That unmistakable dread when its time to leave for training and the absolute rush of indestructibility when your done. If you could only feel a little bit of the end result before you start it would be so much easier to keep motivated. Why the drastic contrast? The key is in the power of your mind. When people are in the gym or on a fitness kick they so often refer to the progress they are making physically. How much can you lift or how long can you run for, but how much attention are we paying to how mentally strong we are?
So often in the fitness industry the brain and the body are isolated from each other, consequently leading to professionals treating them as two distinct processes. However, mind-body practices such as yoga and martial arts have traditionally considered how these two interact, their complex relationship and have implemented approaches that target both of these aspects. This emerging area of mind-body exercise and their effectiveness for a range of physical and psychological problems, places mind-body exercise at the forefront of wellness in the future.
The interactions of emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavior factors are believed to directly affect our health. Mind–body exercise can increase awareness of the body, increase energy, mental clarity, and concentration. Previous research has demonstrated the effects of mind–body exercises on disease management and promoting quality of life among individuals with various chronic illnesses, including depression, stress and anxiety, acute and chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension (Hassed, 2013; Yan Yan Kwok, Kai Chow & Yue Lai, 2016).
Being mindful of the reasons you choose to exercise, being conscious of how you are feeling during a session and using visual imagery are all-important steps to acknowledging the interplay between your mind and body.
For example, I have never enjoyed going on long runs because I would get so caught up in my own mind. Outside the hustle and bustle of a working day, the repetitive action of my feet hitting the pavement below, I was forced to talk to myself and often the words I spoke were not very kind or encouraging. I would say things like “wow your puffing pretty heavy, you really are unfit” or “if you rest now, or slow the pace no one will ever know”. These thoughts were constant and reoccurring. Every time I pulled my sneakers on to set out for a run I would catch myself thinking these thoughts again. These thoughts were holding me back and the truth was I was the only one who could change it. I trialed a free mindfulness app everyday for two weeks with the intention of reducing my negative self talk during runs. After the two week period I set out on my regular 2km route, the results . . . . the thoughts were still there but I now had the tools to acknowledge them and clear them away. It was a much more pleasurable experience and for the first time after a run I returned with a smile on my face.
The application and results of mind-body techniques such as mindfulness and mediation in relation to exercise, health and wellbeing are relatively premature. Whether or not the actual intervention itself is having a direct effect or there is a placebo at work is still up for debate. In a day and age where the fitness industry is searching for the latest and greatest pill to run faster, lift heavier, lose weight and recover quicker are we overlooking the most powerful asset of all?
For further reading we have provided references to two journal articles, which discuss the benefits of mind-body exercise on physiological and psychological wellbeing.
- Hasses, C. (2013). Mind-body therapies: Use in chronic pain management. Australian family physician, vol. 42, no. 1, p.112-117.
- Yan Yan Kwok, J., Kai Chow, C., & Yue Lai, C. (2016) The effects of mind-body exercises on the physiological and psychological well-being of individuals with Parkinson’s disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol.29, p. 121-131.