MikeI recently took a ‘Hot Pilates’ class. The format begins with one minute of continuous bicycle abs followed by a minute of mountain climbers.  We repeated this combination 6 times. So, 12 minutes later I was hoping this exact segment would not be repeated during this hour of exercise! What I did notice is that my mind was grasping for the next mountain climber segment, since this was easier to perform than the bicycles. I wanted relief from the demands of the bicycle exercise. You know what I am talking about: lying on your back with your elbows bent and palms holding your head, knees bent in table-top position, you alternate right elbow to left knee, left elbow to right knee. Your legs scissor back and forth. The object is to lift from your respective sides employing your oblique muscles, the muscles responsible for twisting and rotating our spinal column. This is a demanding process; done properly it is a very demanding process. A mountain climber is executed starting in down dog position, lift your knees to your chest repeatedly for the minute.

Question is, “How do we employ mindfulness during these demanding exercises?”  Our mind is actively processing the comfort or lack there of during each repetition. The instructor is reminding you of proper alignment and execution. Our self-talk is noting, “Am I lifting and twisting my chest high enough?” “Am I being precise enough?” “This is uncomfortable!” “How much longer will this go on?” There is relief when one segment is completed. Then the possible self talk when we have completed all 6 segments of each. “Wow, I did it!” “I want to do this class again!” “I am getting stronger.” Is this not mindfulness? It is not the quiet mindfulness when we pay attention to one breath. This is not the quiet mindfulness technique of counting our breath, four counts in, pause, four counts out, pause.
I would suggest that it is the same mindfulness expect for the physiological response of exercise. During the bicycle and the mountain climber exercises our breathing is increased, we are sweating, our heart rate is increased and we are moving our body.  During a simple mindfulness moment we may be stationary, not moving. Our physiological responses are going in the other direction. Herbert Benson termed the phrase, Relaxation Response. Heart rate slows, positive hormones increase and breathing slows. The combination results in feelings of comfort, ease, i.e. ‘relaxation’.

Like a boxcar on a roller coaster track, I had to corral my thoughts into a positive direction during this demanding class. I didn’t want to be negative; I wanted to inspire myself to perform as well as possible on that given day. It helped to keep me going. I often remind myself that, “What I focus on, expands”. So by ignoring the unpleasantness of the workout, I was able to have success. I left feeling better than when I entered the class. I felt as if I had accomplished something demanding.

In our mindfulness practice we can apply the same principles.  Choose a time of day or a routine event like walking to your car. Make it a practice to look around. As you walk this familiar path, notice everything around you. Employ all of your senses:  look at the sky, feel yourself in the outside world, smell the air and just generally be mindful in the present moment. This requires a type of endurance.  This focus will put you in the moment so that other mundane or disturbing thoughts are replaced. By practicing this sensory awareness focus, mindfulness will be enhanced. Perhaps gratitude will become part of the mix!

Whispers of the Breath Diva:

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In this moment I can fully focus and be present!