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Mind-Body Connection
Holistic Fitness
by David Yager

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 don’t 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? What’s 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 healing.

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 unity.

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.