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Mind & Body

There's lots of ways to "get in shape". Many modalities to choose from, ranging from dumbbells, weight machines, treadmills, swimming, walking, Pilates, Yoga and the list goes on...

All useful tools and ways to become familiar with them, using trainers, classes, books/magazines, TV shows, experts and "wanna-be experts" to point you in one direction or another.

All that to start your conditioning program, with all the physical aspects of exercise. But of course that's not all there is to it. You can learn the exercises, figure out the FITT (frequency, intensity, time and type) facts of each physical component in your fitness program. You can plan your life to organize your daily activities, get all the right equipment, exercise shoes/clothes and you can get started with all the motivation in the world! And you will get results if you just do the program.

But there is a part of this whole adventure you may miss if you're not careful. A part that Joseph Pilates considered central to his method of "reforming" your body - and your life. And that indispensable piece of your life-experience is Mind. In our modern American culture we are taught to honor and experience the body - as we want it to be, not as it is - we worship youth and avoid pain or any sort of discomfort (even if it's telling us something we really need to know). We chase pleasure and attach to feelings that are not in our best health interests. And our lives and minds are so busy that we often have no idea where we are, where we are going or what is important.

The answer to all this can be complicated and it takes practice. There is likely more than one place it can be found and what works for me isn't necessarily what will work for you. But when we run across something that works for us we should grab onto it like a life-preserver in rough seas. One of those things that works is Pilates. Through breath and concentration we are introduced to mindful exercise. We become aware of what movement and effort feel like, instead of always attempting to drown out those feelings, to self-distract and avoid the experience because it's not what we normally think of as pleasant.

I've wondered about people I've met who truly dislike exercise, who hate the exertion, the sweat, the atmosphere of gyms and health clubs. I wonder if the answer might be to stop avoiding the feelings and instead embrace them. Not because I say you should, but because it might be a way to learn how to enjoy exercise (or at least make it possible). 

Using meditation as a model here, when "unpleasant" feelings arise, notice them, acknowledge them, let them go and return to your breath. The same goes for thoughts in general.  Mindful exercise means observing the body's sensations, concentrating on the working muscles, mentally going into the muscles and joints and studying the motion, the energy, the miracle of movement. No need to analyze the feelings and no need to think of what you like or don't like. No need to compare yourself to others, no need to get on the monkey-mind express! Practice watching the exercise from the inside out, no judgments, just observations.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the result. Hard work can be calm and relaxed. Focused concentration leads to better conditioning, better performance, more successful goals and if you don't avoid the feelings it will feel better!

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