The best mind-body workouts for the New Year
The new year means starting a fitness program to slim down and shape up. But after a few weeks, the New Year's resolution to work out peters out. Why is it so difficult to find effective workouts that are sustainable for the entire year? Most of the problem may lie in the workouts themselves — perhaps they aren't what your body really wants.
Strenuous routines are stressful. Muscles get sore, joints ache and motivation declines. So what is the real key to New Year exercise success? Find the right workout. “Perfect workouts” do exist — ones that boost stamina and cardiovascular health, stretch and strengthen muscles, and make us feel amazing. Mind-body exercises like yoga, tai chi and qi gong started centuries ago and have been developing ever since.
The perfect workouts
Yoga, tai chi and qi gong are time-honored exercises that are ideally suited for modern living. They meet all of the usual health goals, such as boosting fitness, preserving heart health and easing stress. Better yet, instead of feeling drained after one of these workouts, they leave you feeling energized and invigorated.
Take a deep breath and move your body
All exercises require breathing — muscles don’t function without it. However, breathing is central to tai chi, qi gong and yoga. The body transitions between poses, supported by the breath. This focus on breathing brings numerous benefits. We already know that deep breathing can calm us. Adding mental focus and physical exertion creates a multiplier effect, eliminating stress rather than producing it, while deeply oxygenating cells and tissues.
Release the endorphins
Focused breathing also produces something akin to a runner’s high. Endorphins, the body’s natural opiates, get released early in the practice. This “reward” makes workouts more enjoyable, relaxing both mind and body.
Mindful breathing benefits us even on a microscopic level. Mitochondria, our cellular power plants, rely on oxygen to thrive. Fueled by a steady oxygen supply, mitochondria generate more energy.
Our bodies become “addicted” to the benefits we receive from these practices. Rather than dreading such a workout, we look forward to it. Pretty soon, we’re rearranging our schedule to get in more exercise time.
Start your mind-body workouts today
Perhaps you’ve peeked into a yoga class and felt intimidated by the different postures. Don’t be. Yoga is designed for beginners. Every pose, called an “asana,” has a range of difficulty. Experienced yogis may choose the most challenging movements, while newcomers are encouraged to start slowly.
If you’d like to begin at home, sun salutations are a great start. This series of poses boosts heart rate but also provides calming energy, strengthen a variety of muscles and can be done as many times as you like. Even five minutes is beneficial.
Tai chi and qi gong have a similar approach. You’re not competing, you are focusing on the inner self, encouraging your natural calm and balancing your core muscles. These practices improve strength and balance, reduce inflammation, improve vital energy and calm the mind.
Yoga, tai chi and qi gong and their numerous physical and mental health benefit have been extensively studied. They have been shown to reduce cortisol levels, which in turn can improve immunity, energy and a healthy weight. They also can boost cognitive function, support cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation and pain, improve overall stamina and reduce the risk of chronic illness.
Approach your New Year's health holistically
Exercise is an important component to good health, but it’s far from the only one. Diet is equally critical. Focus on lean protein, healthy fats and green leafy vegetables. Keep a steady supply of fresh, filtered water on hand. If you are interested in a nutritional supplement, medicinal mushroom formulas can increase oxygen and energy levels, a must for any workout. Most important, laugh. It’s good for your health and great for your workout. Exercise is easy with a smile. And without even thinking about it, your 2013 resolution will extend into 2014 and beyond.