Pilates & the Concept of Mindful Movement

Today I’ve given over the blog for a guest post from my good friend Katrina Niesitka.  Katrina established KN Pilates in 2014 and I have been taught by her since 2016.

Here are Katrina’s fascinating and insightful thoughts on how mindfulness and Pilates are linked.

K N P

When we’re practicing mindfulness, we’re bringing our awareness to the present moment by observing the ebb and flow of our breath or by tuning into our senses and observing what they can detect. This draws attention away from our memories of the past and our projections of possible future events and directs us towards the here and now; our surroundings and our place within them.

When we exercise, we often seek distraction through external input such as music, tv / computer/ mobile screens, magazines, podcasts etc. This can be for many reasons. It might be to disconnect from the discomfort of putting ourselves out of our comfort zone, it might be to motivate us to work longer or push ourselves harder, it might be to get the workout over and done with without having to be really present.

The last point is an intriguing concept; we want to strengthen, tone, relax the body whilst being disconnected from it. What would happen if you allowed yourself instead to add your mindfulness practice to your workout? What would happen if you tuned into what exactly it is your body is doing? How would your workout be different if you observed all the details that come with moving or stilling your body?

There are a number of exercise types that are designed with mindfulness in mind. In Pilates for example, we don’t hold the plank position for the sake of staying there for as long as we can, and certainly not for as long as the person next to us can, instead we focus on every bit of our body as each is part of the whole, rather than just “the core”. We focus on our breath, on correct technique, and on our self-talk or state of mind. If you try this, you might notice that it is much easier when reminding yourself of the many benefits of the exercise rather than concentrating on how much you dislike it.

A big part of practicing exercise mindfully is to be aware of how the body feels, how it responds, detect where we’re holding unnecessary tension and where we need to create a bit more support. If you’ve ever done a workout you’ll know that it can feel easier on some days than on others, and mindful movement takes that into account and works with the body rather than beating it into submission. One side effect of this is that it could help with injury prevention as we become more aware of our body’s state, limits and needs.

Moving mindfully also brings into awareness how everything is connected. When we move the arms in circles, we can observe how the spine wants to join in and then decide whether that is what we want during this exercise or not. When we do a curl up, we focus on releasing any tension around the neck and shoulders, on stabilising the pelvis to protect the lower back, on the flexion of the upper spine, and on our breath that accompanies the movement.

Speaking of the breath. If I ask you to “Take a deep breath” you probably just did. Breathing is healthy, indeed vital. How long can you survive without breathing? A few seconds? A few minutes? And yet so often we “forget” to breath. When exercising, we often hold our breath either because we’re concentrating on getting the movement right or because we’re under a lot of pressure. And there’s a good reason for it in some cases. However, our muscles and brain need oxygen to function, so using our breath mindfully is going to support our workout and is likely to make it more effective.

When observing my students performing an exercise, I can see who is going through the motions whilst letting the brain zone out or thinking about things outside of the studio, compared to a student who is synchronising the breath with the movement and the centring aspects or the exercise. There is focus on what the body is doing, awareness of where self-corrections are needed and an attention to detail that vastly improves the quality of movement and with it its results.

I remind my students to carefully explore their range of movement, to allow themselves to approach a new exercise with curiosity and playfulness, experience what happens without judgement, and in time and with practice, refine the exercise towards its best version. That way, our minds stay busy on focussing on the present task and therefore is less likely to wander off. I like to say that if you have space in your brain to think about anything else than the exercise, you’re not doing Pilates.

You might have heard of the saying “Where attention goes, energy flows.” If we apply that to our workout routine, it would imply that if we’re staying present and mindfully observe what we’re doing and how we’re feeling, it might more effectively lead to the results we had in mind.

There have been many studies on the benefits on our physical and mental health in regards to exercise, and in regards to mindfulness, alas less so on the combination of these two as far as I’m aware.

This TED talk highlights the possibility of a link between both practices.

You could try this right now; notice how your body feels as you’re reading this (try not to change positions immediately and observe instead); are you comfortable? Are you tense or relaxed? What are your limbs doing? Is your jaw tense? Is your brow furrowed? What is your breathing like? And when you get up to make yourself a cup of tea, how does that feel? What is moving? And how does your body achieve this? How does your breathing change during that movement?

Next time you find yourself in the gym, in an exercise class or walking the dog, give mindful movement a go. You might even enjoy it!

If you can get to one of Katrina’s Pilate classes around southeast London then do!  Or why not register your interest for her online postnatal course which will be available soon.  

Her aim is to allow her students to explore the Pilates exercises with curiosity, kindness and self-awareness. Her vision is for her students to reclaim some of their time to reap the benefits of self-care, recharge their batteries and feel better in their bodies. You can find Katrina at KN-Pilates.com or on Facebook.

handwritten Hayley

Two Tiny Hands
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37 Comments

  1. April 16, 2018 / 1:03 pm

    Very good post! I was fortunate to attend a free mindfulness session in my daughter’s school and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t know what mindfulness was until that time. When I do my stretching exercises, I always pay close attention to how my muscles feel in order to make sure I am doing my stretches properly and get the most out of it. I find that when i focus that way, I achieve my goal more effectively. #FamilyFunLinky

    • onamindfulmummymission
      April 16, 2018 / 7:51 pm

      That’s so great that your daughter’s school are promoting mindfulness! Yes connecting mindfully with the body is really powerful – it also helps us realise where are edges are and to be gentle on these areas of the body xx

    • Katrina
      April 17, 2018 / 2:29 pm

      Thank you! 🙂
      Brilliant to hear that you have discovered mindfulness and are applying it to your stretching exercises. That’s excellent!

    • onamindfulmummymission
      April 16, 2018 / 7:50 pm

      I’ll pass this comment on to Katrina – she has really nailed it. X

    • Katrina
      April 17, 2018 / 2:30 pm

      Thank you! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. April 20, 2018 / 2:54 pm

    That’s an interesting perspective. I have done Pilates before but not in a long time. I do yoga and meditation but haven’t gotten back into Pilates yet. This is a great incentive. #FamilyFunLinky

    • Katrina
      April 24, 2018 / 5:46 pm

      Yoga offers a great opportunity for mindful movement as well. 🙂

  3. April 20, 2018 / 9:00 pm

    This is such a great post. I know when I’m walking the dogs I often get caught up in thinking about all sorts and feel tense. When I remind myself to breathe and focus on the present and the way it feels, the things I can see, hear and smell, I instantly relax and feel more energised and I always feel like I get so much more out of the work, both physically and mentally.
    Thank you for joining the #FamilyFunLinky x

    • Katrina
      April 24, 2018 / 5:48 pm

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experience of mindful movement!

  4. April 21, 2018 / 8:05 am

    Thanks for highlighting this. I am definitely going to add that TED talk to my favourites list and watch! I need to get much better at taking that mindful moment and breathing. In this time of stress, breathing mindfully has really helped me. Thank you for hosting #thesatsesh

    • Katrina
      April 24, 2018 / 5:53 pm

      Absolutely! Breathing mindfully can be so very helpful. In class, I remind my students to breathe deeply and enjoy that experience 🙂 Too often we forget to breathe.

  5. April 21, 2018 / 11:53 am

    This was really interesting; I agree that there is a lot of emphasis on competing and pushing through discomfort in the exercise jargon, rather than working with your body. This is a fresh was of looking at it, thank you. #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      April 21, 2018 / 8:24 pm

      So pleased you found this helpful Jenny xx

    • Katrina
      April 24, 2018 / 6:02 pm

      Hi Jenny. So glad you found the post interesting! Indeed, competition and pushing through discomfort are often the way we motivate ourselves (or get motivated by the teacher) to move beyond our comfort zone. And yes, to go beyond of what we are currently capable of, we have to go beyond what we are comfortable with. But maybe this could be achieved more through mindful exploration and co-operation and enjoying the process along the way.

  6. April 21, 2018 / 7:12 pm

    I started Pilates after Christmas and I absolutely love it! It is helping my back problems that I have had for years (the plague of the infant teacher!). I find that if I miss a session, I really notice it so I think of Pilates as important for my health! As you know, I’ve started yoga for children in school and the children get so much out of it. Lovely, lovely post and one in which I will share. Xx #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      April 21, 2018 / 8:23 pm

      Awwww thanks for lovely comment and so pleased you’ve found pilates so helpful too. Hope the yoga is going well at school! Xx

    • Katrina
      April 24, 2018 / 6:06 pm

      Thank you! Yes, many of my students are teachers 🙂 I’m glad that you find your Pilates practice helpful.

  7. April 21, 2018 / 9:18 pm

    I tend to hold my breathe a lot. Not sure why. I need to focus on breathing. #thatsatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      April 21, 2018 / 10:08 pm

      Yes please do! You really will benefit Xx

    • Katrina
      April 24, 2018 / 6:11 pm

      Yes, indeed, holding the breath or forgetting to breath is so very common these days. It’s part of the fight/flight response when we’re stressed. That’s why breathing deeply can be such a helpful tool to relieve stress.

  8. emptynestmummy
    April 22, 2018 / 7:34 am

    A really interesting post, thank you. I go running and play loud thumping, aggressive music to help take my mind OFF how rubbish I am and how I can feel everything wobbling about. I might try it some day with a mindfulness focus too.

    • onamindfulmummymission
      April 23, 2018 / 8:56 pm

      Do – it can be really powerful xx

    • Katrina
      April 24, 2018 / 6:14 pm

      Oh I’d be so curious to hear how your mindful running session went! Please do share 🙂 It can be challenging at first if you’re used to “escaping” from your body by being distracted by loud music. Being kind to ourselves when we feel we’re struggling can be very difficult. I do very much hope you’ll make friends with the experience of mindful running x

  9. April 23, 2018 / 8:44 am

    I love this! I am guilty of thinking about anything but the exercises when I’m working out. I always thought the distraction would make it easier, but this has opened my mind. I’ll definitely be focussing on what I’m doing next time. x #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      April 23, 2018 / 8:54 pm

      Excellent! XX

    • Katrina
      April 24, 2018 / 6:17 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 Have you done a mindful workout yet? How did it go? I’d be curious to know!

  10. April 24, 2018 / 12:04 pm

    I hadn’t thought about this! Interesting point you make about being more mindful while exercising. I did try mindful walking once, but found it boring – I prefer to listen to music to set the pace for myself. But I will try this with planks/floor exercises. #ablogginggoodtime

    • Katrina
      May 2, 2018 / 5:46 pm

      Yes, it can take a while to get into mindful walking or any other form of mindful movement. By nature we resist change. When I walk mindfully, I’m always surprised how many things seem new in my environment, and I wonder whether they’ve been there before – which most likely they have 🙂
      When doing planks, the most important thing apart from good form is being mindful of your breathing, feeling the ribcage expanding and contracting with every deep thoracic breath.

  11. Mac
    April 25, 2018 / 11:27 am

    This is a really interesting post, because it is so true that we tune out during exercise. I think in life these days we tune out way too much in general. Mindfulness really changed my life and has made me so much more in touch with myself and with my life. You have really inspired me! Thanks for being part of #ablogginggoodtime

    • onamindfulmummymission
      April 26, 2018 / 9:01 pm

      Awww thank you Mac – so pleased mindfulness has really helped you too. XX

  12. April 25, 2018 / 8:23 pm

    #thesatsesh I just can’t get on with Pilates, it doesn’t feel as grounded as yoga. However, as you know I love to meditate and yoga is my bestie – and you’re right, doing it and loving yourself and being kind is way more important than any specifics.

    • Katrina
      May 2, 2018 / 5:49 pm

      Pilates isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and it doesn’t have to be. Yoga and meditation obviously offer themselves to a mindfulness practice. I enjoy the different disciplines for different reasons. 🙂

    • onamindfulmummymission
      May 15, 2018 / 9:05 pm

      Oooh yes I love a mindful run! xx

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