Daily life can be stressful, and working out is a great opportunity to both release stress and clear some mental clutter so you are not only becoming physically healthier, but functioning with a new sense of clarity and peace. Whether you prefer walking or running in the park, swimming, or working out at a local gym, exercise helps keep our bodies strong & limber. Did you know that you can enhance the benefits of exercising simply through something you already do all the time? Yes, indeed; and that something is…breathing!
How? By breathing with awareness as you exercise. Mindfully attending to the breath while working out releases a lot of the “mental junk mail” that the mind accumulates over time, so that the mind can function at its peak. Synchronizing the breath with your movements as you work out also balances the nervous system, taking you out of the “fight-or-flight” stress response and signaling the body to relax and heal. You are activating the vagus nerve, which affects multiple body functions, from blood pressure to immune function to cellular regeneration. Pay attention to the breath and, SURPRISE you’ve just changed your old workout to go deeper than ever before.
Here are a few quick exercises incorporating the breath. These can be mixed into any workout, and set you on a course towards not only physical health, but mental clarity & overall balance. Keep reminding yourself to be aware of your breath throughout the exercises, and synchronize your breath with the movements to allow the mind to truly connect with the body as it puts in this good work.
Body weight squats: INHALE as you slowly lower yourself down to 90 degrees, pause for a few seconds, then EXHALE as you slowly raise yourself back to standing position. Do this for at least 10 repetitions.
Pushups: INHALE as you slowly lower your torso to just above the ground, pause for a few seconds, then EXHALE as you raise yourself to arms fully extended, pause for a few seconds, then repeat. Do this for at least 10 repetitions. Modification: Knees on the floor, or use an elevated platform to put your hands on so you can complete a full pushup.
Shoulder circles: Moving just your shoulders without the arms, INHALE as you pull your shoulders back and then up, as you cross the threshold and start moving them forwards and down, EXHALE slowly, and repeat once your shoulders are back in their neutral position. Do this for 10 repetitions. Repeat, but move them in the opposite direction, still inhaling as the shoulders move up, exhaling down.
Breathe. Be strong. Feel great!