Mind Body Exercise
The mind/body connection is a method of harnessing your thoughts, to positively affect some of your physical responses. These internal processes can significantly decrease your stress levels. Stress is a silent killer and having the skills to internally connect the mind and the body is an excellent method of combating it. OK! Let’s get into the groove, try this mental exercises for fun…
Zone out and try to think of a time in your life when you were happy, chilled out and grateful. Your body and mind will connect in a positive way and you should begin to feel more relaxed. Research has indicated that when you visualize an experience, you can have similar mental and physical reactions to those, when the incident actually occurred (1). For example, if you recollect a frightening episode in your life, you may feel your heart rate increase, you may start to sweat, and your hands could become colder and clammy. Thus, there is a clear connection between how your mind and body can have a positive or negative impact on your emotional state. There is big ‘relationship’ between the emotional state that you are in and your overall stress levels (1).
It is very important to reduce the negative effects of this ‘relationship’ and to boost the healthy, healing factors that are associated with it. Two of the main bodily systems that mind/body exercises really boost are the immune and nervous systems. The immune and nervous systems do play a major role in controlling stress within the body.
What is Stress?
Stress is in the main, not destructive! In fact, we all need to be stressed at times to be able to achieve anything. Stress is the body’s way of coping with challenges in our day to day life. It is how the body copes with the stress that is important. Some individuals often go through life creating situations to activate stress levels in their body without even realizing they are doing this, i.e. always looking for the negative out of every situation. This is their reality because they have always being like this. The alternative is learning to take a step back, looking for the positives in life, learning how to relax and chill out. Granted, we all get stressed at times; it’s learning how to deal with the stress in a positive way that is important. This is where mind and body exercise can be used to facilitate these positive and relaxing thoughts.
Stress Related Problems
When we are tense and stressed out all the time our health starts to take a down turn. How stress manifests itself through the body varies from person to person, but the following are just a few common symptoms:
- Back pain
In a tense and anxious state, our immune system becomes rundown. Too much nervous energy is then burnt up due to the ‘fight or flight’ response, we are on high alert all the time and this impacts the health of the body. This can leaves us wide open to the onset of illnesses. When we are hold onto to tension and issues in our mind we create ‘disease’ in our body, where illness and health conditions can manifest themselves.
Racing through life at the speed of light, having little time to ‘stand and stare’ has a destructive effect. Long terms stress can lead to the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Related to obesity
- Kidney disease
- Heart attacks
What are Mind/Body Exercises?
So, what exactly are mind/body exercises? What makes mind/body different is that they concentrate on inner mental focus, focus on muscular movements, breathing patterns and the correct alignment of the body. Empowering and relaxing mind-body exercises do have the following key benefits (2):
- They help to reduce anxiety levels
- They help to reduce pain
- They reduce the recovery times after illness
- They reduce bouts of insomnia
- They help to boost the immune system and the capacity to heal
- They help with focus and concentration
- They improve clarity of thoughts and inner control
- They boost overall well-being and health status.
It is very evident from the above key benefits that mind/body exercises has a myriad of positive influences on your health and well-being. Research has shown that your mood, outlook strongly effect the body especially the heart (3). This means that looking after your heart isn’t just a matter of eating healthy and exercising. By engaging in stress busting mind/exercises can also boost the health of your heart! It is a win-win situation, as incorporating these exercises into your daily routine can improve your mind, body and let’s not forget about the heart.
Of course, there are all the other physical benefits such as improving flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, balance, muscular endurance, strength and power. However, for some people producing body and special awareness is suffice. For others the spiritual factor is important. Spirituality in this context means the gaining of a deeper level of consciousness. Many experts believe that most people will achieve the benefits of the physical movements straight away. The spiritual elements do take a lot longer to achieve and are probably beyond the scope of this article. Let’s move on and have a closer look at 4 mind-body disciplines and a simply way to add them into your daily or fitness regime…
Yoga is best known for its flexibility and mindfulness benefits. However, yoga has been shown to be a powerful component of heart health. Research indicates that yoga practitioners have a stronger control of the resting heart rate (4). This is a classic sign of a healthier heart, and an indication of why yoga is held in such esteem throughout the world.
Another study reported that women who regularly practiced yoga had reduced levels of inflammation in their bodies. Inflammation has been linked to cardiovascular disease, metabolic condition and age-related chronic diseases. In addition, the yoga practitioners responded calmer to daily stresses. There is a clear correlation between high stress levels and higher incidents of heart attacks (4).
There is an abundance of research on the way that mediation can combat stress. However, the most impressive piece of research indicated that mediation can reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and death in a high-risk population, when compared to a group that didn’t meditate (4). The meditation group practiced the ‘Transcendental’ form- this is an easy to follow mind/body exercise. All you require is a quiet space and to be able to repeat a mantra of your choice. Plus, the meditation group did stay disease free for longer periods of time, they had lower blood pressures and ultimately reduced stress levels. The decrease in stress levels can lower cortisol levels, which is the primary stress hormone. Increased level of cortisol are related to cardiovascular disease, weight gain (especially belly fat), and a decrease in muscle mass (4).
Pilates is a superb mode of mind to body exercise that boosts flexibility, builds core strength, improves postural alignment and can reduce the incidence of lower back pain. Pilates does help to prevent heart disease by lowering stress levels (2). Specifically, pilates is a mat based exercise program that links movement to breathing, enhancing the mind to body link and this ultimately reduces stress levels. The impact of the decrease in stress levels is very similar to the positive impacts that yoga and meditation has on the mind and body.
4. Breathing Techniques
‘Chest breathing’ is what people do under stress, and this is facilitated by rapid and shallow breathing. Most people do this type of breathing without realizing, to the point where this breathing becomes normal. Take a moment to close your eyes and focus where you are breathing from, you may be very surprised to find you are chest breathing. Your chest will most likely be doing all the moving with very little movement from the lower abdomen.
Abdominal breathing is where your belly moves up and down, not your chest. It relaxes you and calms you down. You may be more aware of this breathing when totally relaxed and near sleep. Next time you see a baby look at the way it breathes, from its stomach. Practice abdominal breathing (this should be performed in a relaxed and controlled manner):
- Lay down
- Relax and place your palms on the abdomen
- Take a deep breath in
- Exhale through the mouth draw the abdomen in
- Inhale through the nose as you expand the lower part of your abdomen
- Repeat slowly up to ten times.
Diaphragmatic breathing improves resting heart rate, blood pressure and improves general calmness (5). This is done by engaging the muscle that is located horizontally between the chest and stomach cavity, the lungs fill with air as the abdomen expands, the focus is on the abdomen expanding rather than the chest.
- ScienceDaily. "Yoga Reduces Cytokine Levels Known to Promote Inflammation, Study Shows," accessed March 2011.
- American College of Sports Medicine. "Pilates Research Offers New Information on Popular Technique," accessed March 2011.
- Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. "Effects of Stress Reduction on Clinical Events in African Americans With Coronary Heart Disease," accessed March 2011. www.circ.ahajournals.org
- ScienceDaily. "Yoga Boosts Heart Health, New Research Finds," accessed March 2011.
- Associated Press. Breath Deep to Lower Blood Pressure, Doc Says," accessed March 2011.