Just as the mind can affect the body, so too, can the body affect the mind. From a regimen of mindful exercise to the practice of yoga, physical activity is a crucial element of mind body medicine.
Physical Activity & Body Awareness
Equally important as the mind in the mind/body connection is, of course, the body. Thoughts affect our bodies and, conversely, changes in the body can shape our thoughts, feelings, and even body chemistry.
For example, try smiling for a few seconds. The simple posture of these facial muscles can initiate changes in your mood, which in turn trigger feelings and emotions. These linked reactions show us the impact of being aware of your body and the phenomenon of the mind/body connection.
Body awareness, stretching and yoga, and exercise are integral parts of our mind/body programs as they provide many benefits to our patients:
- Recognizing muscle tension helps us know when we are stressed
- Yoga and stretching can lessen pain and elicit the relaxation response
- Daily exercise keeps weight down and helps us maintain physical and emotional health
We all need physical activity to be healthy. People who exercise regularly and who make physical activity part of their daily routine, feel better mentally and physically, improve their health, and increase their chances of staying fit and independent as they age.
How much physical activity is necessary to receive these health benefits?
In accordance with national guidelines, we maintain that adults should try to accumulate a minimum of 30 minutes (in at least 10-minute segments) of moderate (brisk) physical activity most or all days of the week. If weight loss and/or maintenance is a goal, increase workout time to 45-60 minutes. Activities such as walking, housework, yard work, gardening, job activities, sports and recreation, and structured exercise count toward the total.
But if you want to significantly increase your aerobic conditioning and/or your strength, you should also consider:
- Aerobic exercise: (brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, dancing, etc), 3-5 times/week, for 20-60 minutes at a comfortably challenging intensity
- Strength training: (free weights, weight machines, elastic bands, and calisthenics: sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, etc), 2-3 times/week, 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions
- Some mind/body-oriented options: Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates
These recommendations provide the flexibility to encourage you to develop a relationship with physical activity that fits comfortably into your lifestyle and meets your personal needs.
At the Benson-Henry Institute, we consider exercise not just a physical regime, but an opportunity to gain self-awareness and enhance spiritual growth. In ancient traditions, physical activity had a focus that was more spiritual than physical. Its purpose was to cultivate the mind and spirit while rejuvenating the body. In a similar fashion, we view exercise as an opportunity to learn more about yourself.
This state of awareness can be achieved by combining elicitation of the relaxation response with your activity, bringing awareness into the present as you exercise. Exercise focus can and should vary on a day-to-day basis depending on need, mood and intent. Some days, you may want to focus on the more physical aspects of the activity, other days you may want to quiet your mind for relaxation. By listening to your body , you can adjust your exercise practice to enhance emotional, spiritual and physical health.
This also makes the exercise more interesting and helps with long-term compliance. Instead of exercising because you "have to," you do it because you want to; it becomes part of who you are. This approach is exercise for the whole person and can bring true "health" rather than just "fitness."
All of our medical programs teach kripalu yoga as one means of developing body awareness and eliciting the relaxation response. Kripalu yoga is effective for a wide range of patients, and can be easily modified to an individual's physical restrictions.
In addition to the more obvious benefits of exercise, yoga can help you realign your posture, release muscle tension, and develop a more subtle control of your body. Yoga is also helpful because it reinforces a basic "resting state" in your muscles and your mind while carrying on daily activities.
Laura Malloy is our yoga director. To register for private classes, contact contact firstname.lastname@example.org