Developing the Mind-Body Connection
This week is Mind + Body week on full clutch, and the posts will be all about healthy ways to find your best self and incorporate them into your routine. Finding the natural point of health for your mind and body can be a tough journey, but one well worth it. When you’re comfortable in your own skin, finding and building your style can actually be a pleasure! No matter your size or shape, we hope to leave you with some practical tips for a healthy body and happy mind!
Wellness is a holistic pursuit–all the broccoli and elliptical time in the world is not going to be as effective if you neglect your mental and emotional health. Here are three ways to develop your mind-body connection.
Yoga is the most holistic activity I’ve ever participated in. Popular perception from those who’ve never tried it is that it’s just stretching and saying “Om.” That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yoga combines flexibility, strength-training, aerobic intensity, breathing control, and mental focus. At my yoga studio, I’ve seen superfit, five-percent-body-fat dudes completely cowed by the simplest of positions. There are different types of yoga, for instance Bikram, or hot yoga, where the room is heated so that you’re able to get the most intense stretch, but I find the most effective yoga for clearing the mind is Vinyasa. This is also called “flow” yoga and the idea is that you learn a sequence of moves, one by one, and eventually put them all together, combining one movement with one breath. So you breathe in and move your body to downward dog. You breathe out and move your body to high plank. Combining the breath with movement requires a lot of concentration, and your mind completely clears of all the other distractions–grocery lists, the fight you had with your SO, a work project that’s overdue. If you’re interested in pursuing yoga but don’t want to completely give up your gym time, no worries! Once or twice a week is enough to make a difference in creating that connection between mind and body. Although there are yoga dvds, the effect is not nearly the same as taking a class, which can be expensive. Sign up for Groupon and other coupon sites to get notifications about deals on yoga classes.
Another way to connect the mind and body is through meditation. We spend a lot of time distracting ourselves with work, entertainment, home responsibilities, and so on. Most of the time we’re not really living in the present, we’re thinking about what we have to do in the future. Meditation’s goal is to clear the mind of all that noise, and get the brain to focus on the here and now. Even meditating for 10 minutes a day can have a positive effect on your well-being. I admit to finding it hard to commit to daily meditation. I tend to go on meditation binges–everyday for a week, then nothing for a month. But I’m trying to get better. Something that has helped me is downloading guided meditation podcasts from iTunes. I’ve been following Jonathan Foust, a meditation guru who runs a meditation center out of Washington state. The podcasts are totally free (don’t get roped into buying a meditation “album” when there are multiple free podcasts available). They’re between 25 and 45 minutes long, and much of it is silence, but every couple minutes or so, Mr. Foust reminds listeners to focus on their breathing, to clear the mind, to connect to the present time. Different podcasts have different themes (“Courage and Vitality,” “On Gratitude and Giving”) so you can pick depending on what you want to get out of the day’s meditation. It’s much more effective for me to have him in my ear than to try and focus on my own.
A couple years ago I read an article about how walking should be a part of everyone’s fitness plan, even if you have a gym membership or play sports on a team. For most of our existence, humans have been nomadic, traveling to find food. It’s only very recently in our evolutionary history that we’ve taken to settling in one place. But that doesn’t mean we’ve lost the instinct to walk. Walking for short amounts everyday, or substantial amounts several times a week can do wonders for mental health because even if we’re not aware of it, we’re fulfilling a basic human need. I have two dogs, so I have a built-in reason for walking about 45 minutes every day. But I also love walks as a way to spend time with people in my life. Walking tends to lead to good conversation in a way that sitting doesn’t. Schedule a weekly walk with a good friend. If you have the freedom during your lunch hour, get a brisk 20 minute walk in. You’ll be treating your body and your mind well.
Any holistic gurus out there? How do you suggest encouraging a mind-body connection?