Strong Body, Strong Mind

July 14, 2013 7:32 am Last Updated: July 14, 2013 7:32 am

Having taught Pilates and hundreds of other fitness classes for the last 10 years, I have always maintained a mind-body philosophy with exercise. 

It’s similar to the saying “you are what you eat.” There is no question that if you fuel your body with wholesome, nutritious food, you will ultimately have more consistent levels of energy, your skin will be brighter, and your digestive system will operate smoothly, just to name a few advantages. 

On the flip side, if you constantly eat highly processed, overly sugary and fatty foods with next-to-no nutrients, you will be tired and possibly overweight, have poor digestion, and suffer health conditions related to a poor diet. 

My take on having a fit and strong body is that it will also strengthen your mind and reinforce a positive attitude. I’m not saying you won’t still experience lows and less-than-happy times, but in my experience, those who exercise regularly seem to embrace life more and are generally in higher spirits than those who don’t. 

When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, which are basically our happy hormones. This helps to boost the natural release of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel good. 

With the practice of Pilates and all types of strength training, I see a clear link between having a strong core and strong muscles and having strength of character. If you are physically strong, you will have more confidence and even more will power. Of course this will vary within the individual, but overall the internal and the external reflect each other.

This week’s exercise sequence is about strengthening your core. Think of your core as a tree trunk. The trunk of a tree is the center of the branches, the leaves, and the roots. If the center is strong, it gives the rest of the body a solid foundation. 

You can do this sequence anywhere and at any time that suits you. Why not try doing it before you eat breakfast in the morning or before dinner at night?

Single-Leg Stretch 
1. Lie on your back with your legs in “tabletop” position. Lift your head and shoulders off the mat and into an abdominal-crunch position.
2. Stretch your right leg out at 45 degrees as you gently draw your left knee in with your hands. Switch legs, reaching the extended leg as far as possible. 
3. Keep your core engaged and your breath flowing. 

Scissor 
1. Lie on your back with your legs extended and pointing upward. Lift your head and shoulders off the mat and into an abdominal-crunch position. 
2. Lower the left leg toward the floor until it is about four to six inches from the floor. Gently hold the back of the right leg. Try not to round your shoulders. 
2. Switch legs, keeping your shoulders relaxed and your stomach muscles draw inward. 

The scissor is great for improving flexibility in your hamstrings and increasing core strength.

Crisscross 
The crisscross has the same lower-body movement as the single-leg stretch.
1. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows out to the side. Rotate your opposite rib to your hip.
3. Switch sides continuously. 

It is important to lead with your underarm, not your elbow. This will give you a much deeper workout for your obliques. Also avoid rocking through the center of your body. Keep your core anchored and still. All of the movement comes from your legs and upper body.

Put these three movements together, one following the other. Do 10 repetitions of each exercise, 30 total. Work your way up to 30 repetitions of each, 90 total. 

This Pilates-based abdominal sequence will strengthen and tone your stomach area. It will promote stability in your core and mobility in your joints. And don’t forget—healthy body, healthy mind.

Emma-Kate Stampton certifies Pilates instructors and is a certified personal trainer. She is based in Brisbane, Australia.