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Mindful Fitness – Is Your Workout Covering ALL the Bases?

Posted Oct 02 2009 3:07pm

I live in the Denver-Boulder area, awarded the “thinnest” city in this country. But when I see all the runners, bikers and elliptical trainers huffing, puffing and blowing the house down, I often wonder, “Are they really healthy? Sure, they may be able to run a marathon… but are they healthy? Are their joints stable? Are their muscles soft and pliable? Are they able to fight off a cold or flu?

These are all good questions. Most people pick one kind of exercise and get into it  (or just “get it over with”) without asking if it’s creating a healthy, balanced body for the long haul. Is this you? If you find yourself gritting your teeth, dreading your workout or feeling exhausted during or after, your exercise program may be unbalanced and causing more damage than good.

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5-Fold Fitness

From a mindful perspective, there are five core principles that I and other health practitioners consider a well-rounded workout:

1. Strength. This includes peripheral strength of the limbs, and core strength. Fitness guru Paul Chek says that without core strength (musculature of the deep abdomen) body posture and alignment diminishes and lower back issues come into play. Chek recommends 2-3 strength-training sessions per week and to rotate exercises to keep the body guessing. Consider yoga, pilates and “functional fitness” – all are excellent resources for core and peripheral strength.

2. Flexibility. All beefed up but you can’t even touch your toes? Muscles might be well-defined, but without pliability, the body loses its fluid range of motion. Tissues harden as muscles become less and less hydrated. Stretching before and after a workout is good, but deep hydration and full range of motion (in all directions) comes from a daily regimen: yoga takes the lead in this category.

3.Detoxification/De-Stressing. Most body-mind-based exercise programs actually help detoxify the internal organs during and after a workout. This keeps stress from building up and promotes the ability to ward off illness before getting it. According to the the late Zen Shiatsu master Shizuto Masunaga, “one cannot be considered healthy unless one’s whole body, including the internal organs and nervous system, is functioning in a supple manner”. Yoga, chi gung, tai chi or any martial art are good choices for exercise detox and releasing stress.

4.Cardio. This is important, but Americans seem to have taken the “cardio workout” to an extreme, to the point where “cardio” and “workout” could almost mean the same thing. According to Ayurvedic physician Dr. John Douillard in his book Body, Mind Sport, too much huffing and puffing could actually be causing undue stress. Without deep breathing into the lower lobes of the lungs while exercising, the body may go into a stress response, ironically storing fat – the exact opposite of what we want to do.

5. Balance. Yogic balancing postures are played up just as much as any of the others, and are often the most difficult postures for westerners, mainly due to our over-emphasis of peripheral strength versus core strength.  Balancing postures develop coordination and also “exercise” the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Balance and coordination are highly emphasized in yoga, dance and pilates.

Exercise doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be a chore. Although resistance is natural on some days, the right routine for you should be one you look forward to and that makes you feel rejuvenated, rather than depleted. It’s something that you like to do.

The best, most inspiring workouts are those in which tools learned can be applied in daily life: an improvement of posture while walking or standing in line at the check out; a kindling of patience when dealing with others; determination and diligence with work or life’s challenges; balanced development of both excellence and humility; and acceptance of who you are right now, knowing that you are perfect just as you are.

Article References:

1. Chek, Paul. How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy. CHEK Institute. San Diego. 2004.

2. Masunaga, Shizuto. Zen Imagery Exercises. Japan Publications, Inc. 1987.

3. Douillard, John. Body, Mind, Sport. Three Rivers Press. 2001.

3. Freeman, Richard. The Yoga Workshop: Library: Asana Detail. 2009.

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