How clearly I remember the days when my exercise routine was driven by countless and unnecessary repetitions. When I was performing reps, I did anything to distract myself ï¿½ talk on the phone, blast music, watch television ï¿½ from the burning in the muscle due to lactic acid buildup. In recent years, I have learned and developed sculpting techniques that make this burning an experience of the past.
When I started training as an obese teenager (over 200 pounds on a 5ï¿½4ï¿½ frame), I had little mind connection to my body other than thinking about how much better I would look in the future. Then, I was on a mission to win bodybuilding and figure competitions. There always seemed to be a goal of why I was exercising, which pulled me out of the present moment. This approach caused several injuries, as I wasnï¿½t paying attention to what I was feeling ï¿½ stress, fatigue and pain. I pushed beyond my limits, and I paid dearly for it.
As I started training others, I found this habit of ï¿½checking outï¿½ of the body was the norm for most people. I observed the weight room and noticed people chatting away while doing lunges, appearing to have no connection to what was happening inside their bodies. There was an obvious desire to disconnect from the pain in the workout. I wondered why working out couldnï¿½t be a more joyful experience.
Then I stumbled upon yoga, which is the ultimate in mind/body connection. This is when I learned that while exercising, my thoughts had always been focused on the end result ï¿½ not on how I felt in the moment. Yoga taught me how to connect to my body with simple concepts: conscious breathing and the power of the present moment. Yogic breathing (which is conscious breathing) basically is breathing deeply into the belly, following and feeling the breath moving in and out of the body, taking ones practice to a whole new level that typical ï¿½shallow breathingï¿½ is not capable of providing.
It was in this moment that the little light bulb appeared above my head. I realized that if we take this form of breathing and awareness into all forms of exercise ï¿½ from cardio, resistance training exercises to the elliptical machine ï¿½ that we had discovered the missing link to activating our muscles more efficiently.
This was my turning point as a teacher. The presence found in conscious breathing changes every form of exercise into one of grace, resulting in the most profound physical, mental and spiritual results. The mind/body connection is a doorway that opens one to a world of joy, peace and a fabulous body. Your clients not only look incredible, they feel fabulous on every level, and more importantly, they feel connected to themselves. As fitness professionals, we can use the following techniques to help our clientsï¿½ perceptions around exercise sessions, virtually eliminate risk of injuries (that can inevitably result from mindless exercising) and change onesï¿½ life for the better.
Here are the techniques to how you as a fitness professional can teach this on a tangible level, where your clients are open to learning and incorporating this into their regular exercise program:
Teach Conscious Breathing and Muscle Activation
As fitness professionals, we educate our clients on the importance of exercise and guide them to their goal. I invite you to take it to the next level with your students. Educate them on how profound conscious breathing will assist them in enjoying their workouts, seeing profound results, feeling better in their bodies and being in more control of their mind, body and life. The breath is the link to the present moment, and that is quite literally a gift.
By being conscious in the body, using the breath to focus the mind, participants can begin to target more efficiently the muscle they choose to work and relax the ones that are not a part of the exercise, thus making the exercise much more effective. In a bicep curl, the tendency is for the traps to take over, especially if the focus is on the lifting of the weight versus targeting and activating the bicep muscle. When one is connected, he or she can learn to relax the traps and deepen the engagement of the bicep muscle.
Here is a list of just some of the benefits of conscious breathing incorporated during exercise:
ï¿½ Conscious breathing dramatically improves posture.
ï¿½ It works all the abdominal muscles, including the transverse abs, intercostals, obliques and rectus abdominals. Say goodbye to endless crunches!
ï¿½ Itï¿½s the most powerful way to relax the mind, take control of the mind and relieve physical and mental stress.
ï¿½ It fully develops, strengthens and conditions the respiratory muscles, which have remained underdeveloped due to poor breathing methods.
ï¿½ It prevents stale air from breeding in the lungs, which can increase the chance of disease.
ï¿½ It increases the amount of oxygen that is available to every cell in the human body.
ï¿½ It increases energy and vitality.
ï¿½ It balances the autonomic nervous system.
ï¿½ It works the body on a deeper level, thus generating maximum results in minimum time.
Link the Breath to Each Movement
This style is the basis of what is known as Vinyasa Flow Yoga. It is where each movement is deliberately linked to either the ï¿½in breathï¿½ or the ï¿½out breath,ï¿½ creating a space to truly feel what is going on in the body, enjoy being and feeling the sensations in the body and also calm the mind down. In creating my Flexxation programming, I took this concept into the weight room. I noticed how my clients were then able to more fully target the muscles we were attempting to hit and were able to relax the ones that had the tendency to take over (i.e. traps and neck).
This simple concept can be incorporated in any style of exercise you are teaching, from the weight room to stretching and spinning to kickboxing. By giving your clientsï¿½ minds something to focus on, it will help to prevent the incessant mental chatter (grocery list, their ï¿½to doï¿½ list, work deadlines, etc.) and draw the client back into the body.
Chat with Clients between Sets, Not During
I know, for me, that quite often a session with my client can tend to be more of a social experience. My students in a group fitness class would want me to share stories with them as they were grueling through the lunge series. I noticed this was a distraction. How can one talk and listen to others and listen to their body at the same time? It canï¿½t be done. Thereï¿½s always a compromise to the body.
I suggest you begin to use the imaginary ï¿½pauseï¿½ button on the conversation when your client is performing the set, no matter how tempting it is to chat away. Your clients will thank you in the end, as they will begin to feel the body and a connectedness resulting from bringing all of their attention into the body. When the client is resting, you can just press the imaginary ï¿½playï¿½ button and pick up where you left off.
Cue Your Clients in Relation to Their Breath
Throw away your tracking sheets that have the number of reps and amount of weight used. Let go of the focus on the number or reps or amount of weight your clients or students are lifting. Stop using this as an indicator of how strong they are or how good of a workout it was, and focus on how to get the client tuned into the mind/body connection. This way, they know when they are fatigued or pushing too much. They will tell you when they are done with the set. This also will release your clients from feeling disappointed with themselves if they are unable to complete the predetermined number of reps. This style of training will empower your students, and that will inevitably motivate them to continue training.
For example, during an abdominal crunch, here is recommended cueing: ï¿½On the inhale, expand the belly towards the sky, and on the exhale, pull the belly down to the spine (engaging the abs) and lift the head, neck and shoulders off of the floor, relaxing the neck, tucking the chin. Feel the ribs squeezing inward as they press towards the hipbones. As you inhale, lengthen the ribs away from the hips, and on the exhale, pull them towards the hips again. Should you begin to feel it in the neck, tell me, as that means it is time to rest.ï¿½
As a fitness professional, if you can take the time to practice conscious breathing for five to 10 minutes a day, then teach this to your clients, and they will be forever grateful. Proven results include better posture, a stronger core, a more sculpted body, a calm mind and a rejuvenated spirit.
Being present in the body helps us find a way for the clients to be comfortable with themselves ï¿½ trusting and knowing that the greatest teacher is the teacher within. They will learn to enjoy the journey through every breath and rep they take. Remember the old saying: ï¿½It is not about the destination, it is about the journey along the way.ï¿½
Amy Cheryl is the founder and creator of Flexxation, Yogaflexx and Yoga Sensuale. She teaches her students and clients how to experience ï¿½Exxtasy Thru Exercise.ï¿½ Holding a BS in Nutrition and Exercise, Amy is a contributing writer for several magazines, an international presenter, yoga teacher and an award-winning bodybuilder and figure competitor and has since shifted into a holistic-based approach towards fitness. For more info on all CEC-approved Flexxation Workshops and Weekend Intensives, please visit www.Flexxation.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310.867.3766.