Physical fitness is all the rage these days. It seems as though
new health clubs, martial arts schools or fitness centers are popping
up around every corner, almost as prevalent as coffee stands. Well
great, we can use all the fitness options available to us. It spikes
our curiosity and keeps us growing in physical wisdom while cultivating
and maintaining health and well-being. It is a good thing.
There is a sub-culture of the fitness movement, which has been
around for ages, yet only recently (last 25 years or so) has it
been catching the public eye -- mind-body fitness. But what exactly
is it? What are we referring to when we speak of mind-body fitness?
How is this any different from any other type of fitness, say sports
training, dance or just working out at your local health club; all
these use our minds coordinating with physical activity to create
fun, fitness and health?
A clue to an understanding of mind-body fitness is in the written
form itself, mind-body, the two words are connected.
When describing this new approach to fitness we dont hear
the words, mind & body, we hear, mind-body,
as though the two were linked inexorably at the hip, existing in
a relationship of continuous flow, no separation.
The mind & body are one. A substantial amount of
research has been done over the past 25 attempting to better understand
and define the extent and limitation of this statement. A new school
of medical thought arose, called psychoneuroimmunology, to contain
and develop this research. We know now, for instance, that what
we think and feel about a given situation has an immediate impact
upon it. An athlete approaching a competition with negative beliefs
about an outcome will most certainly create it. We know that the
function of our immune system is affected not only by external agents
but also by the thoughts and feelings we hold about ourselves. Cancer
patients struggling with their disease can be helped or hindered
by their attitude. It is now accepted as a medical reality that
our minds affect our bodies and vice versa. We can put that axiom
to good use in maintaining health and fitness.
A characteristic difference between mind-body fitness and traditional
fitness is its more internal focus. A mind-body approach to fitness
opens the door to a deeper experience and a fuller understanding
of ourselves by practicing skills which cultivate awareness, such
as paying attention to what we are doing while we are doing it.
What are we thinking about as our feet crash into the pavement for
the thousandth time during a morning run? Whats going on inside,
as we pump arms and legs during an aerobic workout? What sensations
are we aware of as we lap the community pool? Mind-body fitness
is about cultivating awareness; an awareness of things as they are;
ultimately an awareness, which can distinguish between the unique
sensations characteristic of different aspects of our whole self.
Ancient healing sages divided our whole self-unity into 4 separate
bodies with unique characteristics: a physical body, which moves,
feels pain and pleasure and is our vehicle of action and expression
on this earth; an emotional body, which feels, and knows of its
deep connection to: self, others, its environment and spirit; a
mental body, which thinks, plans, decides and directs; and a spiritual
body which remembers the truth. With an understanding of the health
and fitness needs of each of these bodies, ancient sages developed
holistic mind-body healing systems, such as: tai-chi, yoga, chi-kung
and martial art to attend to those needs. They found, that by practicing:
meditative movements, dynamic postures, vivid images and conscious
breathing they could develop a deep level of self-awareness and
Today, we can draw upon the many practices and teachings of these
ancient systems to create holistic health and fitness for ourselves.
Each system has a wealth of healing wisdom to offer us. Each approaches
the needs of our 4 bodies differently. Yoga, for instance, practices
dynamic physical postures with breath awareness to create flexibility,
strength, endurance, balance, energy and vision. Its practice calms
our emotions and clears our minds while contacting our spirits.
Tai-chi uses slow, relaxed flowing movements with vivid images to
discipline and focus our minds while giving our body a great work
out. In the slow, flow our emotions yield and relax. Healing images
and directing energy cultivates our power and health. The practice
of martial art gives obvious physical benefits. It instills a sense
of self-confidence, determination and fortitude in the face of conflict
or challenge. Chi-kung a deep internal practice, uses sustained
postures, dynamic images, directed energy and focused breath to
create physical health, emotional serenity, mental clarity and spiritual
All the ancient mind-body systems have holistic fitness benefits
for our current: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs.
In a world of fitness options, they offer a deepening experience
of health and well-being.
David Yager is a body centered therapist and mind-body holistic
fitness instructor practicing in Portland. For information or questions
regarding mind-body fitness, call 503-202-4371.