I have always loved sports and have always tried to move my body, but what I have struggled with is the slower type of movements like yoga and Pilates.
There is compelling research that there is a powerful effect of movement on our brains. Just one thirty-minute session can improve our cognition, attention and concentration. When we do aerobic exercise, things that get our heart rate up, like brisk walking, running, or swimming, the blood flow to our brains increases, which in turn increases the levels of connectivity between different parts of our brains and can result in neurogenesis, new cells forming. When we move, we also feed back into the brains reward system which makes us feel good.
Lots of studies have been done looking specifically at mental health, depression, and exercise and many of them are incredibly insightful. In many trials exercise shows a reduction in people’s depressive symptoms. In other trials those that were more active were less likely to develop depression compared to those that were less active. The most significant difference is found in people who do 150 minutes of exercise each week (equivalent to thirty minutes, five times a week). Lifestyle is not a cure all, but it can be empowering to note the potential of something as simple as walking, and how incorporating something as achievable as a thirty-minute power walk each day could have a huge impact on our well-being.
Don’t get me wrong I love a lazy morning or watching a trashy romantic comedy, I even love occasionally binging on Netflix. None of us can be learning, growing, moving and doing the whole time. But it is interesting to note that being more mindful in the way we spend our time can have a real impact on our well-being.
As with anything, nothing is truly sustainable if it is not enjoyable, which comes back to finding what works for you. It is not about copying what someone else does, if what they do doesn’t resonate with you or if it feels as though you are actually depleting your body and making yourself feel more exhausted. I have tried many types of exercise over the years, I have seen so many people who were in incredible shape doing exercise such as HIIT or boot camp and all kinds of other extremely strenuous workouts, so I tried them, thinking it would suit me too. In fact, it has often been the opposite. I simply become ill and managed to injure myself, there is no magic cure for this, it is just simply too much for my body.
I combine yoga with other exercise such as running or cycling. I find that physically moving helps me to make space mentally too. Flowing with the yoga always works to quieten my mind (although some days are much easier than others) and creates a sense of peace, positivity and gratitude that I have never been able to cultivate from any other exercise. Yoga has seen me through big challenges and small day to day nuisances. Yoga helps me feel stronger and fitter and because I love the practise it is something I make time for and is now an essential part of my life. Yoga isn’t for everyone, and burpees might work much better for you, so it’s about finding what you love and that will make prioritising it much easier. I also love a long walk outside in nature with my dog Oscar, it is simple, free and effective at keeping my body fitter and my mind in a more positive place.
Just one song
Movement can make us feel amazing, but when we are feeling stressed or unhappy it seems almost impossible to find the motivation. We have already discussed the physical benefits of moving your body on a regular basis and that movement can help reduce stress and increase happiness. The difficulty is, that when we are feeling stressed or unhappy, we rarely want to exercise. It is a tough cycle to break, but there are a few motivational tricks to get you going. So, if you want to move but struggle to do so every day, then this one might be for you. If like me you are naturally motivated to exercise, then perhaps this will add some fun into the mix, and we all need a little bit more fun in our lives.
When you think about moving your body, how does it make you feel? Perhaps you don’t feel very motivated to move right now, maybe you know it will make you feel better, but you can’t find the energy to get changed into workout gear or trainers and get moving. You may even feel motivated to move, but not sure you can face another HIIT workout or another 5K run. If this is the case, I want you to try a little challenge for me. I’d like you to pick just one song that makes you feel happy and energised and then move for the duration of that one song. That’s it! It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do, if you are moving for the whole song. You could walk to the end of the road and back, do star jumps on the spot, or treat yourself to a kitchen disco. If you do have any kind of mobility issues, then you can always move in your seat. Once the song is over, decide what you want to do next, do you want to take it up a level and move into another song? If so keep going! If not, that’s okay, you still moved for a few minutes longer than you would have done before. There is plenty of time to expand on this technique and get moving for longer when you feel the time is right.
This just one song approach can be applied to pretty much anything that you are feeling unmotivated for, whether it’s moving your body, cleaning the house or working on an important project for work. Promise that you will move, clean or work for just one song and then see how you feel afterwards. Maybe, once the blood is pumping through your body you will simply want to carry on, you might even end up doing a full hour before you know it.
Daily movement has so many benefits, from reducing your risk of heart disease through to boosting mental health and improving sleep. Promise yourself that you will move for just one song.
What I would say about yoga is that it has helped me create a sense of intuition and connection with my body that nothing else ever has. It has been a game changer for self-acceptance and self-love, allowing me to tune into how I feel mentally and physically everyday. Yoga can be simple, quiet stretching or an intense sweaty flow, there is no right or wrong way to do it and by the very nature of yoga philosophy you can’t be good or bad at its physical side. But yoga is not about learning to do the splits, master headstands or balance on one arm, it has nothing to do with any of these things.
My love of yoga has helped guide me towards meditation, mindfulness, and a deeper practise of gratitude, three areas that can be powerful when it comes to finding a little calm, balance and grounding in our lives. I must be honest though and say I have always found these areas a little trickier. They are not as practical as cooking dinner or putting your trainers on for a run, so they tend to require more self discipline and as a result I find that they are the first things that fall by the wayside when life gets intense, even though I know I probably need them the most at these points. The more I have looked at the philosophy that shapes ancient movement practises, the more I have been able to understand why they are so relevant today and there is a lot to learn from them.
One of the main lessons that I have learnt from my practise of yoga comes back to our question of the day, what practises are we doing for our health and what are we doing for aesthetics? There are eight limbs of yoga, of which the physical practise, the asanas only comprise one of them. The rest revolve around ethical considerations (the yamas), self-observations (niyamas), breath control (pranayama), sense withdrawal (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and a state of bliss or enlightenment (samadhi). Now we may not reach enlightenment, but creating more peace, calm and a sense of bliss in among the busyness of the world could do us the world of good.
Being happy is normally something that we work on, that we nurture every day and yoga practise can help us to create a framework for doing just that. The limbs of yoga are a practical guide to creating a better relationship with both the world around us and ourselves, they can teach us how to live our happiest life, one that is focused on creating more kindness, love and compassion in the world, which I love because lots of us need a little guidance on this road.
The five yamas effectively act as a moral compass:
Ahimsa or non-violence or non-harming, teaches us to be kind and gentle both to those around us and to ourselves, letting go of negative thoughts, not speaking badly to others or ourselves and going about each day with a desire to only do good.
Satya or not telling lies or truthfulness is about being open and honest with those around us and with ourselves, it is about honouring how we really feel and not living in denial.
Asteya or not stealing means more than simply not physically stealing an item from someone, it is about being mindful of what we take from others and also about giving back and acknowledging the time and resources that someone has put into something that they share with us. It is also about being grateful and ensuring we always aim to give more than we take in our lives.
Brahmacharya or moderation is often described as the right use of energy, or being aware of how we spend our energy each day, working towards nourishing relationships and practises that help us find contentment rather than fleeting moments of happiness.
Aparigraha or non-attachment is about not defining ourselves by what is around us and in finding a sense of whole just as we are, it is not about needing possessions or other people to complete us and create fulfilment.
The niyamas are concepts we can practice to create peace in our lives:
Saucha or purity is about purifying our lives so that we can sit in stillness with ourselves, keeping our environment clean, and keeping our mind clear.
Santosha or contentment is about being happy where we are today, not looking to the past or the future, not externalising our happiness or pinning it on to anyone else. It is also about not looking for it in material possessions, simply appreciating the here and the now.
Tapas or discipline is about cultivating self discipline, showing up and doing our best, every time we commit to something and having the courage to push ourselves.
Svadhyaya or self-education is about observing ourselves, noting any patterns and ways of being and looking to better ourselves through this. It is always seeing ourselves as a student and honouring a hunger to learn and to grow every day.
Isvara pranidhana is about meditation on the divine, or devotion, but this devotion doesn’t need to be to a God unless you choose it to be, rather it symbolises the idea that we are all one, we all exist in a universe that is so much bigger than us as individuals. I find this concept fits in perfectly with my views as a Chiropractor and the idea of innate.
Movement, yoga and meditation are all much more than what happens in a gym class, on your mat or when you are listening to a podcast. They are ever evolving, ever deepening ways of being, ways of creating calm, ease, kindness, and peace, of grounding and connecting and centring the mind. In the craziness of the current world that we live in today, it feels very relevant and very very important to help cultivate these elements. Stress can impact both our physical and mental health, so finding tools to relieve it is incredibly important.