Each of our fitness journeys tell a story that is uniquely our own. Some of our stories might read like a lifelong love affair and some teeter between love and hate (note: you just have to find what you love, but that’s another post). For many of us, our fitness story began when a wedding, a class reunion or… wait for it… bikini season (!!!) was looming.
Superficial as these motivators may be, it’s the starting that counts and looking our best is a massive confidence-booster. However, in the 20 years that I’ve been teaching fitness classes, the most rewarding transformation I ever witness can’t be seen with the eye but rather felt in the hearts and minds of my clients.
Here are the top five ways that I’ve watched The Bar Method transform students’ mental and emotional health:
Meditation through Movement
For a moment, imagine a person meditating. It’s likely that you envisioned someone sitting cross-legged on a pillow with eyes closed, maybe with their palms resting on their knees. But meditation comes in many forms, and exercise, especially the type that requires moving through an intense posture rhythmically and continually, may be the most surefire way to achieve a meditative state, even when we’re most distracted.
That moment at the barre when our quads are screaming, shaking and quaking- that’s when the noise in our mind is most silent. It’s when our focus is solely on the movement at hand and that focus is the essence of meditation. I should note that the more practiced we are with the exercise, the easier it is to achieve this meditative state, as self-doubt and comparison dissipate to make room for mindful movement and mental clarity.
Over time we store resentment and stress deep within our bodies. We tighten and hunch our shoulders when we feel inferior, clench our jaw when we’re angry or irritated and tighten our hips to suppress emotions of fear and sadness. At The Bar Method, we learn to release these tensions while gaining control of the core muscles that tighten with emotional buildup.
We’re also reminded to assume the confident and aligned posture of a dancer. The more we practice this, the more it becomes muscle memory and your natural stance. There is a breadth of research that proves assuming a posture of power is directly correlated to self-confidence, increased energy and contentment.
Controlling our Emotions, not the Other Way Around
You may hear your teacher say, “remember to breathe through the movement” a dozen times in class. This is partly because many of us unknowingly hold our breath when pain sets in… and oxygen is, well, essential for life… but mindful breathing also creates mental clarity to regain physical strength and control. We’re reminded to check our breathing in class so often that it becomes a go-to during stressful or painful times outside of class. Again, that which benefits the body also benefits the mind.
Someone very wise once told me, “if there’s one piece of advice I can give for building self-confidence, it’s to finish what you start.” This sage advice applies to almost any area of life but naturally barre class was the first scenario to come to my mind.
When your glutes are on fire and you haven’t one more pulse in you and hear a resounding “last 20”, you tap into a source of strength you didn’t know existed. Hopefully we’re competing with our own performance and not with those around us; either way, we discover a well of strength that exists below our mind’s perceived limitations.
We realize this power reserve is not only available for physical challenges but in work, relationships and any area of life that requires us to push through just a little harder, for a little longer.
A Chemical Reaction
Ahhh endorphins. Nature’s perfect drug that triggers happy, even euphoric feelings sans the comedown or addiction of many “happy pills”. The best part about endorphins is that they’re an inside job and we can, to an extent, do things that put our brains into hyper-drive producing the stuff. One of the best ways to ramp up your endorphin production- you got it: exercise.
When we exercise, our brain releases endorphins that reduce our perception of pain, both physical and emotional, and cause a positive feeling, similar to that of morphine. They also reduce stress, boost self-esteem, fight anxiety and depression, and improve sleep. Ever walked into class mad at the world and left on a cloud? That’s just the reward we get for getting our butt to the barre on the days it’s the hardest. For those are the days we need it most.