Body and Mind Fitness: 3 Ideas for Artful Exercise

If you exercise regularly, or even if you don’t, you’ve  probably tried all kinds of fitness programs. Exercising the body is vital for maintaining weight, building strength and stamina, and for overall health and well-being. We all know the importance of exercise, but for most of us, exercising is a chore — and a bore.

What if you found an exercise that kept you so mentally and spiritually engaged that you forgot you were exercising?

If you were able to achieve the same physical goals but could focus so intently that your mind and body almost became one, exercise would no longer be just exercise. It would transform into an art form that allows your body to become an extension of your creative force and mental energy.

If you are interested in an exercise program that offers more than just physical fitness, there are several options that provide a deep connection between mind, emotions and body. In fact, the trend in health clubs across the country is away from classes that focus just on muscle and cardiovascular training to ones that include whole-body maintenance. You can be at any fitness level to enjoy these programs. Here are three options for switching up your fitness routine to stimulate both body and soul.

Ballet

Ballet did not begin as an exercise program. It is a form of artistic expression that has its beginnings in the courts of Europe for opera and stage performances. As it has evolved over the years, ballet has become more strenuous and physically demanding, requiring intense focus, discipline and stamina. However, more and more adults (men and women) are taking recreational ballet classes as a way of keeping fit, flexible, and emotionally engaged. There are amazing benefits to taking regular ballet classes:

  • Ballet sculpts and tones your body. The movements taught in ballet class are designed to create long and lean muscles without building up a lot of bulk.
  • Ballet promotes great posture. In order to perform the various positions, turns and combinations in ballet class, your body must be placed in correct posture and alignment. As a result of this very specific and repetitive training, you will continue to carry “ballet posture” outside of class.
  • Ballet promotes strength and flexibility. Ballet requires stretching and extending limbs and muscles, and holding these positions using the strength of core muscle groups. Stretching and strength exercises at the ballet barre are an important part of every ballet class. Over time, you will see tremendous improvement in strength and flexibility.
  • Ballet promotes stamina. Although ballet looks elegant and easy, it requires a great deal of strength and stamina. Repetitive movements, jumps, and dance combinations provide aerobic exercise that gets the heart pumping.
  • Ballet stimulates mental focus and discipline. In order to achieve correct positions and proper alignment, you must maintain a high level of concentration and body awareness. Also, the instructor gives a series of movement combinations (in French) that must be quickly memorized and repeated in the classroom. Ballet requires both mental and physical stamina.
  • Ballet encourages artistic expression. It is an art form, after all. The technical aspects of ballet requires discipline of the body and mind, but the artistic element of dance requires opening your heart and soul. Ballet is a way of expressing and communicating feelings, ideas and events. A ballet dancer enjoys moving to beautiful and inspiring music and expressing the emotions that the music draws forth.
  • Ballet is for anyone. You can be a complete novice and walk into a beginning ballet class and reap great benefits from just one class. Of course, as with any exercise, you will get better with more practice.

Tai Chi

Tai chi began in China as a martial art, but as it developed, it took on the purpose of enhancing physical and mental health. It is a series of low impact, weight bearing, and aerobic movements that enhance physical and mental health. There are a variety of styles of tai chi, but they all involve slow, gentle movements, deep breathing and meditation — sometimes called “moving meditation.” Tai chi is believed to improve the flow of energy in the body, leading to healthy living and providing a wide range of benefits.

A tai chi class might include the following:

Warm-up. Easy motions to help you loosen your joints and muscles and help you focus on your breath and body.

Instruction and practice of tai chi forms. Forms are sets of movements which may include a dozen or fewer movements. Long forms may include hundreds of movements. Focusing the mind solely on the movements helps produce a state of mental calm and clarity.

Qigong. This translates as “breath work” or “energy work”  and consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing sometimes combined with movement. The idea is to relax the mind while mobilizing the body’s energy. It may be practiced standing, sitting or lying down.

There are numerous benefits to the practice of tai chi.

  • Tai chi improves balance, coordination, flexibility and strength. The Oregon Research Institute found that tai chi participants performed better at moderate to rigorous activities after six months of practice than non-participants.
  • Tai chi helps reduce pain and stiffness associated with conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia.
  • Tai chi improves the quality and length of sleep according to The Oregon Research Institute. The sleep benefits from tai chi are the same as those gained from drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Tai chi strengthens the immune system, particularly against the viral disease Shingles. Researchers have found that tai chi produces an immune response to Shingles similar to that promoted by the vaccine for the virus.
  • Tai chi reduces stress. The practice of tai chi has a calming and meditative effect that reduces stress and anxiety.

Qigong

Qigong is a form of Taoist yoga. Taoism suggests that the health of the mind and body is dependent upon a clear, strong balance flow of qi or life force. The benefits of qigong extend to every physical system of the body, as well as the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. Qigong is an integration of physical postures, breathing techniques, and focused intentions. The practices of qigong can be classified as martial, medical or spiritual, but all styles have three things in common: they all involve posture (whether moving or stationary), breathing techniques, and mental focus. There are a wide variety of qigong practices which can be very gentle, as with tai chi, or it can be extremely vigorous with styles such as Kung Fu.

A unique feature of qigong is the ability to train the mind to direct the body’s energy, or chi, to any part of the body.

The practice can relax the mind, muscles, tendons, joints and inner organs, helping to improve circulation, relieve stress and pain, and restore health.

Other benefits of qigong include:

  • greater stamina, strength and vitality
  • enhanced immune system
  • lower blood pressure
  • better coordination
  • reduced stress and anxiety

If you would like to read more about these mindful exercise options, please check out these resources.

Ballet for adults

More about tai chi

More about qigong

Please download a copy of my FREE ebook, How to Live a Meaningful Life.

Comments

  1. oh my, you wrote about one of my my biggest passions, Ballet! I sincerely hope all who read this post go online and find their nearest dance studio and take an adult beginner ballet class. There is just so much to love with it… it’s challenging, exciting, thrilling.
    Tai Chi & Qigong also great!!
    Mindful Fitness – YAY!!!!!!!!!!!

    I know it can feel awkward and uncomfortable to take a class alone (without a buddy) for the first time. I found the best way to make it less uncomfortable is to tell the instructor before the class starts that you are new. They will usually modify things for you and explain more.

    Such a wonderful post Barrie!!! New mindful exercise is such a gift to the body,mind and spirit.
    .-= Aileen´s last blog ..Today I’m Visiting Goodlife Zen with a Basket of Friends =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Aileen,
      I think I remember that you are a dancer. I have a daughter who is a trainee for Richmond Ballet. I have been immersed in the ballet world for many years and see the extraordinary benefits of even a little training. I am fascinated by tai chi and qiqong. It seems like so much more fun than going to the gym and pumping iron or running on the treadmill.

  2. Excellent post. Tai chi has changed my life in ways I never would have imagined.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Debra,
      I’d love to hear more about this. How has it changed your life? I think everyone who enjoy learning some specific benefits from a practitioner!

  3. Amit Sodha - The Power Of Choice says:

    Hey Barrie! Lovely concept and 3 awesome ideas. I used to do Tai Chi in the park which was really good fun and it felt great!! I always encourage people to find an activity which they enjoy so much that that to them there isn’t even a need to think about going to exercise…it’s just something they do because they love it so much! For me, it’s badminton…i love it so it’s never a chore to go and do it.
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..Raise Your Vision And Let Go Of Your Outcomes =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Amit,
      I have seen people in the park doing tai chi. It looks so graceful and simple. But I know it is like ballet in that it requires intense focus and strength. Badmitton — that sounds fun. I haven’t done that in a long time. Do you get a workout with badmitton?

  4. I did not know ballet can be for anyone – I was that was one exercise where adults were exempt. I do not know any adult ballet dancers! Fresh perspective. And I’ve always wanted to get into martial arts. As you know, Barrie, I love love love my yoga and Argentine tango….but lately with the cycling classes, I am pretty hooked on intense exercise. I would love to try the two martial arts here, Tai Chi and Qigong someday too. Do you practice them all?

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Ballet is for everyone. You can take a beginner’s class if you have never taken ballet in your life. It is really fun. There are many adult classes available at most ballet studios. You should try it — especially if you like to dance. Ballet is helpful for any other form of dance.
      No, I don’t practice tai chi or qigong, but I have been searching for an exercise program that is mindful and focused. I really want to begin practicing tai chi.

      • Farnoosh says:

        Sigh, I seriously doubt I will have time to take ballet but I’d love to venture out of tango and take, guess what, belly dancing! Does that count as artistic, focused and mindful? :)!

        • Belly dancing definitely counts as artistic, focused and mindful – although as I teach it, I may be not so impartial! It is also very good for overcoming body image problems and being comfortable with the feminine (although it is great for guys, too).

          I’d love to try tango (I flunked out of ballet) and get back to tai chia s well, but maybe when my kids are bigger…

  5. Tai Chi has always been something that has interested me, although I have never tried it. It’s basically a moving meditation….less intense than yoga, but more intense than walking meditation.

    In the last six months I have taken up yoga to complement my meditation practice and I absolutely love it. I love that it helps me connect to the body. I love that it’s a form of meditation in itself and I love the sense of peace and equanimity it brings me.

    In my opinion, any exercise is good exercise as long as you make sure you’re mindful and present while you’re doing it. Make exercise fun!
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..Mantras to Bring Peace Into Your Life =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Nate,
      Good for you! I think Yoga is wonderful too and would have listed it in this post, but it is so popular that I wouldn’t have much new to offer. I think tai chi is wonderful and so graceful. I’m also a big fan of ballet because of the beauty and structure of it. For me, exercise needs to be fun or I won’t do it. Thank you for your comment.

  6. Barrie, great post. Full of information. I didn’t think ballet was for anyone either. Qigong sounds amazing. I must get back to yoga, I miss it. Thanks for the reminders as to why it’s so important.
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..Soul Searching- Week 6 of the 7-Week Life Cleanse =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thanks Katie. I’m not surprised you were a Yoga practitioner. You are one of the most mindful people I know!

  7. I’ve benefited a lot from both yoga and qi gong. Not that many people in the US are familiar with qi gong. Thanks for getting the word out there.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      How so Linda? I would love to hear your experiences with both, especially qigong. It seems that it is so amazingly beneficial. I wonder why we don’t know more about in the U.S.

  8. These are all wonderful ideas. I live in a small town and these activities are non-existent. However, I think I’ll check to see if I could purchase a cd or video for beginners on yoga or something similar. Do you know of any that would be good choices?
    .-= CherylK´s last blog ..A Thoughtful Prayer =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Check out the links at the bottom of my post. The qigong link takes you to the Qigong Institute which provides a lot of information. I would also google tai chi instruction videos and ballet for beginners videos. There are so many out there. Do a little research on the instructors to make sure they are well-trained. Ballet may be hard to do at home unless you have hardwood floors, but it is still doable.

  9. very happy to have come across your blog on Zen Habits! Great post! 🙂

  10. Jane Rochelle says:

    Hey Barrie,
    This is a great post! When I saw ballet at the top of the list, I thought I was in trouble…but scrolled down to see Tai Chi and QiGong….I love both! (I also still have my ballet costumes from when I was a little girl…haven’t purged those yet 🙂 )

    Thank you for reminding me of the wonderful benefits of these gentle exercises. After reading your post today, I suddenly decided it was a good time to try some of the wonderful arm movements…nobody could see me in my cubicle. It felt great! Think I’ll find a Tai Chi group. It’ll be good for my mind, body, and spirit.
    ~ Jane

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Jane,
      So glad my post inspired you! I would love to see you flailing your arms in your cubicle. Now if you can put on your ballet costume while doing the arm movements, I’ll be really impressed. I’d love to hear if you find a good tai chi group.

  11. Joyce at What Would You Do In Heaven? says:

    By exercise, people used to mean the exercise of the body only. But it is not only the body that needs to be taken care of. There is a spirit that lives in this body. And as much as man does not live by bread alone, we should also feed the soul that makes as human after all 😉
    .-= Joyce at What Would You Do In Heaven?´s last blog ..A Poem of Joy- =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Joyce,
      That’s lovely! You have a poetic soul. Thank you for your comment.

  12. I feel best when I am involved in a consistent daily flow yoga practice. It positively affects so many aspects of my life – body, mind and soul. I don’t know much about Qigong but am curious. Thanks fora great post!
    Courtney
    .-= Courtney Carver´s last blog ..Stop Checking Email =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Courtney,
      Yoga has the same positive benefits for the body and mind. Good for you that you practice it regularly. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  13. Hi Barrie,
    Love the fact that you’ve discussed tai chi and qigong. As a Buddhist writer who also reads and writes about Taoism, I love reading about the many wonders of these exercises. I have been practicing yoga for ages and can totally vouch for its many, many benefits.
    Thank you for adding the additional resources as well..Will surely check them out.
    Blessings
    .-= Prerna´s last blog ..How to Declutter Your Home in 10 Minutes – Part IV =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Prerna,
      Thank you so much, and I look forward to reading your blog to get more info on both Buddhism and Taoism. I love the title of your latest post!

  14. I have taken a few dance classes (not ballet) and I get stressed when I cant remember the moves. I love racquetball and play almost everyday. The hour goes by quick.

    I think I will look into the tai chi and gigong for the health benifits. Thanks for the great information.
    .-= Julia M Lindsey´s last blog ..It is Almost Independence Day Are you Celebrating Your Freedom to Follow Your Dreams =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you Julia. Beginning ballet doesn’t require too much memorization of steps. There’s more repetition of positions and moves. But it sounds like you have a good exercise routine that is fun. Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you come back!

  15. Barrie, I am dying to learn tai chi/qi gong. It’s fascinated me for ages. I do go to yoga once or twice a week, and although I joke about it, it’s truly satisfying. Id like to expand with the other practices, but you’re right, these aren’t as well known, and finding a reputable class, or mentor, or studio, can be hard. But thank you for bringing the idea back to the top of my mental queue.
    .-= LPC´s last blog ..The Joy Of Local Boutiques- And A San Francisco Designer =-.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Lisa,
      If you decide to try them, I really hope you will blog about them. You will definitely put the wittiest spin on anything — even mind/body exercise!

  16. As a teacher of ballet (for 20+ yrs) I agree wholeheartedly that ballet is an art form that not only facilitates artistic expression but it also is a unique form of exercises that can benefit the whole body and mind. Over the years I have developed an appreciation for other forms of exercise to balance out the ballet. Somehow I’ve managed to gain an appreciation for going to the gym and this summer I am trying hot yoga. As you have said – finding something that speaks to you, engages you, and challenges you is really the key to maintaining an active lifestyle.

    Great post – it’s my first time here and am really enjoying the fresh colours in your layout!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Jacqui,
      I am so glad you visited my blog! Thank you for your kind comments. I have great respect for ballet teachers. It is a demanding job. (My daughters are ballet dancers.) Ballet pulls together mind and body so beautifully. You have to be in the moment all the time. I’ve heard great things about hot yoga, but I’ve never tried it. Thank you for your comment. Please visit again, or better yet, subscribe and get my free ebook!

  17. Shang Lee says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned Tai Chi. 🙂 Been doing that for 10 years now, although it is only recently that I understand more of it. I started learning Tai Chi because I was fascinated by its philosophy. I have to say that it has changed me personally in a lot of ways. I perceive other physical activities differently now because my body is tuned to be more receptive to how to make it more efficient to perform other activities e.g. running. I use the strategies I learn from pushing hands (a form of gentle sparring) on the decisions and tactics I use in life. Among other things, it makes me less impatient. 🙂
    .-= Shang Lee´s last blog ..The power of support during your journey within =-.

  18. What an excellent post…

    I do a variety of exercise; I alternate between going to the gym and doing fun exercises at home. I really don’t look at what I do as exercise since I do enjoy working out at the gym, or staying home, and working out (yard work, gardening, playing with my daughter) they are all fun activities and it keeps my physically active too. 🙂

    I’ve always been physically active, so it feels odd if I’m not doing something.
    .-= Moondancer´s last blog ..Getting motivated What’s your inspiration =-.