words by fitness expert, Rebecca Dalby
When people think or refer to ‘the mind and body connection’, most people associate it with perhaps yoga, Thai Chi or meditation. When you go to a spinning class, the last thing you are thinking about is how your mind and body will be connecting throughout or after the class. Many people are completely unaware of how exercise can create a connection between the mind and body, or that there is one at all at any time! This also means they are oblivious of the affect the mind and body have on one another. There are some exercisers who shrug it off and are not interested in ‘that kind of thing’. Most of us have heard about endorphins, which are released whilst exercising and know that they give us a buzz or a happy feeling but that is about the extent of it.
Well, there is much more to it than that! Once you know more about it, this knowledge can allow you to truly appreciate exercise in another way and at a deeper level. This is also more likely to motivate and encourage you to keep up your exercise regime and form a habit for life.
Your body and mind are inextricably entwined. If you begin to break down the body you will find out straight away that the brain is the ‘control centre’ of the body. What the brain tells the body to do, it does. However, the body also feedbacks to the brain via millions of nerves (Central Nervous System), so there is a constant dialogue and exchange of information between the body and the brain. This dialogue is a balancing act so if one or the other is either slow to respond or inactive, imbalance occurs.
Hormone release (which is part of the Endocrine System), play a huge part in this dialogue and are the by-product of what is happening to the body and mind. Hormones have certain effects on the body both positive and negative. For example, the hormone cortisol is released by the body when the mind (or body) is experiencing stress. So if you are stressed frequently for a significant period of time, cortisol is continually pumped out through your body during this period. Because cortisol is a destructive catabolic hormone, it starts to attack your immune system and slows down your metabolism (amongst other things), which commonly leads to weight gain, infections, illness and can contributes to quite serious diseases. In summary, as you can see, scientifically there is no doubt that the mind and body directly affect one another.
Now, let’s talk about how we can experience and capitalise on what’s happening within our bodies when we exercise. The key to this is quite simply focus and awareness. I believe there are two main ways people can experience the ‘mind and body connection’ through exercise.
- When you are totally focused and immersed in what you are doing with your body at that precise moment in time. This requires practise and discipline as it is quite easy to allow your mind to wander and get distracted (especially if the instructor has a particularly chiselled physique!). Next time you exercise, really focus on what your body is doing and try to enjoy the movement you are creating. The more you do this, the easier and more natural it will become. It is also commonly referred to as being in the ‘flow’ or ‘in the zone’ depending on what exercise or sporting background you’re from.
- There is also a window when you are cooling down where although you may look like a beetroot, you mentally feel a million dollars! This is down to the endorphins which have been released whilst exercising. Do not rush this moment, enjoy the feeling. I find it useful to reflect on what you have just done and the effect it has had on your body i.e. burned calories or fat cells, improved flexibility and posture, strengthen muscles etc. Go with this feeling and enjoy the moment. Again it is about being aware and listening to your body and mind.
There are no restrictions as to what exercise can produce this connection. Obviously some forms of exercise more naturally lead you to this point. But we all enjoy different things in life, so if you’re not a yogi, it doesn’t mean you can’t experience the ommmmm feeling!
Be aware, stay focused and reflect.
image from and clothes by www.lululemon.co.uk