Movement

How to use your Mind-Body Connection to achieve your Fitness Goals

A guest post by Erin Conroy PT, DPT.

AKA the "PhytChick."

How many of you have heard of the books The Secret or the The Power of Positive Thinking.  How about the concept of “Manifestation”?

 If you haven’t, let me fill you in.

Basically these all are based around the law of attraction. If you think it, it will happen…that goes for negative or positive.

So what does this have to do with fitness?

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret…

Okay, it’s not actually a secret because there are published studies on this concept, but, hey, I’ll at least try to help make sense of that information. (Here is a summary of some of those studies).

“So you are telling me that if I think about my muscles getting sculpted, my butt lifted, my washboard abs, that one day I will wake up with that body?”

YES!

Buuuuut not by itself (sorry for the false hope).

On a positive note, strengthening your mind-body connection will get you those results a heck of a lot faster!

When you hear mind-body connection you probably think zen, yoga, meditation…maybe, oh I don’t know, sitting in a prairie basking in the sun with a flute playing in the background…no, just me? Okay, anyways….the point here is how often do we actually associate this mind-body connection with our workouts?

I’m guessing mind-body connection doesn’t trigger a picture a squats, planks, and burpees.

But it should!

I touched on this in “Get it Right, Get it Tight Part 1 and Part 2

Going through the motions of an exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you are working the areas you think you are. It takes conscious effort to work your desired muscles. If you aren’t using the mind-body connection, your path to results may be a long and inefficient one.

You might even be moving in the correct movement pattern but may not be activating the correct muscles because you have a weak MIND-MUSCLE.

So now you are telling me that I have a mind-muscle? Sounds like some mumbo-jumbo to me.

Let me explain.

To put it VERY simply, the brain is the puppet master. It is sitting up in its castle in the sky pulling the strings to create the puppet's movements.

The brain sends a signal down your spinal cord, through the nerve, and into the desired muscle. The brain is essentially directly linked to that muscle, and if that muscle receives the correct message, BAM! Watch it move! Hello, Mind-Muscle.

Without the brain facilitation, there's no muscle activation.

No brain=No gain.

We use this concept in physical therapy but call it “neuromuscular reeducation”. We often need to train our patients to facilitate muscle contraction or movement patterns that they lost because of an injury or may have never adequately developed. We are essentially reminding those muscles how to work properly.

Sounds technical and science-y right? It really is just the concept of mind-body connection applied to fitness.

Neuro=Mind

Muscular=Body

Much simpler right?

Basically if you think it (with training and focus), you can do it.

Hell yeah, Manifestation! Bring me that summer body!

Now, let’s figure out how to incorporate this MIND-MUSCLE so we can sculpt those BODY-MUSCLES!

Here are some steps you can take to strengthen your mind-body connection:

Step 1: Visualize which muscle you are trying to work.

Step 2: Warm-up that area with some isometrics (squeezes without moving your body. Basically contract the muscle you want work.)

Step 3: Perform the exercises you are about to do but with less weight or at a lower intensity. During this, focus on feeling the area you want to work

Step 4: Talk to yourself. Tell yourself over and over again what you should be doing with that muscle.

Step 5: Add the weight or continue through your exercise class focusing on “feeling it” where you should be “feeling it”.

Step 6: Repeat step 2 in between sets

Let’s use the squat as an example to a better idea of how to apply these steps.

Step 1: I want to focus on my glutes...or the behind. Picture those muscles!

Step 2: Do some glute squeezes. Squeeze your butt cheeks together, hold for a few seconds, relax. Repeat about 10 times.

Step 3: Perform squats without any weight. Focus on feeling the burn in your butt. Even picture that muscle actually contracting. 

Step 4: Say to yourself: "SQUEEZE the butt!" as you push up through your heels each time.

Step 5: Add your weight and continue to focus on feeling the burn in your butt.

Step 6: Try repeating step 2 in between sets.

Now take these tips and head to the gym or workout studio knowing that you are going to get better results because you have a strong MIND and BODY.

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Morning Meditation Stretches

Before I sink into my morning meditation practice, I spend 5 minutes stretching on my pillow so I can feel more relaxed and less fidgety.  I have all of this built up energy and tightness from the mangled sleeping positions I put myself in that I need a way to release that energy before I can fully start my day. Stretching is a great transition from my sleeping state into my present sitting state.  This morning practice helps me feel more in touch with my body and allows me to go deeper into my meditation practice. One of my morning routines that help keep me grounded.

Energize Those Winter Blues

Despite the bright energy of the holidays the days are shorter and the nights are longer.  The winter slumber makes it hard for me to wake up in the morning with lots of energy to jump start the day.  Have you experienced that lately? My body feels sluggish and my mind feels foggy and unmotivated. Spending the past couple of winters in Seattle, a naturally gray and wet place in the winter, I was motivated to find a solution to managing my energy levels.  After some research and self-discovery, I created three staples I practice in my morning routine that give me the boost of energy I crave. Each staple taps into my physical, mental and emotional state—supporting me as a holistic being so I can give more love and energy into the world.

Mind:

 
 

I never was a strong believer in UV lamps and didn’t see how I could fit sitting in front of a lamp as part of my busy daily routine, until, last winter.  My energy was painfully low I was willing to try anything to give myself a boost of energy. I purchased a Vitamin D lamp on Amazon and realized sitting in front of the lamp while I meditate is the perfect combination!  I sit on my meditation pillow for 10-25 minutes situated right in front of my lamp. The glow of the light as well as the glow of meditation helps warm my body from the inside out. I leave my pillow with a greater sense of awakening.  If you are into chakras, I feel like my 6th and 7th chakra are tickled. My eyes are wider, brighter and I can see colors and objects in more clarity than I would if I just sleepwalked into my day. If you are not yet a meditator, try practicing your morning stretches or fitness routine in front of the lamp. It will give you that extra boost of energy to get you moving.

Body:

 
 

For breakfast, even when I am not super hungry, I jump-start my day with a couple of spoonful’s of homemade chia seed pudding.  Fueling my body with nutritious and delicious chi seeds fills me up with omega 3, antioxidants, fiber, protein and potassium–giving my body energy, nutrients and the gasoline it needs to function smoothly throughout the day. I am obsessed with this chia seed pudding recipe because it is so quick, easy and delicious! I know some people love having chia seeds in their smoothies or in a simple glass of water.  However, for me, I don’t like the slimy texture of drinking my chia water and to be honest I am not always craving a green smoothie. Having chia seed pudding is like having better-tasting non-dairy yogurt. I sometimes will add granola, seeds, fresh or dried fruit to mix up the texture, taste and depth of the meal.  Try it. It’s delicious!

Chia Pudding Recipe

Mix together:

  • 4 TBS chia seeds
  • 1 cup non dairy milk of choice
  • 1 tsp Maple Syrup
  • ¼ tsp Vanilla
  • Let pudding congeal in the fridge for 10 hours before enjoy it’s deliciousness!

Soul:

Some mornings it is as though my body has arrived but my “beingness” hasn’t shown up yet. That sensation you might feel if you haven’t had your morning cup of joe–where your eyes are slightly closed, and life feels like its on autopilot. Do you know the slumber I am referring to?  In those sluggish instances, instead of getting sucked into the vortex rhythm of the day, I bust on the radio (yes I still have a radio and use it) and dance to whatever song KEXP is playing.  I get my body moving in all sorts of directions (even “un-attractive” moves) to stimulate myself physically and mentally. The music helps to evoke my soulful creative energy that anchors me in the freedom of dance.  I get to feel alive, present and think on my feet. The best part of having a mini dance party, even if its for 20 seconds, is that it gets to spark more energy and joy that I can carry into my day and help spread to others.

Let me know how these energizing winter tips support you. I would love to hear any of your own morning routines to help beat the slumber of winter! Feel free to write them below or send me an email.

The Power of Our Steps

Walking is one of my most favorite activities. Born and raised in a “walking family,” I grew up learning to keep up with my dad’s pace and mentally preparing myself for long journeys wherever we went, yet it was not until I was a senior in high school when I gained my own appreciation for the sport. My love blossomed when I decided to wear a pedometer for my senior project. My goal was to walk 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) every day for 3 weeks while I raised money for an Obesity organization. After my second week, I felt a tremendous difference in my mood and body. I felt I had a stronger mind-body connection since I was moving more and getting the blood flowing. I paid attention to what I ate and how I felt on my walks. I also noticed I was just happier! No wonder a study at the California University in Long Beach found that the phenomenon of walking helps people to “ be happier, have higher self-esteem, be more into your diet.” I carried my enthusiasm for walking to the University of Michigan where I walked from North Campus to Central Campus most days (weather permitting). People began to know me as “the walker.” I realized that wherever I went, it would probable take me 15 minutes longer to walk than to rely on bus transportation—so why not get some mental and physical exercise in, while spending time outside and saving money!? I now incorporate walking into my daily routine as my staple form of transportation. Not only do I get time to think, but I feel more connected to myself and the world around me. I aim to inspire other’s to get moving and realize walking is a lot easier and more enjoyable than jumping into a car. My boyfriend and I also created a routine to take evening walks as a way to help with digestion, enjoy each other’s company and reflect on the day. I have even noticed that night walks have improved my sleeping patterns!

Suggestions: Get walking! Learn to get those steps in wherever you can. Try walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator; challenge yourself to take walks during your breaks throughout the day, add nighttime walk-caps or swap happy hour for a walk in the park with a friend. Get moving and you will feel the mental and physical difference after just one week!

Basic Morning Stretches to Wake the Mind and Body

Before I sit and meditate in the morning, I like to perform some basic stretches to feel less stiff and get the blood flowing in my body. It is very important to start the day connecting your mind and body so you can act with complete intention as you walk, eat, work and communicate. I start standing with my legs together and feet evenly planted into the ground.  Engaging my core, I place my hands in a pray position near my heart.  I take a deep inhale as I raise my arms out to the side and circle up to reach the sky. Then with an exhale, my arms circle back down to prayer position. I repeat this exercise about 3 times so I feel length in my spine and limbs. This small movement also allows me to become aware of the power of my breath.

Feel yourself stretch and lengthen.

Next, I cross one leg over the other so the sides of my feet are touching.  I again, perform this same circling position with my arms, but this time, with my exhale I dive my head to the ground--reaching my hands to the floor as I bend over.  This stretch lengthens the hamstrings, calves, lower back and neck.  Hold this stretch for at least five complete cycles of breath before slowly re-stacking the spine, curling up one vertebra at a time and placing the hands back in pray position.  This stretch may feel especially intense since our bodies are extremely tight and stiff in the morning.  Repeat this exercise by crossing your other leg and maintain it for those same five deep, slow, and controlled breaths.  Try to stick with your deep breaths and feel how much deeper you melt into the stretch with every exhale.

After I complete this series, I sit on the floor cross-legged preparing for another stretch to awaken my spine and core. Inhale to prepare; exhale, placing the left forearm on the ground, stretching to the left while the right arm reaches over your head.  Keep in mind that the right hip stays planted into the ground.  You will feel this stretch in your rib cage, lower back, shoulder and neck.  It is important to hold the stretch for at least five breath cycles in order to allow enough oxygen to enter your body and release some of the morning tension. On my last exhale, I bring myself back to center where I inhale and then exhale as I drop my right forearm on the ground reaching over my head with my left arm. This time, I stretch my left side while keep my left hip on the ground.  Holding for five breath cycles,  I then exhale to bring myself to center.

Remember to keep your opposite hip glued to the floor so you feel that deep side stretch.

Next, I focus on the forward and backward bending motion of the spine.  Inhaling, I grow tall, exhale, and move my chin to chest as I curl down one vertebra at a time. I allow my head to fall into my lap. I inhale as I hold the stretch and then my exhale allows me to engage my deep core and re-stack one vertebra at a time as I sit even taller, back into my starting position.  Moving backwards, I place my hands gently on my knees as I inhale to prepare, exhaling, I reverse the movement and tuck my tailbone under, curling back one vertebra at a time. This creates a "C" curve with the spine.  Inhaling while holding the stretch, and exhaling, I engaging the core as I un-tuck the tailbone--re-stacking the spine, feeling even greater length through my spine as I come back to center.  I do this whole sideways, forward and backward stretch cycle three times in order to feel awake from my inside out.

Also keep that core engaged, scooping your abdominal muscles as you were the flexibility of your spine

Keep that tailbone tucked under and tension  out of your neck.

I complete these morning exercises by sitting cross-legged and recharging with at least 5-10 minutes of Mindfulness meditation--making myself mentally and physically stronger for the day!

Challenge yourself and try this morning routine for a week to see if you feel mentally and physically stronger!