Last weekend I participated in the 4th Annual Yogathon at Yonge & Dundas Square. The goal is to complete 108 Sun Salutations, and the proceeds from the fundraising event go directly to the Care for Children, a program through the Art of Living Foundation that provides a means for children in slums and rural areas of India the opportunity to get an education, http://careforchildren.artofliving.org/. It’s such a great cause because as we know, education has the potential to break the cycle of poverty and social inequality.
As usual, and perhaps foolishly, I didn’t train for this at all but I was up for it having been jogging regularly in the past few weeks. It was a hot day, the sun was beating down, and I happened to pick a spot that didn’t experience even a moment of shade!
As we began, I keenly breezed through the first set of 21. The second set, I was starting to feel the burn. The third set, I was very aware of the heat of the sun, aware of my body, of how my arms are my weakness in this challenge. The teachers continued, one-by-one, enthusiastically leading us and cheering us on through each set of rounds. As the discomfort began to mount, I closed my eyes and focused on my breath; each movement coinciding with an in-breath or an out-breath. As I focused on the breath, the 12 postures blended into one continuous movement. It was like a meditation. By the time we arrived at the last 10, I was surprised to realize, “We’re already here!” The rounds had passed so quickly.
At the end of the challenge, after much jubilation and many high-fives, I noticed how calm my mind was. I had almost no thoughts. I was perfectly content to just stand, and survey the place without judgment or expectation. I wasn’t concerned about what I was doing in that moment, or what I was going to do later in the day. My body was tired, but I was so content to just “be”. What a gift!
The mind and the body are inseparable, and the breath is the link between the mind and the body.
We’ve all experienced this before; you finally have a quiet moment to yourself and would love to take this moment for some “me time” or “self-care”. But what happens instead? All these thoughts start running through the mind: “What do I still have to get done tonight? Where do the kids have to be tomorrow? I still have to make lunches, finish my report…etc.” You just want to relax, but a million thoughts are running through your head and they can’t be stopped. What to do?
This is one of the great secrets of yoga…….
If the mind is restless, then move the body.
Divert that restlessness from the mind to the body. Get it all out of your system! You can dance, stretch, run, do housework… anything that exerts the body. Then after you are sufficiently exerted, sit down to meditate. You will see, the mind is much easier to tame. Sit comfortably and focus on the breath. Relax. Enjoy!
Research: There is a lot of research on the subjective benefits of movement on mental health for specific conditions and groups; including less stress, improved mood and increased energy. There are inferences that inflammatory mediators, hormonal pathways and reduced oxidative stress may play a role, but more research is needed to understand the exact mechanism of how and why thoughts calm down with physical activity. (I have posted a few journal citations at the end of this article, in case you were interested).
Now, it’s your turn:
Move the body to calm the mind:
I’m sure you can think of many instances when you’ve experienced this phenomenon. Maybe it’s the calm that you feel while going for a run, or after a good workout.
What do you like to do to stay active?
What are the types of movement you can implement anytime, anywhere….to help calm the mind?
What areas of your daily routine can you apply this to?
- Easiest to implement: ** Stretching/yoga: You can do it standing or in a chair, you can do it anywhere!
- Walking up a few flights of stairs
- Schedule a workout/run during your lunch break
Just 5-10 minutes is all you need. Then right afterwards, sit comfortably and relax for a few minutes.
Remember: The goal of this exercise is to experience CALM in the mind.
How to avoid becoming restless in the first place?
- reduce your caffeine intake
- watch your intake of spicy foods
- practice meditation regularly–it has a cumulative effect!
- focus on the present moment
So going forward, see if you notice when your mind becomes restless. Give yourself the opportunity to do some movement and observe what happens to the mind….
Hassanpour Dehkordi A. Influence of yoga and aerobics exercise on fatigue, pain and psychosocial status in patients with multiple sclerosis: A Randomized Trial. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2015 Jul 29.
Medina JL, Jacquart J, Smits JA. Optimizing the Exercise Prescription for Depression: The Search for Biomarkers of Response. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015 Apr 1;4:43-47.
Ozbeyli D, Gokalp AG, Koral T, Ocal OY, Dogan B, Akakin D, Yuksel M, Kasimay O. Protective effect of exercise and sildenafil on acute stress and cognitive function. Physiol Behav. 2015 Jul 28;151:230-237. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.07.030.
Paillard T. Preventive effects of regular physical exercise against cognitive decline and the risk of dementia with age advancement. Sports Med Open. 2015;1(1):4. Epub 2015 Apr 17. Review