Mind-Body Exercise: Grounding Yourself Through MovementNov 23, 2021
Mind-Body Exercise: Grounding Yourself Through Movement
Author: Health Coach Emily
Mind-body movements have been rapidly growing in popularity throughout Western cultures in recent years, but has been an integral part of many Eastern societies for centuries. Today, I will talk about some of the more popular forms of mind-body exercise and a few benefits of each.
Yoga is, according to Dr. Ishwar V. Basavaraddi, “a spiritual discipline. . . which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body.” It is meant to stimulate connection within the individual yogi and between the yogi and nature. While the origins of yoga are very spiritual in nature, many yoga studios, classes, and boutiques in Western cultures focus more on the physical demands of yoga flows and postures.
There are many different styles of yoga practice, but all of them include certain “poses” that emphasize strength and/or mobility, and many connect various poses together into “flows.” A core facet of yoga is breath- flows generally transition between poses on the inhale or exhale to synchronize movement with breathing. Even in practices, like yin yoga, that may hold each pose for longer periods of time, the deep relaxing breathing is central to releasing the tension held within the joints, muscles, and body.
Due to the popularity of yoga, the consistency of practice within each subset (Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Hatha, Yin, etc.), and the hundreds of years it has been practiced, there are numerous scientific studies investigating the physiologic benefits of yoga.
Yoga has been shown in various studies to decrease systolic blood pressure, potentially improve symptoms of chronic lower back pain, help reduce mild symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve quality of life and presentation of symptoms in asthma patients, and improve working memory and mindfulness, among other positive effects.
If you want to try incorporating yoga into your self-care or workout routine(s), make sure you wear fabric that is able to comfortably move with you as you bend and twist, that you have easy access to plenty of water to stay hydrated, and that you are able to have a calm, distraction-free environment. You can practice yoga at home barefoot, outside on a yoga mat, or at any number of gyms and yoga studios. If you have certain chronic health conditions or difficulty with regulating your body temperature, be sure to avoid yoga classes advertised as “hot” or “Bikram” to avoid overheating and potentially severe dehydration.
Yoga classes are wonderful environments to increase self-awareness, mindfulness, and body confidence. Yogis (people who practice yoga) are generally very non-judgmental and welcoming and encourage you to find peace within yourself.
The original Pilates exercises were developed in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates in the United States. Joseph Pilates created these exercises to improve rehabilitation for his clients and focused on breath, concentration, centering, control, precision, and flow. Pilates is now practiced around the world and helps millions of people improve their core activation, mobility, and joint stability.
Scientific research examining the effects of Pilates has shown potential for improved outcomes in breast cancer patients, decrease pain and disability in patients with certain chronic conditions, decrease symptoms of chronic low back pain, improve cardiorespiratory fitness, improve mental health, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve limb function in patients with Parkinson’s Disease, increase Pelvic floor strength in pregnant women, and reduced fall risk in older adults.
While the strength of some of these correlations may not always be strong enough to determine a direct cause-effect relationship between Pilates exercises and the measured outcomes, due to the very low risk of negative consequences from Pilates, the cost-benefit ratio heavily favors the potential benefits of adding Pilates into your regular exercise routine.
Pilates can also be practiced at home or in a studio. Some gyms offer Pilates classes, but Pilates-specific studios generally have the Pilates Reformer equipment to use during classes, while box gyms may not.
Tai Chi originated as a Chinese martial arts practice, but is currently used to ground oneself and focuses again on linking movements with breath to reduce stress and center yourself. It can improve balance, stability, and mobility and is generally considered safe for everyone due to the slower, intentional movements and low impact on the joints.
Tai Chi has been studied with many chronic diseases and in elderly populations to measure health outcomes. Tai Chi may reduce short-term fall risk in older adults, lower fasting blood glucose, reduce chronic osteoarthritis and potentially rheumatoid arthritis pain, reduce fibromyalgia symptoms, improve quality of life and motor function for Parkinson’s Disease patients, improve pulmonary function in COPD patients, and finally that it may significantly improve self-efficacy.
Tai Chi can be easily be practiced at home, and is best performed barefoot to fully strengthen the nerves running through your lower body and into your feet. It will also help you to feel “grounded,” especially if you practice your Tai Chi movements outside. Depending on where you live, it may be challenging to find a local gym or studio to attend a class at, but there are numerous online resources that can be used to help learn some movements and flow at home.
Mind-body exercises have been shown to offer numerous health benefits and are generally safe for all populations. They are low-impact and can easily be added in to your regular fitness routine from either the comfort of your home or potentially at a specialized gym or studio.
Regardless of what type of mind-body exercise you try, be sure to create a calming environment and to focus on your breath. These exercises are wonderful ways to stay active on recovery days without adding additional stress to your body or to improve mobility and return to a calm state of mind after a more intense workout.