“Training gives us an outlet for supressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit as exercise conditions the body.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
We all know that exercise is good for us, no denying that! However, what we may not consider are the benefits of exercise beyond its physical effects. Conditioning of the body through exercise does not only improve our physical fitness, but actually has positive repercussions for every part of the human body; fitness of the mind, the spirit, our emotions and our motivation. You don’t have to be an elite athlete, award winning body builder, or highly skilled player to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise; indeed, just a couple of light sessions a week can have a significant effect on your emotional wellbeing. Whatever activity you choose, the benefits will be found if you commit. However, there are some exercise choices which lend themselves to mindfulness and wellbeing better than others.
I should probably begin with my workout of choice; running. There are so many reasons to enjoy running. I first chose it because it is simple and portable. Its simplicity does not mean that it requires no skill and that there is no room for improvement, indeed, there are many targets and skillsets within it to work towards. However, it’s simplicity and instinctual nature make it accessible to everyone; all you need is trainers, you could go out and try right now! Its emotional impact has been a huge help to me. In a busy life, a 25 minute run where you can let your mind wander and accidentally solve problems has proved extremely valuable. Its portability was important to me as I travel a lot for work, and I find running a brilliant way to discover and enjoy a new place and to connect with the world around me; I usually get lost!
If running is not your thing, then cycling might be one to try as it has similar emotional benefits.
Squash, physical fitness wise, is ideal for overall conditioning; it requires equal amounts of full-body muscularity and cardiovascular effort. I like squash as a fitness option because, even though it does require a streak of competitiveness, it has a reputation for being a friendly and accessible game. The speed of the game also requires a fair bit of focus, which makes it a productive mental distraction from whatever else might be going on with you. The whacking of a squash ball is also pretty good for getting rid of a bit of tension.
3. Military Fitness/CrossFit
Military Fitness is now extremely popular, these classes are now run in parks and leisure centres all over the country. Many people are put of by the apparent intensity involved in this fitness option. I have not personally participated in any Military Fitness, but I know many people who have and continue to do so on a regular basis. My impressions are the following; it is incredible for motivation and fitness, that’s a given. It is not nearly as aggressive as you might be led to believe. However, what I am most struck by is the sense of community and human connectedness that it fosters. There is no competition, the emphasis is geared towards teamwork and support, which we could all do with a bit more of, I think.
Another activity that prizes this philosophy is the CrossFit community. This is certainly a more intense form of exercise, so suits a different type of person, but is equally fantastic for the mind and the soul.
For those less interested in getting covered in mud, bar bells and competitiveness, yoga is the obvious choice. It is well known that yoga brings together overall balance and conditioning with meditation and mindfulness. It is still going strong and I would recommend it to anyone, whether it is occasional or a regular part of your routine. Aside from the physical element, the silence and serenity of a yoga class is unmatched in its ability to calm and clear the mind.
Football is something that we all understand. In fact, I would argue that football brings together, in equal quantity, all the elements of the above activities. Physically, it requires effort from the whole body. It fosters support, connectedness and teamwork. It requires focus at times, but also allows time for the mind to wander. Most of all though, it is accessible. Anyone can enjoy a kick around, whether it is casual or seriously competitive, whether it is just a bunch of pals, or a serious team. Maybe a regular kick about is all your mind needs to feel a little freer.
By Chris Thomson
Physical activity and tactile tasks are great ways to connect with the world and to open your mind. Perhaps one of these will tickle your fancy… Use Your hands: A Tactile Approach to Mindfulness
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