How To Do Mindful Exercise
By Carla Oates
Taking part in the #30DAYSTOGLOW Challenge? Read on for some simple workout moves you can do at home...
While the term ‘self-care’ gets thrown around a lot these days—it goes without saying that we should all be doing much more of it and making an effort to look after ourselves at every opportunity.
Especially now, given that more and more of us are working from home, it can be easy for the days and weeks to blur into one and for us to put our self-care practices—like exercise—at the bottom of the list. That’s why at The Beauty Chef HQ we are always looking to discover more mindful exercise practices that focus on the power of the body-mind connection and help us to achieve that whole body glow by engaging our muscles as well as our mind.
Recently, we spoke with Ali Handley, founder of Bodylove Pilates (one of Sydney’e brightest and most beautiful Pilates studios) to share some “simple stretches and mindful movements'' to help you stay balanced and pain-free. “We believe in the mindful burn,” says Ali. “Workouts are specifically designed to challenge not just physical stamina and endurance, but also your mind-body connection.” Sign us up!
Read on to discover what mindful exercise actually is, why it’s not just good for your body (but your skin, too!) as well as some simple Pilates exercises at home…
What Is Mindful Exercise?
You’ve likely already heard of the term mindfulness—which essentially means maintaining a sort of moment to moment awareness of everything in and around us such as our thoughts or feelings, external environment and any sensations we may be experiencing in our physical body. But it also encapsulates a sense of acceptance—so that no matter the thoughts or feelings that emerge as we attempt to remain as mindful as possible, we simply accept them without judgment.
Although mindfulness is often practised during meditation, it can also be explored during other activities—including exercise. And one of our favourite mindful exercises is Pilates which challenges the physical body through movement, whilst engaging the mind by focusing on the breath.
Get That Whole Body Glow
At The Beauty Chef, we speak a lot about the mind-body and gut-skin connections—understanding that to feel healthy, well and vital, we must nourish our inner health as much as our outer health. While one of the best ways to do this is through our diet—another way to nurture this connection is through mindful exercise.
We all know that exercise is great for our physical body—helping to build strength, maintain a healthy weight and build muscle mass—but it also benefits our skin. In fact, regular exercise supports the body’s detoxification and elimination pathways (helping to remove toxins from the skin), but it also increases blood flow and circulation which delivers oxygen and nutrients to the skin’s surface—supporting cellular turnover and collagen production. Hello, glow!
But it’s also important to remember that more doesn’t always equal better and too much strenuous activity can elevate our stress hormone levels and generate more skin-damaging free radicals. That’s why we advocate for striking a balance between more rigorous fitness activities (like running or HIIT workouts) and mindful exercises like yoga, Pilates and walking.
The Top 4 Mindful Pilates Moves At Home
To discover the mind, body and skin benefits of Pilates for yourself, here are four of Ali’s top moves that you can try anytime, anywhere. And, if like us, you’re still working from home—they’re the perfect way to hit refresh during that mid-afternoon slump.
Sounds simple enough, right? But truth be told, most of us don’t breathe properly which is why it’s so important to add breathwork to our daily routine. “Learning to harness the power of your breath is an incredible way to reset the nervous system and destress,” says Ali. “Just by slowing down and being aware of your breath and by working on the quality of your inhales and exhales, you can shift from the sympathetic nervous system to the calming and conscious parasympathetic nervous system. When you exercise your breath, you might also find it easier to activate your muscles.”
Begin by sitting upright in your chair, feet firmly on the floor and softly close your eyes. Inhale through your nose for four counts, hold for two, then exhale for six. Repeat for several minutes.
“Nothing feels better than a gorgeous deep spine twist, though your range of movement will depend on your spine health and if you’re pregnant,” says Ali. “Spinal twists can lengthen, release, relax and realign the spine. Deep twists that occur through the abdominal region can have wonderful detoxification and digestive benefits as well as giving the abdominal organs a lovely massage.”
Sitting on your chair with your feet placed firmly on the floor, inhale deeply then on your exhale, gently turn your torso and look over one shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
It’s no secret that we all spend far too much time hunched over our computer screens or slumped on the couch. “It wreaks havoc on the spine and our posture,” explains Ali. “Working the back muscles in extension is the perfect way to strengthen the entire back chain and improve posture, therefore reducing aches and pains.”
To try it at home, sit upright in your chair with your spine straight and interlock your fingers behind your neck. Inhale deeply, round your lower back slightly to keep the movement focused on your upper back then bend slightly from your upper back, keeping your elbows wide. Repeat.
Thread The Needle
“This is a gorgeous stretch that provides a lovely twist for the body with the added benefit of shoulder stretching. Combining full thoracic rotation with shoulder mobilisation, thread the needle can provide relief for low back pain and neck pain. And, when done in the all-fours position, it’s quite a passive stretch that you can hold for a few minutes.”
Begin by kneeling on all fours, then reach your right arm up and back behind you, before threading it underneath your body so your right shoulder rests gently on the floor. Hold for a few breaths before repeating on the other side.