Fusion Workouts: Fitness, Yoga, Pilates, and Barre - Helen Vanderburg (2016)

Part I. Foundation of Fusion Workouts

Chapter 3. Mindfulness and Intention

Mindfulness and setting your intention are the foundation of the fusion workout. Lasting results and changes come from connecting the mind, body, and spirit in a way that brings meaning to your exercise program. Connecting thoughts and recognizing how thoughts affect action will increase the effectiveness of the exercises and bring fulfillment to your workout routine.


Mindfulness can be described as awareness of the mind and internal sensations of the mind and body. Your mind influences your actions and your actions affect your mind. There is never a separation of the two. Your thoughts direct your actions. Your actions affect your thoughts. By learning how to set intentions and being mindful during your workouts and in life, you will achieve greater success, enjoyment, and fulfillment from your daily routines.

Connecting Thought With Positive Action

What you say to yourself matters. More and more research supports the complex relationship between the mind and body and how thoughts can change how the body functions. When the mind is stressed, the body responds by changing every physiological system to deal with the perceived stress. The obvious signals can be observed, such as an increase in heart rate and breathing frequency. However, much less obvious symptoms are changes in blood pressure, activation of the nervous system, and the release of stress hormones to combat stress. The same is true when you approach a task with self-doubt: the mind will set up the body to take on the task with apprehension and doubt. When the mind is set in a place of optimism and strength, the body and physiological systems prepare you for this outcome.

Past experiences affect how you approach a task because neural pathways in the brain have been established to respond in the learned pattern. Changing these pathways and learned patterns requires conscious effort. It is only by continuous commitment and practice that you can rewire the brain and nervous system to move you in your desired direction. Awareness of thoughts is referred to as consciousness. To develop consciousness, you must first learn to quiet the mind and body, enabling you to listen to the internal chatter of thoughts that continually flood your mind. Becoming aware of the conversations and practicing methods to redirect your thoughts will affect how you approach your workouts and your results.

By learning how to set your intentions and practicing easy yet highly effective breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, and simple meditation, you can train the mind and achieve your best outcomes. These exercises help to relax the mind and body, allowing you to replace unwanted thought patterns with new empowered thinking.

Bringing Positive Thoughts to Your Fusion Workouts

Introduce positive thoughts to your practice. Powerful words or phrases will focus your thoughts in the direction you want to go. Like a mantra, repeating these words is an instrument to influence the mind. You can create your own phrases or use some of these suggestions:

·        I am strong.

·        This is my beginning.

·        I trust myself.

·        I can do this.

·        I am capable.

·        I am limitless.

·        If I change my thoughts, I change my outcome.

Employing Mindful Practices

In the fusion workouts, practice mindfulness to enhance your experience, satisfaction, and results. Rather than merely putting the time into your workout, practice being aware of how you feel in the exercises, the way you are performing the movement, and whether your thoughts are giving you strength and encouragement.

Three easy techniques to learn and practice to employ mindfulness are breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, and meditation. These techniques can be practiced independently from the fusion workouts or in conjunction with the exercises.

Breathing Technique

At the foundation of all mindful practices is awareness of your breath. How you breathe affects every aspect of your being. Breath is life; without it you cannot survive. Yet people take it for granted and are often unaware of how breathing affects how the body functions.

When you inhale, you bring oxygenated air into the body, supplying oxygen to the brain, organs, and muscles. The exhalation expels used air, waste, and byproducts, thereby replenishing the body through a continuous flow of breath.

The lungs are located in the thorax and are protected by the ribs. The two lobes of the lungs are like sacks, the right side being slightly larger than the left. The diaphragm is a sheath of muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen (refer back to figure 2.4 on page \bb\ for an illustration showing the lungs and diaphragm). When you breathe in, the lungs fill and the dome of the diaphragm contracts and flattens as you expand the lungs into the side, back, and front of the rib cage. On the exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes, returning to its dome shape as the abdominal muscles contract inward and the lungs deflate. This action of the lungs, diaphragm, and abdominal muscles is vital for effective function of the core and all movement from the core.

Becoming Aware of the Breath

Begin by becoming aware of your normal breath and how you breathe. Spending a few moments observing your normal breathing pattern and how breathing more deeply effects how you feel will assist in learning to focus and relax. Taking the time to sit quietly and observe your breath will help you to become present in your own body and turn your attention inward. Come back to this breath awareness exercise any time throughout your day when you are feeling stressed and at the beginning or end of your fusion workout to help you to center yourself.

1.    In a comfortable seated position, breathe in and out through the nose and detect where you sense the movement of breath in your body.

2.    Notice the depth of your breath.

3.    Observe the length of the inhalation and exhalation.

4.    Take a deep inhalation and a long, slow exhalation. By changing the rhythm and depth of your breath, see how it changes the way you feel.

5.    Continue breathing deeply for 2 to 3 minutes.

In all practices, whether it be fitness, yoga, Pilates, or dance, breath is at the foundation and links to all movement. Breathing techniques can be used to do the following:

·        Increase focus and awareness internally

·        Create a sense or feeling related to the movement

·        Increase oxygen exchange to meet the demand of the activity

·        Create strength and stability in the core

·        Increase the sense of calmness and lightness

·        Relax the mind and body

A variety of breathing techniques are used in fitness, yoga, Pilates, and dance, each with a specific purpose. In fitness exercises, you are taught to exhale on the exertion and inhale on the recovery. Pilates uses a strong exhalation to assist in activating the core muscles. In yoga, the breath is linked to the natural movement of the body, the inhalation opening the body and lifting the spine and the exhalation closing the body and flexing the spine. In dance, breathing is used to find the center of the body, with the inhalation creating a strong posture and the exhalation releasing unwanted tension. At the foundation of all of these techniques is an awareness of how breath affects movement, stability, strength, and purpose.

In the fusion workouts, you will practice a specific breathing technique that draws from breath work in fitness, yoga, Pilates, and dance. The breathing method used in fusion workouts is the 3D breathing technique, which combines breathing technique from each discipline and is easily learned.

Full inhalations and exhalations revitalize both the mind and the body. When performing fusion exercises, use the 3D breathing technique to enhance the benefits of the exercises. In general, a strong exhalation will give you greater strength, and a long, slow exhalation will assist in relaxation or deepen a stretch. The inhalation fills the anterior, lateral, and posterior lungs, and the exhalation engages the core and diaphragm. This technique achieves the full potential of a breath by using more of the lungs to achieve better air exchange and activating the deep core muscles for enhanced performance and appearance.

To perform a 3D breath, follow these steps:

1.    In a tall seated or standing position, place your hand on your side at the ribs. The thumbs reach back and the fingers spread along the front of the rib cage.

2.    Take a long, full inhalation and feel the expansion of the rib cage under the hands (see figure 3.1a). Move your breath into the side, front, and back of the rib cage.

3.    Begin the exhalation by moving the navel inward and upward toward the diaphragm (see figure 3.1b). Continue to feel the contraction of the deep abdominal muscles as you complete the exhalation.

4.    Repeat a deep, full inhalation. On the exhalation, see whether you can create a greater sensation of the core muscles actively working with the breath.

5.    Repeat this breathing pattern without creating tension in any other parts of the body for 10 cycles of inhalation and exhalation.

Figure 3.1 3D breathing: (a) inhalation and (b) exhalation.

Figure 3.1 3D breathing: inhalation and exhalation.

Figure 3.1 3D breathing: inhalation and exhalation.

Progressive Relaxation

Progressive relaxation is an active method of releasing unwanted tension in the body. This technique can be done anywhere and at any time to help release stress and reestablish a sense of calmness. Before beginning or finishing your fusion workout, you can go through a series of progressive relaxation exercises. This method of relaxation is useful when you are feeling anxious and just need to release tension. Perform this simple exercise to restore a sense of well-being:

1.    In a standing, seated, or lying position, begin by tensing the muscles of the entire body. Make a fist and squeeze it, tense the shoulders, facial muscles, the core, butt, and legs.

2.    Inhale and hold the tension for 5 to 6 seconds.

3.    Exhale and release the tension, letting go of any residual tension you are holding.

4.    Repeat 5 to 10 times. On the last repetition, allow your breathing to ease back to a normal relaxed rhythm.

Simple Meditation

Meditation is a technique to create mindfulness through awareness of thoughts, responses, and action. Meditation can be done any time of the day and can be as uncomplicated as sitting quietly and observing your thoughts without action or emotional attachment. Learning to clear the mind of distractions makes room for focus, positive thoughts, and intentions to guide you with your fusion workouts. To get started, practice the simple meditation technique outlined here:

1.    Sit comfortably in an upright and relaxed position. If sitting is uncomfortable, place your back against a wall or lie on your back.

2.    Set a timer and begin with 5 minutes. As you practice more frequently, you can extend the time to 30 minutes.

3.    Close your eyes and bring your attention to your inhalation and exhalation.

4.    Move your awareness to the nostrils. As you breathe, notice the subtle sensation of cool air passing in and the warm air passing out of your nose.

5.    Without manipulating your breath, simply observe. Maintain your attention to every breath with curiosity, as if each breath were your first. If your mind wanders, simply notice the distraction and patiently return to the sensation of the breath.


The first step in the fusion workout system is to set an intention for your training session. An intention is a commitment to carrying out an action or actions. Intentions require planning and forethought. In approaching each workout session with an intention, you create an opportunity to focus, build confidence and grow physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Commitment is rooted in motivation. Humans are motivated to either seek pleasure or avoid pain. In fitness training this can be thought of in terms of a need for achievement or a fear of failure. People who are motivated by a need for achievement place themselves in challenging situations that create opportunities for growth. On the other hand, people who are motivated by fear of failure may still try hard but choose less challenging tasks as a way to protect themselves. The interesting thing is that everyone experiences a level of fear, the difference lies in the ability to overcome it. This is where mindfulness and setting your intention for your workout are important. As you experience success in your workouts, you gain confidence. As you build confidence, your fears will dissipate.

Confidence is the belief in your ability to meet the demands of a given situation. Through positive experience and accomplishment, you build confidence in your abilities.

Change the way you think and feel about fear. Consider why you want to achieve your desired goals. What is your motivation and what inspires you? Create a vision in your mind of your preferred outcome or use a photo to remind you of why you are persevering. Concentrate on the benefits rather than the work. Take on an optimistic attitude and be kind to yourself. Set realistic expectations and goals to build your confidence. If you attempted an exercise or workout today but could not complete it, you are one step closer to completing it tomorrow. Focus on what you can do rather than on what you cannot. Begin from where you are today. Recognize your achievements and continue to pursue your goals.

As you approach your workouts, set an intention and challenge yourself at a level of intensity that allows success. In each of the exercise descriptions in part II, you will find helpful hints on how to focus the mind in a direction of positive action and intention.

Setting an Intention

Everyone will begin their exercise journey from a different starting place; respect that and adjust your workout based on what you need each time you do your fusion workout. Your intention for each workout can change regularly to meet your needs.

Focusing Your Intention

Setting an intention establishes the tone of your workout and directs your mind in the way you want to focus your training. This will help you focus on a specific task or outcome to help you continue to improve and achieve results. The focus of your intention can have a physical, mental, or emotional focus. Change your focus based on your needs.

·        Physical focus is a concentration on the physical aspect of the exercises or workout, such doing a few more repetitions of an exercise or gaining upper-body strength. It can be based on a training goal such as increasing flexibility or improving balance. A physical focus can be as simple as improving your alignment during an exercise and executing the exercise to the best of your abilities.

·        Mental focus engages the mind in observation and awareness during the exercises and workout. This can include listening to your breath and observing how your body feels when your breathing is shallow instead of deep and purposeful. It can be an internal vision of yourself performing the exercises with proper technique or an awareness of how the mind wandering affects your exercises.

·        Emotional focus is paying close attention to the thoughts that float through your mind and learning to direct them and the attachment of emotions in a way that empowers you. For example, allowing yourself to experience your workout without judgment, or letting go of fear of failure during a balancing pose. Focus on a positive outcome and let go of the negative emotion attached to an exercise or workout and replace it with a positive emotion.

Creating Your Intention

To create an intention, take a moment to consider where you are today with your physical activity level, your current skill level, and your mental state. Determine the type of focus you will use for your intention by assessing your current needs. Draw from your past experiences and observations to decide on an intention. For example, perhaps you have a history of back pain and you know you need to be aware of strengthening the core without irritating your back. This experience will help you to focus your intention toward a physical goal of proper alignment and execution of the exercises. Or you may feel as though you have tried to get fit before but have failed. Turn your attention to setting an emotional focus for your intention. Use powerful and encouraging words like a mantra to overcome your past attachment to failure. At first you may not know what you need in your fusion workouts, so use the sample intentions listed here or the intentions that are suggested with each fusion workout in part III.

Sample Fusion Workout Intentions

The following sample fusion workout intentions are common focuses that can be used as your attention for your workout. You can repeat an intention numerous times until you feel you have mastered it or leave it and come back to it again at another time when you feel you need to. Listed and described are samples of physical, mental and emotional focuses.

Physical Focus: I will focus on using the 3D breathing technique throughout my workout.

In this case, your goal is to bring awareness to your breathing and movement throughout the workout. Observe how the inhalation lifts the torso and extends the spine. Notice how the exhalation relaxes tension in the body and moves the spine into a flexed or rounded position.

During your fusion workout, focus on how your inhalation and exhalation affects how the movement feels. For example, from a standing position, inhale and raise your arms overhead and exhale as you return your arms to your side. Repeat the exercise, but this time reverse the breath and notice how it feels unnatural.

Physical Focus: For each exercise I will set my foundation before starting a movement.

In this case, you want to set a good foundation so your exercises will feel stronger and more stable. For example, while standing, close your eyes and notice the weight distribution in your feet. Is your weight distributed equally on each foot? Do you feel more weight in the inside or outside edge of the foot, or more in the heel or the ball of the foot? Place equal weight on both feet and observe how shifting your weight equally between the two feet, front and back or inner and outer edge, makes you feel more stable in this position. For each exercise, set a strong foundation before moving. Continually reset your foundation to maintain better balance and stability.

Mental Focus: Today I will focus my mind on the task at hand without distraction.

In this case, your goal is to become aware of how your thoughts affect your ability to perform exercises. Set your intention on positive thoughts about your abilities and focus your mind on the present moment. Let go of the past and focus only on the here and now. As thoughts that distract you from the present creep into your mind, gently guide your mind back to what you are doing right now. Everyone has moments of self-doubt and negativity; if your mind drifts to an unwanted place, remind yourself that you have the power to change your thoughts. Change a negative thought by replacing it with a positive one.

An inspirational word or phrase can be used as your intention and to build strong thought patterns. For example, repeating the phrase “I am strong” or “I am balanced” in your mind as you perform the exercises will move you in this direction.

Emotional Focus: I will respect what my body needs during my workout today and make adjustments when I feel discomfort.

In this case, you are giving yourself permission. It’s possible that inactivity, injury, or age have limited your body’s freedom of movement. Set an intention to observe where you hold tightness in your body. Use your breathing, with a focus on the exhalation, to release the tension. Hold an exercise longer if the body is resisting, and gently encourage relaxation.

Setting an intention supports being mindful during your workouts. Use this technique in all your workouts and see how it helps you improve your abilities, strengthens the mind and body connection, and gives you control of your outcome. The mind is powerful. Use it to your best advantage and experience the difference it will make in your results and your sense of achievement. In the following chapters you will find suggestion for intentions and mindfulness for each of the fusion workout exercises.