What Are Mind Body Exercises?

Do you remember Jane Fonda in the 80s or Step Aerobics in the 90s? It’s interesting to reflect on how things evolve and change in life and the fitness industry is no different. As a society we’ve spent years sculpting muscles, gaining strength, and building our cardiovascular system all in the hopes of looking and feeling healthy. The body and mind were viewed as separate and distinct with the body being treated like a machine with replaceable parts. However, in most recently years research as shown that there is a connection between how we feel in our bodies and the way we feel about ourselves. Integrative psychiatrist James Lake, MD, of Stanford University, writes that "extensive research has confirmed the medical and mental benefits of meditation, mindfulness training, yoga, and other mind-body practices."

There’s nothing new about exercise being used as a tool to relieve stress. Without going into too much science when we exercise the hormones endorphins and serotonin are released giving us that happy and exhilarating feeling that we can conquer the world. Well mind-body exercises do the same thing with an intention of using your thoughts to influence your body’s physical response to stress.

Mind-body exercises are not new. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong and other movement modalities have been around for centuries however, our focus as a society has changed. With increased levels of stress in our lives the need for need for something beyond the physical has propelled mind-body exercises to the forefront in the fitness industry. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, more than 18 million Americans practice yoga and/or Tai Chi, while some 10.5 million Americans perform Pilates.

So what is mind/body exercise exactly? Mind/body exercises all have their own specific guiding however, most of them focus on internal awareness, the breath, and the process of how the movement feels and how that movement is accomplished from a mental and physical stand point versus having a set end goal. There’s no need to stress about how far you can bend to touch your toes or how long you can hold a push up or plank pose. It’s great if you can touch your toes or hold a plank pose till the cows come home but the process on how you get there, your physical form, and how you feel is the focus of mind-body exercises. The exercises are simply tools provided to allow deeper exploration of the body, mentally, physically, and spiritually with health benefits as an added bonus.

Some mind/body exercises are listed below.

  1. Yoga: A spiritual practice including breath control, simple meditation, and physical postures used for health and relaxation of the mind and body. There are various types and styles of yoga but the benefits are universal. A consistent practice can aid in increasing flexibility, endurance and strength and well as improving mental focus, breathing, and range of motion.

  2. Qigong/Tai Chi (a form of Qigong): Both are traditional Chinese movement exercises. They are based on two ideas: Energy, called qi or chi, flows through the body along "energy pathways" called meridians. Both exercises integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention. A consistent practice can aid in reducing stress, building stamina, increase ng vitality, and enhancing the immune system. It has also been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions.

  3. Pilates: A form of exercise, developed by Joseph Pilates, emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility, and awareness in order to support efficient, graceful movement. A consistent practice can aid in increasing body awareness, stronger core, and more body control.

If you are already active you may use the principles of mind-body to create your own moving meditation. For example, if you enjoy kick boxing, cycling, running, or walking you easily turn those activities into a form of moving meditation or a mind-body exercise. It’s really that simple. Instead of your normal routine try drawing your attention inward, remaining present during the physical movement, and detach yourself from the end goal. By adjusting your mental perspective you can transform your current exercise to your own moving meditation, reaping some of the same benefits from other mind/body exercises.


The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine article What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?


Appeared originally in AFIYA Magazine