Just a short post this week to draw your attention to a couple of articles reinforcing the benefits of movement in general, and mind-body practices in particular. Many of you probably know that as scientists learn more about brain function and how genes work, researchers have also learned that brain pathways and gene expression continue to change throughout our lifetimes. It was once thought that brain function automatically declines as we get older. Recent research has shown this is simply not true. In addition, researchers are learning that the changes in gene expression brought about by mind-body practices may actually have the ability to reverse the effects of chronic stress.
A recent article in Yoga Journal , cites a study published in Frontiers of Immunology that sought to examine whether our genes actually change after engaging in mind-body practices. The conclusion? Engaging in these practices can actually create molecular changes that have long term effects on your health. As quoted in the article, “ ‘Mind-body techniques like yoga or meditation are the most effective ways of reducing stress that are known to science,’ lead author Ivana Buric, a doctoral student and research assistant at Coventry University in England”.
Another article from National Public Radio (NPR) discussed a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine. This showed that exercise in general works better at providing relief from and even preventing chronic lower back pain than a variety of commonly prescribed interventions such as back belts and shoe insoles. According to the article “It didn’t really matter what kind of exercise — core strengthening, aerobic exercise, or flexibility and stretching.” Dr. Tim Carey, an internist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill who wrote an accompanying commentary to the study, said that “health care providers don’t prescribe exercise nearly enough, given its effectiveness.”
So if you’re still on the fence about whether or not yoga, Pilates and other practices that connect mind and movement will help you, the evidence shows that its worth a try. Any movement is better than no movement. If you’re not ready for yoga or can’t find a class that works for you, try walking. It’s simple, effective and you can do it anywhere, any time. Just remember that if you are brand new at any movement practice, start simple and take it slow. The point of these types of practices is to help you learn more about how your own mind and body work. Every body is different. So even when you’re in a class, there is no rule that requires everyone to do the same thing. Take the time to tune into your own inner workings. Learn what works for you. You may be surprised to learn that you can do more than you think you can. And if you stick with it, you’ll get even better. If you can approach any new effort with curiosity you’ll be much better off than if you let your ego take over. Include a little self-compassion and even humor and you’ve got all the ingredients to improve your health. Give it a try!
A recent article in the Yoga Basics newsletter cited “Five Things to do Every Day for You”. First on the list – as it should be in my opinion – is “Move Your Body”. The prescription is no more specific than that. It doesn’t need to be. Any kind of movement, any length of time, or any intensity will fill the bill. You can walk outside or around your house, take a class or just get up from your desk, chair or bed and stretch for 5 minutes or so. At first a myriad of excuses may arise: I’m too tired; it’s too cold outside; I’m in a hurry; I’ll get sweaty and mess up my hair; I need to do x, y or z first (which, of course, is more important); and so on. You know the drill. Everything takes precedence over the things you need to do for yourself.
When this happens it can be useful to take an honest look at why it is so difficult to maintain the motivation necessary to prioritize your own needs. You know that if you ignore your excuses and move anyway, you always feel better. In fact, whatever movement you choose usually feels so good that the 5 minutes or so you were going to allow yourself quickly turns into 10 or even 30 minutes. The class you were going to walk out on if it felt too hard suddenly isn’t that bad. In fact, you may even find yourself making moves you thought were beyond your skill level. Why is that so difficult to remember?
There are many obstacles that can arise when we set goals and try to accomplish something. Some of them are genuine circumstances beyond our control that arise without prior notice. But some obstacles are ones we create. In fact, there are times when it is hard to tell which is which. After all, there really aren’t that many things we can control yet somehow we still manage to live our lives. Still it’s easy to blame our own lack of inner resolve on some external circumstance. Mostly, though, it’s really a matter of prioritizing. When in doubt it helps to stay motivated. If you find yourself consistently confronting obstacles in the way of your plans to exercise, maybe lack of motivation is the real problem.
So what can we do to regain motivation? First thing you can do is remind yourself why you want to move in the first place. Maybe you want to overcome some chronic pain. Or perhaps you’re trying to lose weight. Is there a trip you are planning or an event that would be more fun if you were in better shape? How about a walk for charity that you would like to complete? Can you remember how good you used to feel when you moved regularly? You can get there again. You can’t turn back the clock, but you can feel better than you do right now. A repeated mantra in this blog is that the more you move, the more you want to move, and the easier it becomes to keep moving. It doesn’t happen overnight, although you might feel better right away once you get started. But the key is practice and consistency. Don’t give up. Let others help you. If you take a class, the other participants will support you. Find a friend to walk with. Or walk your dog. Or walk someone else’s dog. There are always dogs in need of walking. Make it easy and fun!
When we’re young, time seems endless and unlimited. But as we age we begin to recognize the importance of using our time wisely. In this case “wisely” means using time in ways that will contribute to your overall well-being. When you feel good, everyone around you benefits. So you needn’t worry about the others in your life. Just focus on yourself. If you want to bring more movement into your life but can’t manage to make it happen, you will feel bad about yourself. Whatever condition you’re trying to overcome won’t get any better. This is not a contribution to your overall well-being. Remind yourself that the time you take to move your body is a small amount that won’t be missed later in the day. But that small investment will eventually yield a big reward. That’s certainly a carrot you can dangle when you need motivation. It’s never too late. If you can move and breathe you can improve.