#FitnessThursday: Mental Boost Through Movement

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#FitnessThursday: Mental Boost Through Movement

Written by Caleb Hall

The University of Arizona once did an experiment testing how quickly they could grow trees. By replicating earth’s conditions, they were immensely successful in germinating these trees at a rapid rate. However, unexpectedly, the trees would collapse before reaching maturity. This troubled the researchers until they addressed the critical part of earth’s environment they were missing: the wind. Trees require the pressure and stress from wind in order to become strong and sturdy. Now, I am not here to tell you about trees, but there is a critical perspective to take from this research about our own bodies and minds.

I am Caleb Hall, a Yoga Instructor at the Gallogly Recreation and Wellness Center. I study Visual and Performing Arts here at the university and my emphasis is in theatre and dance. My background in arts and yoga does not necessarily frame me as the typical person that you would see in the gym. Despite this, I believe in the intrinsic connection between the body and the mind—a healthy body makes a healthy mind and vice versa.

Movement directly impacts our mental health. Now, we all know how tired and fatigued we feel after sitting down at a computer for a few hours. The lack of movement in our lives reflects in our mood. Ever notice that exciting energy after exercising that makes you feel ready to take on the rest of the day? I see this constantly in my yoga classes too. My students will walk in groggy in the morning or in a down mood, but by the end of class, they are smiling, talking, and ecstatic to move onto the rest of their day. To say that exercise is important to fostering more happiness and joy in our life would be a dramatic understatement. The two ideas depend on each other.

Even the most acute of exercises will improve your mental state. A study performed on adult men with ADHD tested the effects of only 20 minutes of cycling on their mental state. The study concluded that the men had higher motivation to complete tasks, higher energy, and had less feelings of depression, stress, and fatigue. What this shows us is that even with minimal amounts of exercise, we have the power to improve our dispositions and increase our productivity by simply moving around. Returning to the tree example, the stress (not emotional stress, physical stress) of the wind on the tree allows it to grow stronger. Our bodies and minds work the exact same way. Movement and physical exercise encourage us to grow stronger mentally and physically.

Movement and our mental health also foster mental clarity. By exercising, you generate the control energy in your body and teach yourself how to maintain awareness during exercise. In yoga, we call this, “controlling prana and stilling vrittis,” or, “controlling the energy and stilling the mind.” By exercising, we are developing an acute sense of how our own individual bodies function—which is something you cannot learn from a textbook. Exercise encourages the mind-body connection and allowing you to enter “flow state,” which is essentially a meditative state. Practiced athletes enter this flow state all of the time! An example of this is when a runner is running for so long, they become unaware of the physical stress of running, and they become “detached,” as if their body is just running for them. Another example, is when a basketball player suddenly steals the ball, makes a hoop with seconds on the clock, but afterwards cannot explain what came over them or sometimes cannot fully remember the moment themselves. Exercises develop body awareness, position in space, and focused thoughts.

There is a saying I love that says “Everyone should do yoga for 20 minutes a day; unless you are busy; then, you should do yoga for an hour.” I may be biased, but really any form of exercise can be substitute for yoga in this saying. Movement in our lives is critical to improving our mentality. There is no “correct answer” here, but here are some ideas of ways to get yourself moving:

  1. Do some form of exercise after waking up in the morning. Even if it is just light stretching or some exercises lying on the floor, it will get your body moving and your mind awake. While doing this, start conveying positive feedback to yourself. Focus on how strong you feel in the morning, how well you slept, and the people or things you are looking forward to seeing.
  2. Take a break from the computer and go outside and walk, run, cycle, etc… Get your blood pumping for even 20 minutes. That stimulation will allow you to feel productive and ready to finish your work.
  3. If you absolutely do not have time, try this breath of joy exercise. You will feel silly doing it, but that is the point! This breath facilitates the connection between breath, movement, and the mind in order to immediately improve your mental state.
  4. Do exercises before bed that incites meditative movement. I will always advocate for yoga, but any exercise that uses your own body is great for this; like, pilates, Qigong, tai chi, Feldenkrais, etc… Meditative movement allows you time to check in with the body, allows you to become more introspective, gives space for reflection on your day, and prepares the body for sleep.
  5. Sleep! You burn calories while you are sleeping! In some cases, you could burn 46 calories an hour just getting sleep at night. Your body gets to repair and your mind gets to sort through the new neural connections made from the day.

Build your mind-body connection and feel better by just moving! Take a lesson from the trees, and grow strong mentally and physically through movement! Check back every other Thursday for more inspiration about wellbeing and fitness ideas to spice up your life!

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