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You can certainly take any type of non-traditional exercise and dump it into a barrel labeled “mind-body.” That’s fine if you prefer simplicity and don’t want to get wrapped up with categorizing and rating. But you can also take a look at exercise programs at a deeper level, assessing the amount of mindfulness in a program to better choose one that will suit you.

There are three basic categories of fitness programming — one that lacks the mind-body component at all, one that has a level of focus and muscular sense, and a third that delves deeper into energy flow or spirituality. You find some methods can become either of the latter two methods or even somewhere in between, depending on how you practice them.

Imagine a long line running horizontally across the page with three dots on it — one on each end and one in the middle — each representing one of these three levels of fitness programming. Every type of exercise can be placed as a point on the line either next to a current dot that indicates a mindful level, or somewhere in between two dots, or mindful levels.

Many of the methods fall under focus. You begin to direct your mental focus internally and focus in a nonjudgmental fashion on what your muscles are actually doing. You allow yourself to become aware of the movement and its effect on your body.

Sports psychologists sometimes call this association. You let your mind stay plugged in as you move so you actually don’t dismiss what’s going on — or miss what’s happening — but instead you use it to let you progress better through the process. Feldenkrais and Alexander are, for example, “focus” methods.

Many may argue that you also flow doing routines that fall in the focus category. And, of course you do in some ways. But in pure focus methods, the intent doesn’t go quite as deep into your internal spirit, nor does it tap into your energy pathways and chi. In these types of programs, you let the meditative aspect take over.

The movement may become quite emotional as it stirs up your insides and brings on a sense of higher consciousness.

This is where the meditative and breathing elements can lead to spiritual elements. Tai Chi Chuan, for example, can be a true flow method, even becoming kind of a lifestyle. Yoga, too, can be a flow method if you want it to become one. You can pull back to focus at any time, or even choose some mid-way level between focus and flow.

The argument, whether the likes of running, walking, or aerobics can become a mind-body movement, continues. You may see mention of “mindful weight lifting” or “mindful water aerobics,” and you may have experienced the zone that can come from getting so mentally involved with your traditional exercise that it feels like Meditation.

Purists may tell you about one huge difference: whether the mindful element is primary or secondary. If the cognitive component is central to the process, it is a mind-body method. If it is secondary — that is, you tack it on to a traditional form — it may not be considered mind-body exercise. You decide.

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