Why I Replaced My Backhand with a Barre

Growing up, I hated exercising. I could give you a dozen reasons for why I couldn’t exercise—bad knees and mild asthma were just two—but really, I just strongly disliked the sports I played. I joined the local YMCA volleyball team, took group tennis lessons and played basketball with my athletically talented brothers—and I hated every minute of every activity.

Fast forward to this year, and I can’t get enough of yoga, Pilates and Pure Barre, a low-impact, ballet-inspired workout. It turns out, I don’t really hate exercising; I just never found the right workout. I need an exercise that’s indoors (because I hate being outdoors—picky, I know) and gentle on my joints (no bouncing or jumping), yet physically and mentally challenging.

Yes, mentally challenging. During a Pilates or Pure Barre class, the instructor frequently alludes to a mind-body connection. “Focus on your core!” “Think of moving from the seat; your leg is along for the ride!” When the instructor encourages us to visualize something, it brings a deeper level of exercising that not only gives physical benefits, but also unlocks mental fitness. So, if I’m doing crunches incorrectly by using my shoulders and upper back strength, merely shifting my thoughts to my abs magically changes something inside my brain, and my body follows to do the crunches the right way.

The Cleveland Clinic writes about this mind-body connection: “Research has shown that when you imagine an experience, you often have similar mental and physical responses to those you have when the event actually happens. For example, if you recall an upsetting or frightening experience, you may feel your heart beating faster, you may begin to sweat, and your hands may become cold and clammy.”

In fact, Discovery Health reports that “research has underscored the strong correlation between exercise and higher mental function.”

Whether or not we consciously realize it, we do what we think. And that’s why I enjoy the mental activity of my workouts. By practicing focus inside a Pure Barre studio, I’m preparing my mental focus for the outside world. And by being mentally prepared, I can think positively and do my very best.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” — Lao Tzu

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Jennifer Chang is the former associate editor for SUCCESS. She has a corgi puppy who has more Instagram followers than a dog should have. Tweet or follow her thoughts and favorite links at @jenzchang.

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