Tag Archive for: Mindful Exercise

Mindful movement habits to support our mental well-being

Confession: I am a movement nerd. But developing a mindful movement practice doesn’t mean you have to be too! I’ve spent decades thinking about physical movement and how to help more people incorporate it into their daily lives in positive, productive ways. Whether I’m teaching a Pilates class, helping people combat the cumulative effects of sitting at a computer all day, or working on my own GYROTONIC® practice, my focus is always on moving purposefully and mindfully. But what the heck does that mean? What does mindfulness look like when we connect it to physical activity and why should we care?

Mindfulness is a friendly conversation between your mind and body

Last year, I read a great article by Elizabeth Yuko that outlines why mindfulness is so often misunderstood and how she learned to use it to alleviate her own stress and anxiety. Yuko highlights the fact that mindfulness, as it’s explained by psychologists, is about observing your thoughts and feelings in an objective way. It’s not about zoning out and clearing your mind to calm yourself, but rather it’s a way of using your senses to notice the things around you, which in turn helps calm your mind and body. 

This idea of “noticing” and understanding why it matters is critical to mindfulness and creating successful movement habits. Noticing the sensations within our own bodies is called interoception. On a basic level, it’s how our bodies and brains speak to one another. It’s how we know when we’re tired, hungry or thirsty, or when we need to pee. However, learning to listen to our bodies’ messages can also help us develop healthy movement and exercise habits, reduce stress, and improve our overall well-being.

So many people I’ve worked with over the years believe that starting healthy exercise and movement routines means finding the time, purchasing the right equipment, and/or getting the motivation to start. But I think the first and most challenging step is practicing mindfulness so that you can better connect how you feel with how you move. 

Two black and white dogs in the woods sitting at attention.

Noticing which activities make us feel better

Take a moment to think about the types of activities that you enjoy and find yourself purposefully seeking out. Maybe it’s getting up early in the morning when it’s still cold and a little dark to walk your dog. Perhaps it’s packing up your laptop and going to your favorite coffee shop to work for the afternoon. Or maybe it’s cooking a big meal in the evening for your family. For me, it’s heading out for a walk in the woods behind my house with my dogs. 

Now, think about why you enjoy those things and how you feel. Maybe getting out for a walk early in the morning is when the sound of the birds is the loudest for you (or the sound of traffic the quietest) and feeling the cold on your face or legs makes your skin tingle and wakes you up. Is your favorite coffee shop your favorite because of how it smells, sounds, and appears inside? Does that collection of physical stimuli re-energize you and make you feel ready to work for another couple of hours? Does cooking in your kitchen (the feel of different ingredients in your hands, the smell of spices or herbs, the heat from a warm stove or oven) change how you feel physically and mentally?

Creating mindful movement routines to improve well-being

Noticing how you feel when you engage in different activities is the key to starting and sustaining healthy physical movement routines, too. But here’s the key: Learning to notice how we feel takes practice. Yes, really.

The more often we do something, the more thoughtfully and deeply we’re able to engage in it. It’s just like exercising a muscle. The first time you try to do squats for example, you might be completely focused on trying to learn the correct form from your trainer, that you can’t even begin to think about what your muscles are doing or how they should feel. But the more you do it, the easier it is to start noticing what it should feel like.

A MOVE trainer doing a full body stretch on the floor.

The same thing happens in our Pilates classes at MOVE Wellness. When someone is new to Pilates, just learning to notice how their body and breath feel when the lumbar spine moves from a neutral to imprint position and back again takes practice. The more we practice, the easier it is to be mindful of what we’re doing, how we feel when we’re doing it, and what to do next to build on that positive movement. As we do this, our awareness increases and works to counteract any tension or stress.

Below are a few simple tips for learning to move more mindfully:

Move more.

(Thank you, Captain Obvious!) Ok, so when I say move more, what I’m really talking about is intentionally incorporating physical movement opportunities into your day. Set an alarm on your phone for certain times of the day that signal it’s time to get up and go out for a 30-minute walk. If you don’t have 30 minutes, go for 10 or 15. Even getting up from your computer once every hour to take a couple laps around your apartment or yard can become an essential well-being routine. If you’re injured or unable to walk, schedule regular opportunities to sit somewhere, breathe deeply, and gently stretch your limbs and mobilize your joints. Try midday or hourly shoulder, wrist and ankle circles. 

Move in a way that you enjoy.

I will continue to shout this mantra from the highest mountain tops. If you want to make physical movement a part of your routine, you need to find a way of moving that you enjoy enough to do regularly. And start small. If you’re a walker or jogger, try walking or jogging once or twice a day for even just 10 or 15 minutes. If you love doing yard work or gardening, schedule time each day to move that way. If you can’t stand the idea of lifting weights or going to the gym, but love kicking a soccer ball around or dancing with friends, do that regularly. Don’t think “workout.” Think movement. If you’re going to learn to notice how you feel when moving, it has to be routine and it has to be enjoyable.

Move with your breath.

Practicing breathing can feel silly and unproductive if you’ve never done it before. But learning to notice how our breath moves through our bodies is the easiest way to practice mindful movement when we’re new to it. Focusing our attention on breathing slows everything else down, which does wonders for reducing physical tension and racing thoughts that produce anxiety. (Ever told a friend or child to “slow down and take a breath” before? What we really mean is, take a breath so you can slow down.)

Find regular times during the day to sit upright (either on a chair or stool with feet flat on the floor OR on a mat or cushion with your legs positioned however is most comfortable for you). Then, with eyes closed or just softly gazing down, calmly breathe in for two or three counts, and then gently exhale out for five or six counts. And don’t worry about the counts! Whatever feels natural is what you should do. As you breathe, let your mind notice how your lower back, belly, ribs, and shoulders move and feel on the inhale. Notice how they change on the exhale.

Noticing our breathing in this way accomplishes two critical self-regulatory activities in our bodies: 1) It stimulates the vagus nerve, which helps regulate our nervous systems and ultimately our stress levels, and 2) it encourages the organic function of our musculoskeletal anatomy including our deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.

Elaine Economou teaching an online fitness class in front of an iPad.

Getting the professional help and mental health resources you need

No matter how you start your mindful movement journey, feeling safe and supported while you do it is essential. If using free online movement resources or some of the simple tips above leaves you feeling intimidated or uncertain, reach out to a movement professional for help.

If you’re facing some major life challenges right now that are leaving you feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed, seek out professional resources and ask for the support that you need. St. Joseph Mercy Behavioral Health provides services that can address a variety of mental health needs.

Most important, remember that being mindful is about noticing how you feel without passing judgment on yourself or your feelings. 

Being part of a continuum of care network in and around our Ann Arbor community is an essential part of the wellness experience we provide at MOVE. And we are so grateful for partners like the healthcare professionals at IHA who are committed to providing people with opportunities to have open discussions about their health.

A special women’s health series event on menopause

On Tuesday, May 14, MOVE and IHA are co-sponsoring a free event at MOVE Wellness in Ann Arbor focused on managing menopause. To help frame our conversation for that evening, two of the event’s speakers offer their initial thoughts on menopause and sexual health, and their connection to overall wellness. Event details can be found below as well.

Common myths and misconceptions about menopause

Having open conversations about powerful phases of our lives is important to us at MOVE. There are so many women’s issues that simply don’t get afforded the time and honest treatment they deserve. Being able to have in-depth discussions about issues like menopause is empowering. It helps women care for themselves and live healthier, happier lives.

A conversation with Elaine and Bridget


Menopause is a remarkably profound phase of life for women. For many, it coincides with children leaving home and the fundamental effect that has on our identity. It’s also characterized by reflection and can lead to more substantive considerations of our quality of life.

Dr. Long, what are four or five of the biggest misconceptions or myths about menopause that you see or hear regularly?


First and foremost, that life will never be the same and that menopause is something to dread. And that’s underscored by additional misconceptions such as “my sex life is over” and “it’s too late to get healthy or lose weight.” Many women also believe that prescription hormone replacements are dangerous, which isn’t the case, and meanwhile ignore abnormal uterine bleeding during menopause when they should be having it evaluated.

All of these myths can cause harm to women because they can lead to a range of health issues including depression, fatigue, osteoporosis, cardiac disease and even cancer in some cases.


How individual of an experience is menopause for each woman?


Although many symptoms are commonly shared, menopause is a completely unique experience for each woman.

Increasing strength and health during and after menopause


In my 20 years as a trainer, I’ve seen countless women at age 50 or older get as strong as they’ve ever been in their lives through Pilates and GYROTONIC®.  Every one of them wished they had started ten years earlier because of the powerful impact on their fitness and strength. So, I’ve seen firsthand the misconception that you can’t be fit and healthy after this phase of your life proven wrong.

We have female and male clients we train with who are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s and even some at 80 or 90 who have been working with us for 10 years, many of whom feel as fit as they’ve ever been in their lives. And it’s such a gift for our team to be a part of that experience.

Do you have a specific example of a patient you’ve worked with who successfully moved past one of those misconceptions about menopause and how she did it?  


I specifically remember a delightful patient in her late 50s who was moderately overweight and had a family history of osteoporosis. Her bone density showed significant osteopenia, which is bone loss. After extensive counseling regarding her life risk of cardiovascular disease and bone fracture, both of which had the potential to limit her independence, she chose to join a gym and work with a trainer who designed a program customized for her needs. She presented to my office a year later and told me she felt like her life had been saved. She realized that what she ate and what she did had major impacts during menopause.

She was happy she’d lost weight, but mostly she was happy about being strong. She was really enjoying life as she headed into her 60s, maybe more than ever before.

Overcoming the stigma and fear of menopause


“Menopause” can be such a loaded word. Do you find that the word itself is a stumbling block for women? Do you ever find yourself working to help women redefine the word? Or do you find yourself steering them toward a different word or phrase entirely like “sexual health”?


From what I’ve seen, the word sparks dread in women. I try to explain to them that menopause is simply a life phase – much like puberty. It can be miserable, or it can be empowering if you embrace it and take control of it.

Menopause is a time in life, perhaps more than any other,  when you “reap what you sow.” If you prioritize a healthy lifestyle, the benefits are significant. If you don’t, the problems can be exponential.

Managing menopause with family members


As a woman married to a man living in a house with my three sons, I’ve worked hard to help them understand the various cycles and phases in a woman’s life so that they might be in touch with any of their own life transitions.  And it isn’t easy. Because the cultural pressure to qualify what being a woman is or isn’t or should or shouldn’t be is complicated. But I keep it simple and try to share the biochemistry of the process to help normalize conversations and topics.  

Can you talk a little bit about the role of family for women experiencing menopause, particularly when it comes to any men in our lives?


Relationships, particularly with a partner during menopause, require a lot of communication. It’s challenging, and I find that women often just give up. I feel that having the opportunity for open communication with their physician and realizing there are options to ease this transition can be life-changing. Intimacy is important and can make for a happier life, but I always tell my patients that they can define that intimacy with their partner. And it’s not the same for everyone.

The role of community in aging and menopause


How important do you think having access to a supportive community is for women experiencing menopause?


It’s incredibly important. There is power in numbers, and opportunities to learn from one another.  It makes us realize that we’re normal.


I completely agree. Connecting with other supportive and accepting women helps in so many ways. And I believe that building a supportive community around fitness can help with accountability and troubleshooting. We love watching women support each other in classes as they move deeper into the Pilates repertoire. We regularly hear them say that they’re doing things they never thought they could do.

The relationship between sexual health and physical activity

Can you talk a bit about the relationship between women’s sexual health as they age and physical activity? What are the benefits of movement for women experiencing various symptoms and challenges related to menopause?


There’s a direct relationship between physical activity and sexual health. The endorphins make us feel good, and exercise makes us feel good about ourselves. Women are complex, especially when it comes to sex drive. We need to feel “sexy” and good about ourselves.


Agreed. Our mission is to help people move their bodies in ways that they enjoy so that they can lead a life they love. Research shows that we commit to those healthy behaviors that we enjoy and that make us feel good.

This has impacted me personally. Feeling strong and moving my body in ways I enjoy, rather than how I feel I “should” has impacted how I feel about myself overall. It feels a bit like shedding a skin, leaving behind the pressure to conform. It’s wonderful to experience what we’re always working to help other women feel at MOVE. What a gift.

What movement instructors and trainers can do to help during menopause


Do you have any advice for movement instructors working with women experiencing the symptoms of menopause? What can movement professionals do to better support clients in this space?


I think as our bodies transition through menopause, movement that focuses on core muscle retention and flexibility is most important for maintaining our health and feeling good. Keeping our pelvic floors strong and working to maintain abdomen and back muscles are super important.


Right, and from the training perspective, there are clear dos and don’ts which is why working with instructors and trainers with a deep knowledge of the body and these issues is so important. For example, many people are afraid to exercise after menopause if they’ve received an osteoporosis diagnosis. But with proper, safe training, you can actually mitigate further bone loss.

Demystifying pelvic floor health and the role of Pilates and GYROTONIC® method


What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about pelvic floor health?  


It requires maintenance like any other set of muscles in your body. You must exercise it to maintain its strength.  


I couldn’t agree more. Pelvic floor health is important, and often misunderstood in everyday practice. Especially because each woman’s body and how she carries it is unique. Many women do a ton of kegel exercises, which could help in particular instances, but could also cause more of a problem in others. As Pilates and GYROTONIC® instructors, we work to help women at all stages of life understand how to care for their pelvic floors in a more organic way. Improper training can lead to low back pain, SI joint instability and other issues.

What are some of the other resources available to women experiencing sexual health challenges that you’d like to see more people take advantage of?


IHA has started a new genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) program that I feel is incredibly innovative in its approach to managing sexual health during menopause. Our consultants will discuss symptoms, causes and management of sexual problems in menopause with patients.


That’s actually great to hear. Quite often we hear women (who may not have even mentioned incontinence when they started working with us) say after a few weeks or months of training that they no longer “sneeze and pee.” Which is a funny diagnostic, but also a very pragmatic one.  Pilates and GYROTONIC® help with this because they focus on organizing breathing and spinal movement to support core training.

Why is tackling this particular topic important to you personally?


I am now a menopausal woman. Life is short, and I want to enjoy every day of it!


Yes! As a woman experiencing perimenopause, I feel like the last year has brought a wave of new physical experiences and symptoms, many of them surprises, and all of which have made it necessary for me to stop and reevaluate the “why” behind my own fitness and movement.

If you could provide women with one simple takeaway about menopause and their sexual health, what would it be?  


That there is help! Managing the symptoms requires work, but the rewards are well worth it.

The healing power of movement

By working toward a healthy relationship with their bodies, women can move through menopause with the strength and knowledge they need to care for themselves and celebrate the power and beauty in their bodies during this unique phase of life.

It’s also important to remember that slow and steady wins the race for healthy behaviors and a joyful life. Moving slowly and intentionally as we take steps to move more, eat well and love our bodies for all that they’ve done for us is foundational … at any stage of life.

We hope you’ll join us for this very special evening of honest conversation, empowerment and perhaps even enlightenment.

Managing Menopause: Improving Your Sexual Health

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

6 p.m. – Wine & hors d’oeuvres, 6:30 – 9 p.m. – Presentation

Location: MOVE Wellness Studios, 3780 Jackson Rd., Ann Arbor, Michigan


Elaine Economou, MOVE Wellness co-founder and CEO

Jody Jones, MD, IHA Canton Obstetrics & Gynecology

G. Bridget Long, MD, IHA Associates in Gynecology & Obstetrics – West Arbor

Lisa Morris, MD, IHA Associates in Gynecology & Obstetrics – Arbor Park & Brighton

Topics: Vaginal pain with intercourse, vaginal atrophy, MonaLisa Touch® treatments, pelvic floor dysfunction, mindfulness and breathing exercises

Register for the event today.

Interested in learning more about how MOVE can help you start your own health and wellness journey through movement? Sign up for an introductory package today or contact us at 734-761-2306 or office@movewellness.com.

This blog has been updated December 13, 2019.

The risks of extreme fitness workouts can range from minor injuries to downright frightening medical emergencies. I just finished reading an article on CNN.com about Rhabdomyolysis and a young man who got this potentially life-threatening disorder after his first spin class. He was fit but new to spinning and mentioned in the article that he felt that he needed to “go big or go home” in the class. He worked so hard that his muscles started to release a potentially damaging muscle tissue protein myoglobin into his bloodstream, taxing his kidneys and causing excruciating pain. His thighs swelled up and almost caused another issue called “compartment syndrome”, where the swelling needs to be reduced surgically. He was hospitalized for a week while they flushed the toxins from his kidneys so they would not shut down. Luckily, he was ok in the end and did not have to go on dialysis.

Spinning bikes

Feeling the burn — types of extreme fitness workouts

We live in a culture of extreme sports and badass, warrior-like fitness. Back in the 80’s Jane Fonda exhorted us to “feel the burn” and “no pain, no gain” — slogans which have contributed to seeding a generation that qualifies being fit with having large, hard muscles and participating in activities that are the most extreme of their kind. Gyms have become one-size fits all, stylish destinations. New extreme fitness challenges of all varieties are popping up regularly. For example, there’s the Tough Mudder — an obstacle course featuring a variety of extreme challenges. There’s even one obstacle titled “Electroshock Therapy” that features real electric shocks. Enrolling in Kokoro Camp promises you’ll be trained like a Navy SEAL and working to the point of complete mental and physical fatigue. P90X offers you mind-blowing results in only 90-days from your very own living room (performed without any professional supervision).

Compared to all that, spinning sounds pretty tame. But spinning as a workout trend has reached high levels of popularity and attracts people for its potential to burn 400-600 calories on average in a class. These students, like the author in the CNN story are likely to push harder than their body is able to handle. I’m not surprised at the author’s story, though I have never heard of this rare disorder, but I am disappointed that this man had to turn off his own body’s cues to complete the class. He essentially disassociated from the pain he felt and used external cues (the instructor and/or the pace of the class) to make it through. 

Elaine Economou smiling on the Pilates Cadillac

Enjoying fitness as a lifelong habit

This is exactly the opposite of why I teach fitness and movement and co-founded MOVE Wellness. In the Pilates and Gyrotonic methods and the other systems we teach at MOVE Wellness (including yoga), we first ask people to connect to their breathing and take a minute or two to connect with the sensations of the body or internal cues so they can inform and guide clients during their workouts.  We call these practices mind-body fitness because it is that connection and awareness, which builds with each session, that allows the client to move with integrity, in alignment and connected to the deep support of the core to avoid injury. This maximizes the efficiency of the exercises so people get stronger faster.

The importance of listening to your body

“Burn Calories!” was the mantra of the 80s and 90s, and as a middle aged female with a metabolism that seems to have left the building, I understand. I think this growing culture of extremes is why people who are busy also flock toward cardio-type classes as their bread and butter of fitness, but a well-rounded fitness program (and good diet) are fundamental for optimal health. An informed practice is key to our breathwork, mindfulness, and movement instruction. Do we work hard? Yes. Do we help people build strength in a way that supports their lifestyle and activities? Yes. Should people work hard, sweat and challenge themselves?  Yes. But do this through the deep act of listening to your body and understand it’s unique needs.

Light filtering into a Pilates studio while people work with trainers.

Our mission at MOVE Wellness is to help people live a joyful life in a fit and healthy body. Our vision is a world where fitness is defined by moving your body in ways that bring you joy and is determined by the desire to understand and listen to your body’s cues.

Ready to get going with a plan that’s right for you and your body?

Sign up for an introductory package today, call 734-224-2560, or email us to chat about your options, or stop by the studio to say hello in person.