We often lose sight of why we exercise at times. We are so driven by the end goal of improving strength, balance, flexibility or aerobic fitness that we forget that exercise is an opportunity to move – and more than this to move well!
Moving well is like any other skill. It requires practise and persistence, and if we want to excel it shouldn’t be done under maximal load. When we move well we allow our muscles to get stronger at supporting our body, we allow our joints to move and gain nutrition keeping them healthy, and we expend energy to improve the efficiency of our circulatory system. It is interesting that most of the by products of moving well are often our health goals in the first place!
One of the main benefits of focusing attention on moving well is that we reduce our risk of injury. People often get lost in the “no pain no gain” type mentality and force their bodies to reach their maximum every time they exercise. Instead we should focus on the experience of movement and realise that like any new skill we are trying to learn, if the conditions for practise are not optimal the outcome will be less than optimal as well.
Unfortunately with exercise we are not only slow to improve, but we also tend to cause physical damage as our body has to adopt different ways to perform the movement to compensate. This is what causes injury. Our health can be broken down into 3 general phases: stable and pain free, unstable but pain free, and unstable in pain. When we don’t focus on how we are moving, we develop compensations that lead our body to become unstable and over time this progresses into pain and injury.
Mindfulness is a concept that is well known throughout the yoga community and put simply involves improving your body awareness. It can be as simple as thinking about the pressure through your feet as you stand, or focusing on your breath. Mindfulness is also vital during movement and exercise. We shouldn’t simply perform a movement to a set number of repetitions without bringing attention to how that movement feels.
The next time you are performing an exercise, try to think more about how you are moving – where is your pressure centered? Which body parts are under tension? Which body parts are under stretch?