SHINE from the inside out

What is the best way to feel and look great from the inside out?

Should we focus on our diet, start lifting weights or step up our cardio? If so, what should we eat? How much weight should we lift? What type of cardio?

These are all pertinent questions, the answers to which vary depending on who is asking them. We’ll explore the specifics of these in upcoming blog posts, but for now let’s delve a little deeper.

I believe the essence of living a healthy and rewarding life can be distilled down to one concept…

Awareness

Awareness of our body. Awareness of our breath. Awareness of our mind. This ongoing process of self discovery makes it possible to intuitively make choices and take actions that consistently support our goals.

Awareness of the body is a great place to begin.

Establishing a regular exercise regime that includes stretching, lifting weights and getting your heart rate up is what researchers call a “keystone habit”. In other words, it has a flow on effect. Scientists studying habit formation have found that people naturally start making healthier dietary choices, often tidy up around the house more and even spend less on their credit card!

The more we move our body, the more in touch with it we get. Appreciating it’s abilities and accepting it’s limitations. Ageing is a humbling process for all of us, but regular exercise (combined with a healthy diet) is the best way to keep ourselves feeling and looking younger.

Sounds easy enough… on the good days. But what about when we are tired, or overwhelmed or just plain apathetic? How do we get ourselves to train and eat well then?

Our perception drives our behaviour and that perception is influenced by our thoughts and emotions in any given moment. I like to think of a “thought” as something that “exists in the brain” and an “emotion” as a “thought experienced in the body”. When life throws up a challenge (not if, but when!) unhelpful thoughts and emotions can ride roughshod over even the best laid fitness and dietary plans. Willpower reveals itself to be the phantom that it is, and we are left feeling like we are back to square one.

Thoughts and emotions are like slippery little fish, very hard to get control of. The body is much easier. The breath is a wonderful bridge between the two. It operates completely unconsciously, and yet, it can be consciously controlled. This gives us a conscious link to our autonomic nervous system which is the master controller of our physiology.

By learning to regulate the flow of our breath, we can produce profound physiological effects such as slowing our heart rate, reducing the levels of stress hormones and improving our digestion, just to name a few. We can mitigate the emotional response in our body on a very practical level. We can breathe away those knots in our stomach, the tension in our shoulders the tightness of our jaw and temples.

The mental clarity that follows a few minutes of breath regulation or “pranayama” can be enough to redirect our focus back on behaviours that are going to support our health and fitness goals, even on the bad days. It doesn’t mean we won’t ever go off track again, but daily breathing exercises (that can lead to meditation) are a very effective method of improving the consistency of our training and healthy eating choices.

There are times when we simply can’t think our way around the challenge we are facing, but we can move and breathe our way to a fresh perspective which can often allow us to find a way through.

With this in mind, here’s an exercise I’d like you to try. We call it a Square Breath – where the pauses after each inhale and exhale are of equal length to the breaths themselves. For example we can breathe in for a count of three, pause for a count of three (with the breath held in), exhale for a count of three and pause (with the breath held out) for a count of three. With practice, the sides of the square (the number you count up to) can be extended. There is no “optimal” number you need to aim for. The ideal length of each side will be the one that is long enough to engage your focus, but not so long that it creates tension or adds stress trying to reach it. Approach Square Breath In the same way you would stretch a muscle – enough to feel it and not drift off, but not so much to cause injury or tense up against it.

One of the many great things about this practice is that it takes NO EXTRA TIME. You can do this while you are commuting, waiting in a queue, washing up or in a boring meeting! You are breathing anyway so why not bring some awareness to it and flick your autonomic nervous system into healthy mode.

We’d love to share our passion for “breath work” (pranayama) with you in our Personal Health and Fitness Coaching sessions which can include some or all of these aspects; stretching, strength training, cardio fitness, rehabilitation, balance training, nutrition guidance, breath regulation and meditation. Alternatively, we look forward to seeing you on the mat in either a yoga or Pilates class or bootcamp class.

Until next time,

John

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