The slow, steady rise of ‘conscious movement’

Forget high-intensity interval training. More and more people are realising that easy-going, thoughtful exercise can have surprising benefits

This year, the Harper’s Bazaar list of” best new fitness trends and classes to try for 2018″ included an incongruous addition. At No 7, wedged between hula-hoop body-toning sessions and trampoline fitness classes, was ” walking”- plain, old-fashioned walk-to, that anyone can do for free. It seemed an odd option of “new” activity to highlighting in a list of fitness trends.

The idea that walking is suddenly fashionable appears, at first, to be at odds with everything we’re told about where fitness is running- and the pace at which people want to be doing it. A worldwide survey of fitness trends shows that high-intensity interval educate( HIIT) is the most popular fitness tendency in the west this year. In the UK, spinning is most popular, according to an industry report from UKActive and DataHub.

Of course, the idea of fast, intense, time-efficient exercising that delivers insta-results fits in with how we find ourselves: as people whose lives are the busiest in world history.” I went for a walk” absence the heroic ring of:” I merely killed myself doing 50 burpees .” However, a deeper look at how people are exerting or, more importantly, want to be exert, indicates a different tendency: a move away from the quick fix, back to slower( although not inevitably less difficult ), more measured forms of fitness. “Conscious” is the word I kept coming across while researching such articles:” conscious motion”,” conscious flowing”,” conscious control “. Imagine the opposite of lunging your, perhaps uncoordinated body around a fitness class at high speed: that’s conscious motion. The idea is that, if you’re “conscious”, you’re doing whatever it is that you’re doing to your body with accuracy and a full awareness of the physical mechanisms at work- yin yoga is conscious, rugby is not.

More importantly, it’s also about being self-aware enough to see the big picture, diagnosing your physical, spiritual and emotional requires. As you step back from your once-a-week spinning class you might become aware, for example, that you’re still a stressed, underslept passenger with a bad shoulder, dull scalp, uneven muscle tone, a spine that has morphed itself into the exact shape of your office chair, an iffy diet and a soulless box-set habit. Having ascertained these things, consciously, you would then go about, best-case scenario, reconfiguring your lifestyle accordingly.

The upper-class trainer David Higgins delivers bad news, however, for anyone who is hoping consciousness might mean not having to do any workout at all.” The gym ,” he says” is not a substitute for lack of activity during the course of its week. It’s not,’ OK, I’ve been sitting on my arse or lying on my back for 23 hours of the day and then I’m going to go to the gym for an hour .” Higgins was the first person I heard use the word” conscious motion “.” I don’t think most people have heard of it. I think it’s a new thing even though it’s been around for ever. I believe, eventually, people are realising that they don’t have to necessarily kill themselves to get major, meaningful outcomes .”

Higgins develops performers and stuntmen and women for feature films( including Wonder Woman and Mission Impossible ). Samuel L Jackson says he was physically violated when he began working with Higgins and credits him with” patiently and caringly[ putting] me together again “. I feel that, because of this and his pilates and yoga background, Higgins probably knows more about health and wellbeing than the average trainer. His favourite two terms are” mitigate against”- something he insists you must do to whatever in your life that may be damaging you. Whether it’s the amount of blue light radiating from your computer screen or the strain put on your back by your desk job, you need to mitigate against it. This, he acknowledges, probably means giving your life” a bit of a reset “.” Get your arse out of the chair, pull your chin back, give yourself a bit of a doubled chin when you’re on the phone or the computer. Pull your shoulders up and down. Stand up and go for a stroll at lunchtime: get 20 minutes of sun on your skin. It’s the little things that are going to stimulate the biggest change and if you do go to that spinning class, that’s the cherry on top. The big win is what you are doing outside of the gym .”

The way we’re living is not anatomically sustainable, he says. We should be integrating conscious motion into every region of our lives: lateral lunges in front of the TV; rolling on our backs like children to loosen up our spines, to give two examples.

” If you can find something that maybe takes you into your body a little bit more, then I’m all for it, rather than trying to fleeing from the tensions of life. Kind of internalise things a little bit and say,’ How do I feel? What is my body saying to me right now ?'”

He says that HIIT is a quick fix whose practitioners often don’t have adequate control over their bodies to execute it safely.” That’s not where I’m coming from. I’m interested in longevity, postural control and a pain-free lifestyle. We are all going to have to look a little bit more inwards if we are going to survive and live a happier, healthier, more pain-free life .”

Shopping
Shopping can be part of a’ conscious’ exert regime. Photograph: Guardian Design Team

Those already doing conscious motion may be part of a wider step-change. A look at the sorts of classes on offer in Britain’s rapidly expanding independent exercise sector, for example, indicates a move towards less hyper forms of exercise. MoveGB dedicates its 300,000 users access to more than 6,000 physical activity providers across Britain. Its CEO, Alister Rollins, said today yoga, pilates and mind-body class are” by far the most popular activity, with yoga at the least twice as popular as a genre than any other single genre available on MoveGB”( the other three genres are gym and swimming; fitness class; outdoor activities and climbing ).” Mindful exercise such as yoga and pilates are growing in popularity as the market becomes more educated to holistic wellbeing, whereas HIIT once was on the top of everyone’s listing for fast-hitting results ,” he says.” Customer are becoming more in tune with their bodies and the impact that mindful workout can have psychologically .” He points to increased levels of” niche yoga classes- for example, yoga for climbers and yoga for cyclists “. Yoga that is, in Higgins’s words, mitigating against any damage you might do yourself in other sports.

Beyond yoga and pilates, what else counts as conscious movement? LIIT- low-impact interval educate- is a good example. And a good example of LIIT is the government’s nine-week Couch to 5K initiative, where your three runs a week begin with a five-minute walk, followed by 15 minutes of stroll and running are divided into one- and one-and-a-half-minute intervals. LISS- low-impact steady nation- is another form of exercising where you’re using conscious control, whether swimming, running, jogging. And high-intensity fitness workouts have created their own niche in mindful exercising:” active recovery”, a short, low-intensity workout that aims to increase blood flowing, metabolism and joint motion, has become a popular class for adrenaline junkies on their days off- or for people who have injured themselves in class.

Niki Rein is the founding CEO of Barrecore, a dance-inspired workout that has expanded from one studio to 12 in a decade. Barrecore” integrates the fat-burning format of interval training, to deplete each major muscle group, with static stretches which lengthen your muscles and offer relief “.

How would Rein describe conscious movement?” When you’re not counting on momentum to execute the movement. If you imagine doing a slow bicep curl – you’re feeling the muscle on the front of your arm as you raise your hand up towards your shoulder and you’re feeling it on the back of your limb as you’re extending the arm straight-out. That would be a conscious motion. If you’re doing something at speed, you’re not inevitably running the entirety of the muscle and injury is more likely to happen over day. We try to work every single muscle in the body in a conscious style and you can really feel those imbalances. So, when “youre starting” considering results, you understand why .”

Rein guesses the current fascination with high-intensity exercise is linked, firstly, to the false assumption that exercising faster gets better results and, secondly, to the boasting rights that come with saying: “I’m busy.” ” People feel guilty if they don’t say they’re busy. For a long time I set a bad example to my staff by not doing any self-care. There’s a lot of value placed on being busy and I think it’s a scapegoat for not keeping fit, for not eating right , not get a pedicure, having dinner with friends. The term’ self-care’ is growing and is helping that issue .” For those wanting the make of a strong workout with the benefit of self-care, she recommends a mixed class such as yin-yang yoga:” Strength yoga followed by flow and yin so you don’t feel guilty for not get in what you think you need, but you’re also get what you probably need the most .”

Walking, explains Harper’s Bazaar, somewhat awkwardly, is” often not even considered a athletic and when it is only for those around retirement age “. But however unintentionally, the publication has hit on possibly the biggest driver of conscious movement- a desire for healthy longevity.” I’m 35 ,” says Higgins,” and I’m looking at the long-term approach; unlike the 20 -year-old trainer who’s had zero stress in their life and can’t understand why you can’t get to the gym every day. I want to be a grandad one day and live as long as possible, obviously. If you get injured, you get ill, you suffer from ache- then what the hell is the point ?”

David Higgins’s volume The Hollywood Body Plan will be issued by Headline on 27 December, priced PS25. To order a copy for PS21. 50 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. P& P charges apply to phone orders .

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