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March 18 2022

The what, why and how of integrating mindful movement into your repertoire

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Mindful movement is a popular term in the fitness world but how does it apply to your business? While many trainers think only yoga and Pilates are mindful movement, the principles are applicable to all forms of fitness from indoor cycling to high-intensity interval training to working with clients with injuries. Let’s take a look at what it is, why it’s useful and how you can incorporate it into your training toolbox.

Mindful movement is simple in concept. It means paying attention to what you are doing at the moment you are doing it. Many athletes, both amateur and competitive, talk about “hitting the zone” or “getting in the flow.” That feeling of moving effortlessly and knowing exactly where your body needs to be in the moment is one way of describing mindful movement. Learning to pay attention to both physical sensations and mental state can enhance the benefits of exercise and help clients maintain their exercise programs.

Benefits of Mindful Movement
According to current research, documented benefits of mindfulness while exercising include:
1. Enhanced athletic performance — It can lead to decreased stress and increased ability to manage negative emotions during training and performance.
2. Heightened weight maintenance — Mindfulness when combined with dietary changes can help with intentional weight stabilization and loss.
3. Decreased likelihood of injuries — When a person is paying attention, they are less likely to over-train or push their body beyond its limits.
4. Increased adherence to a training program and long-term retention — Mind-body movement involves the class or client in the process of self-discovery, keeping users motivated to return.
5. Decreased feelings of stress, depression and anxiety — Mindful practices combined with movement are effective at increasing parasympathetic tone and minimizing negative feeling states.

Ways to Add Mindfulness to Your Training Program
Depending on the activity, mindfulness can take many different forms. When performing relatively slow, precise movements like yoga, Pilates or weightlifting, focusing on breath, form and physical sensation causes the client to fully experience the movement. By paying attention to each breath, clients are forced to tune in to the body several times a minute, keeping their minds focused on the movement. Cueing correct form and helping the client achieve it increases clients’ awareness of what the body is doing and how it is doing it. Focusing on physical sensation, such as where the weight is on the body or where they feel muscle activation is another way to tune in.

If clients are doing a repetitive endurance sport such as running or cycling, zero in on what the body is doing for short bursts of time. Start with being fully present and focused for 10, 20 or 30 seconds, several times during the training period. Turn off the music, quiet the mind chatter and feel the body moving. Having clients tune in to internal sensations provides information they can use in self-correction and following trainer’s cues. Encourage clients to pay attention to the following:
a. Breath: Feel the breath moving in and out of the nose. Is the inhale or the exhale longer? Feel the movement of the ribs and the belly with the inhale and the exhale.
b. Form: Notice the position of the pelvis and the alignment of the legs. Are they level and well-aligned or in need of correction?
c. Physical sensation: How are the feet landing or the pedals moving? Listen to determine if the rhythm is the same on each side.

If clients are in a fast-paced, competitive group environment like high-intensity interval training or CrossFit, add mindfulness by asking them to stay as present as possible during each exercise. Feel what the body is doing and pay attention to the amount of effort exerted. Focus on breath, form and sensation for the first 3 to 5 reps of an exercise and then increase the pace and focus on one or two elements such as breath or one aspect of form.

Connecting with your clients through mind, body and movement increases your ability to impact their performance and overall well-being. These results build respect, trust and long-term trainer-client relationships — and help attract new clients through word-of-mouth. For fitness professionals in today’s market, it’s a no-brainer to enhance your training and expand your business by going mindful!

Nora St. John, MS is Education Program Director at Balanced Body Education. Teaching Pilates since 1988, Nora creates teacher training courses in Pilates and Mind Body fitness modalities for Balanced Body. She holds degrees in Biology, Dance and Traditional Chinese Medicine and is the author of 15 teacher training manuals and several magazine articles. She is currently focused on creating educational experiences that are innovative, enlightening and effective.