A mind-body exercise is a physical exercise that is performed with an intense focus, that utilizes four principles of Pilates: Breathing, Precision, Control and Concentration.
What is a mind-body exercise?
To find out, no one needs to go back through several thousand years of Eastern mysticism. Nor, does it have anything to do with the very Eastern concept of Chi. The mind-body connection is purely a Western concept that can be traced back to Greco-Roman beliefs. A contemporary to our own time period, Joseph Pilates, pointed out his thoughts on this very Westerner idea in his two booklets.,  He was one of the first to write about mind-body exercising before the modern wellness movement even existed.
Mind-body exercise differs from meditation and relaxation techniques.
This type of exercise promotes body awareness through the performance of precise physical movements that controls and balances your own body-weight. This web page is NOT claiming that all mind-body exercises will improve your health and fitness. Rather, it is merely defining what should be classified as a mind-body exercise. Mind-body exercises have to be physically demanding before they will improve your fitness levels. But, all mind-body exercises should increase your sense of well-being by increasing your activity level. Pilates classical matwork is an example of a mind-body exercise that will increase your level of physical fitness when practiced correctly over a long enough period of time. All forms of exercise, also, require both good nutrition and adequate amounts of sleep.
| Joseph Pilates wrote two booklets that talked about many
different topics, but mostly hawked his own form of physical culture:
Contrology. He never referred to it as Pilates, mentioned wellness nor
mind-body exercise. Yet, anybody remotely familiar with these concepts,
should be able to realize how much Joseph Pilates was ahead of his time
when he wrote about these topics. He simply lumped them all into one
Joseph Pilates writings on the benefits of mind-body exercise can be summed up in one word which he never used: Wellness.
It is not the name of the exercise, but rather how an exercise is performed, that determines whether or not it qualifies as a mind-body exercise. A mind-body exerciser never needs to be entertained while exercising. They never workout totally oblivious to the exercises that they are performing. Nor, do they read, watch television, videos, wear headphones, or listen to music while exercising. They never train in a zoned-out, trance-like mental state. Yoga, for example, fails to qualify as a mind-body exercise when the exerciser performs it while rocking to music, or without controlled breathing.
Watching instructional videos in order to learn a particular exercise is great. But, you can never be doing a mind-body exercise while watching a follow-along video, by definition.
The only health claims being made for mind-body exercise on this Web site is that this form of natural medicine will improve your level of wellness, sense of well-being, or the level of enjoyment that you will get out of life. In short, it is a fun activity that you might consider doing.
While Pilates never told us why strong mental concentration was so important during exercise, we now know that it cultivates presence of mind. When the mind is focused on an action of the body, like breathing, the mind is automatically or reflexively made quiet. It is a simple mind-body technique that can be use to automatically remove stressful thoughts from your mind.
To recap: A mind-body exercise is a physical exercise that is performed with an intense focus, that utilizes four principles of Pilates: Breathing, Precision, Control and Concentration.
Breathing -- A mind-body exercise is performed with controlled breathing that utilizes full inhalations and full exhalations, that follow a specific number of counts or rhythm. Breathing is important, simply because Joseph Pilates as one of the first to write about the mind-body connection said that it was important. See our Web page on Breathing for references supporting and explaining the effectiveness of controlled breathing.
- "The first lesson is that of correct breathing. ... under the dominance of mental control"
Precision -- A mind-body exercise is performed with precision or in proper form. Quality of movement counts more than quantity in a mind-body exercise. Precision requires mental control.
- "The only unchanging rules you must conscientiously obey are that you must always faithfully and without deviation follow the instructions accompanying the exercises [i.e., precision] and always keep your mind wholly concentrated on the purpose of the exercises as your perform them."
Control -- A mind-body exercise always involves the control and balance of your own body-weight. But, body-weight exercises are not necessarily a mind-body exercise unless they are performed along with the three other principles. Controlling your own body-weight forces you to focus on what you are doing.
- [A mind-body exercise] "begins with mind control over muscles."
Concentration -- A mind-body exercise is performed with intense concentration on yourself, in the present moment. The mind-body exerciser is focusing on their own body rather than on the instructor, a mirror, a video, or on other participants. You should never be day dreaming about other things. The point-of-focus in a mind-body exercise will differ from most other forms of physical exercise. You should be thinking about stabilizing, or anchoring, the area of the body that is NOT in motion. This is contrary to the usual Western method of trying to isolate the muscles that you perceive to be performing the movement.
- "The great majority mechanically exercise without mental concentration - an utter waste of time and effort."
- YOGA -- Generally stresses stretching and flexibility. The exercise intensity of yoga is at the low end and burns very little calories.
- TAI CHI -- Generally stresses the balance and coordination of bodily movements. The exercise intensity of Tai Chi is at the low end and burns very little calories. However, Tai Chi health programs have proved to be successful in elderly populations as a fun way to get them active.
- PILATES -- Generally stresses flexibility, balance and coordination of bodily movements, as well as develops strength in the trunk area of the human body. Pilates classical matwork can be very physically demanding.
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- Your Health, Published by Joseph Pilates, 1934.
- Return to Life Through Contrology, Published by Joseph Pilates and William John Miller, 1945.
- Joseph Brady, Strong Mind/Strong Body: Exercises for Mental Strength (Video), Living Younger Longer, Inc., 1994. (Joe is a faculty member of the Depts. of Human Performance, Sport and Leisure Studies and Health Professions at Metropolitan State College of Denver where he teaches Tai Chi, QiGong, and Introduction. to Chinese Medicine. He is also a Director of The Tai Chi Project)