We’ve long known the importance of exercise for our physical wellbeing, but in recent years, much emphasis has been put on the way in which it affects mental wellbeing, too. In our incredibly fast-paced world, people have been advised to take a step back from the go-go-go and focus inward.
Research shows that your mood, outlook and stress levels significantly affect your overall health, including heart health. Engaging in stress-reducing exercises and mind-body exercises can help tone you up and keep you tuned in from the inside out to keep diseases at bay, while also boosting the mood, improving focus, improving fitness and increasing overall life satisfaction.
These mind-body activities will satisfy many types of personalities while promoting a healthy lifestyle.
The ancient practice of yoga originated in India with attention paid to what to do and not do, how to relate with ourselves and others, how to sit, breathe, withdraw, focus, concentrate, meditate, and of course, enlighten. In the Western world today, it’s created a huge draw for its ability to improve flexibility, promote better sleep quality, boost self-confidence and promote mindfulness. With research exposing how stress and anxiety can make you physically sick, it’s pertinent to not just be aware of how to ease the mind but put it into action. Yoga styles range from a passive yin, which involves variations of seated and supine poses typically held for 3 to 5 minutes, accessing deeper layers of fascia, to power yoga, a fitness-based vinyasa practice that builds internal heat, increases stamina, strength and flexibility, the practice allows people to focus on the important connection of the mind and body. In an overview of 26 systematic reviews, published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, British researchers found that regular yoga practice resulted in a reduction of depression pain and anxiety in adults with various acute and chronic health conditions, including back pain, fibromyalgia, and psychiatric disorders.
Joseph Hubertus Pilates had asthma and other ailments as a child, and turned to exercise and athletics to battle these ailments, making sure to continuously study various exercise regimens to find what best optimized his health. His fascination with the classical Greek ideal of a man balanced in body, mind, and spirit ultimately caused him to develop his own exercise system based on this concept, which is what we now refer to as Pilates. This form of exercise, which incorporates mat-based moves, has been shown to increase flexibility, build core strength, improve posture and alleviate lower-back pain. Similar to yoga, Pilates links movement to breath, which enhances your mind-body connection, allowing for a reduction in stress while also strengthening the physical body. Pilates requires full attention on your body, which in turn causes you to clear your mind of any distractions whether you are on the mat or the Reformer.
A moving meditation, Thai Chi is based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism, which stresses the natural balance in all things and the need for living in spiritual and physical accord with the patterns of nature. The practice consists of exercises equally balanced between yin and yang to promote this essential balance. Through mental concentration, practitioners move slowly and deliberately to focus the mind, challenge the body and improve the flow of “chi,” or life energy. The practice also has incredibly beneficial outcomes, like the ability to improve heart function, decrease blood pressure and reduce stress. A 2010 systematic review in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine even found that Tai Chi was effective in reducing stress, anxiety, depression and mood disturbance, while also boosting self-esteem.
Rochelle Schiek, who founded this mind-body exercise that combines yoga, dance and sensual movement, calls Qoya ”a shift in consciousness through movement.” Classes incorporate traditional benefits of fitness, like strength, flexibility, balance, endurance and agility training with a unique empowering approach. Together, the various techniques nourish the soul while working the body. Qoya, which is a tribal word for “queen,” is designed for women to embrace their inner goddesses, induce self-love, build strength, and expand the ability to release what no longer serves you.
The barre trend has certainly heated up in the last decade or so, originating as a ballet barre training class with rehabilitative therapy in 1959 by Lotte Berke. But the exercise has gone from a workout geared toward nimble dancer-types to something fitness fiends everywhere are flocking to. There’s no tap shoes, leotards or fancy footwork incorporated, just a focus on fundamental moves. Classes typically incorporate a mat-based warm-up of planks and pushups, a series of arm exercises, time spent at the bar focusing on the thighs and glutes, and then core-focused moves back on the mat. A barre class not only tones and tightens, but the smaller movements promote awareness to the body, improving muscular activation for underused muscles by way of strengthening the mind-body connection.
When we think of workout classes, a stress-free environment doesn’t always come to mind, with people filtering in in a frenzy as loud music plays. But SoulCycle isn’t just another busy cycling class. Though there’s plenty of energy, from the music to the pedaling, the lights remain dimmed, there’s candlelight. Riders come to clear their heads while also pushing their physical bodies to the max and instructors use positive affirmations to soothe and inspire the soul while directing students to dig deeper, close their eyes, be present and set intentions. Riders are often SoulCycle devotees who thrive in a spiritual fitness environment.
When it comes to mind-body practices, deep, slow and intentional breathing is one of the best things you can do for reducing stress and anxiety, thereby lessening the likelihood of other ailments and diseases. It’s also the basis of all of these mind-body exercises. Simply sitting and taking five big deep breaths, with focus on the deep inhale and exhale, the body releases stress and ultimately calms the mind down. Research even shows that breathing exercises can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or changing blood pressure.