It is thoroughly documented how exercise benefits the body; it builds muscle, strengthens the heart, improves the cardiovascular system, lays down new bone mass, etc. But did you know how much exercise improves our mental state? There is exhaustive research to demonstrate how exercise increases cognition, reduces stress, and decreases depression.
These mental benefits of exercise are some of my favorites.
Movement is a Skill
It is one of my least favorite stereotypes that people who exercise are meatheads. The truth is, it is a certain kind of intelligence to understand and feel how your body works. Some people are truly gifted in the ability to comprehend movement. They don’t know anatomy from textbooks, but engage their muscles beautifully. They haven’t studied muscular originations or insertions, but feel exactly how to move. This is truly a skill, like IQ or EQ.
If you weren’t born with it, you can develop it.
I find clients who have previously studied Pilates, dance or ballet are uniquely adept at picking up subtleties of movement. Even if they aren’t masters of movement, understanding that that there are so many small ways to move improves the ability to learn.
How to Use Exercise as Meditation
How can you apply this for your own benefit? You can slow down your movements and be very present. Sometimes people move through sessions on auto pilot. That is ok. There is a time and place for that. Other times though, if you slow down mentally and feel each movement, notice every angle and muscular engagement, you’ll get benefits beyond physical. When you’re learning a new skill or paying close attention as you practice a familiar skill, the awareness of the movement will push other thoughts aside.
You might, in order, focus on how to approach the lift mentally, how to approach the barbell physically, how to orient your body, and then proceed to lift. Close your eyes, visualize, belly breathe, approach the bar. Grip the bar, engage the lats, squeeze the toes into the ground, and GO. Glutes squeeze, back flexes, SUCCESS. Hips behind you, trunk still tight as bar meets the floor. Exhale.
Inhale, engage, repeat.
Movement is Freedom
Not only do you get yourself a little post-lift high, but you get yourself a chunk of time that squeeze out the life stresses of work, worry and stress. There’s no time to be thinking about taxes when you’ve got a heavy barbell on your back. No time to stress about external deadlines when you’re thinking about the angles of your movement.
It is my wish for you that you can find the freedom that exercise gives you mentally. Please let me know if I can help you get started or move out of a rut!