who we are. Our bodies are the tools our minds use to perceive and interact with the world. Just like any tool it takes skill to use well, but we talked about that already. The mind-body connection is about being generally aware of your body, which is fundamental to learning how to skillfully use it. This union of mind and body is probably something that comes natural to humans, but our modern existence allows us to overcome many of nature’s challenges, and our survival no longer necessarily depends on our ability to use our bodies effectively.
I like to think of the mind-body connection having a fluid quality, allowing various levels of connectedness depending on the demand of the task or situation. Take for example, reading this post. You are probably more mentally involved with the task, and very little meat is involved in soaking in this information. In contrast, think about an athlete who is in the zone, sticking every movement with surgical precision and a Zen-like state of mind. That athlete is enjoying a fusion of their physical and mental self at an incredible level.
Practices like Yoga and Qigong have been described as moving meditation, and by their very nature foster a strong relationship between the body and mind. They share the qualities of breath control, relaxation, and self-awareness. Unfortunately, we consider these disciplines unique in those traits, and fail to see that applying those same principles to our daily exercise can have tremendous benefit. If you treat each lift as a Yoga pose, giving attention to your alignment, each stride of your run as a fluid Tai Chi step, relaxing and freeing your body to move, your training will be much better for it.
Whatever your chosen activity, it should help cultivate the connection between your mind and body, and whether or not it does is up to you. If you want to experience the full benefit of physical activity, you have to be mentally present during your workout. Reading a magazine while mindlessly grinding out miles on the stationary bike may distract you while you chew through a few calories, but the results won’t go far past that. Focus on what you are doing, move with purpose, and learn to interpret your body’s signals. Not only will you experience greater success with your initial fitness goal, but you will have a better chance of avoiding injury.
Next post? I’ll detail a little single-leg stance exercise I whipped-up to help with hip stability and proprioception. Awesome, right?