As I was writing destressifying, I reached out to one of my students, the world-renowned elite fitness trainer Laura Bender, hoping she could provide me with a few insights on the destressifying fusion of exercise and meditation. For more than 30 years, Laura has taught thousands to transform their bodies, minds, and lives through her personal training regimen, yoga classes, and meditation instruction. She holds 4 advanced fitness certifications from the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research in Dallas Texas; she is a certified yoga and meditation teacher; and I am proud to say that she is one of my Masters of Wisdom & Meditation Certified Teachers. She founded -and has trained thousands of individuals from all walks of life at- Bodies by Bender Personal Training studio in Missoula, Montana. Rather than give me a few tips, she actually wrote an article for you. Here are a few of Laura Bender’s insights on the unique fusion of exercise and meditation.
Human bodies are designed to move. Thousands of years ago, our hunter-gatherer ancestors used their bodies in every aspect of existence. Hunters ran their prey down while gatherers squatted in the fields and forests collecting fruits and plants. Movement was a natural process and a part of everyday existence, essential for life. Fast-forward to 2015, and we are no longer hunting for game, squatting in the fields, or traveling miles on foot to move our homes. People sit in front of computers, televisions, in cars, recliners, chairs, sit, sit, sit.
None of us are truly made to be this frozen for long periods of time. Daily living can be very stressful. When the body is snuggled into the confines of inactivity it coagulates and becomes tight. The digestive system becomes sluggish and just as a stressed mind becomes constricted, so does the body. Our brain sends us signals in the form of depression and other mental illnesses and our bodies send us signals screaming to move in the form of indigestion, back, hip, knee, and shoulder pain. The mind and body are partners in this dance one truly does not exist without the other. Both the mind and the body long for expansion. We live our days in an unnatural state. Your brain wants rest… your body wants to move. Step into the field of all possibilities and reclaim your birthright! Using your body releases tension.
What are the healing benefits of exercise?
We all know that stress can raise blood pressure, resting heart rate, and lead to weight gain and mental health issues. Every one of these symptoms can cause cardiovascular disease and if untreated, long-term stress can lead to even more extreme medical problems. Exercise de-stresses your physical/emotional body. In general the physical benefits of exercise are; improved heart health, blood panels, enhanced immune system, and increased muscle strength.
Physical activity can boost mood, improve energy and significantly improve both quality and quantity of sleep. In fact, a study by the Cooper Institute showed that doses of physical activity were as effective as taking prescription drugs for mild to moderate depression. Current research suggests that the method of exercise that most benefits stress reduction is cardiovascular exercise. Even though higher levels of exercise are associated with lower levels of stress, recent researchers are inconclusive as to exactly what type, intensity and frequency of exercise best improves the brain’s health.
Cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility exercise are all said to be neuroprotective to the mind. According to the American Psychological Association, there is little evidence that exercise causes a rush of endorphins. So how does one account for the feeling of euphoria during and sometimes after that mourning run? Well, apparently researchers have found that exercise can increase norepinephrine a chemical in the brain regions involved in the bodies stress response. Norepinephrine is responsible for modulating the neurotransmitters. Some antidepressants increase the brain’s concentration of norepinephrine, which can be a chemical crapshoot – pushing you high and low.
Biologically, exercise gives our bodies a chance to practice dealing with stress. The channels of communication become stronger between cardiovascular, renal, and muscular systems. The leader of this band is the CNS (central nervous system) and SNS (sympathetic nervous system). This workout might be the most valuable gift of exercise. The lazier we get, the less efficient our bodies respond to exercise. The cognitive benefits of exercise are vast. Special retrieval memory is impacted by exercise as well as learning and consolidation. Not only are there learning implications from it, but physical activity in the elderly may decrease neurodegenerative disorder. Add the practice of daily meditation and you have a winning formula!
Combining meditation and exercise may be the key. Countless elite athletes have achieved their greatness by using various forms of guided imagery, mindfulness and visualization. One case in point is Coach Phil Jackson the famous coach of the Chicago Bulls and later the L.A. Lakers. During his years as the coach of the Bulls Jackson began to realize that the best winning strategy for his team was optimum performance and focus under the pressure and high stress situations of each game.
His winning formula was to enlist Sports Psychologist and Meditation Teacher George Mumford. Mindfulness was introduced during training camp and later on game day. Coach Jackson built the team’s mental strength through this practice. During games players practiced “re-seating or re-setting” when they would come back to the bench. According to Coach Jackson “the practice of mindfulness created one pointed attention within the team and they worked in concert with each other.” Stress and emotions were stabilized among the team before, during and after each game. Coach Jackson was able to take the highly talented Bulls to NBA championships through the use of mindfulness meditation.
Exercise gives the mind moments of rest and -as in meditation- can put the mind in default mode. However, unlike meditation this default mode is not long lasting. Shaping the mind at the same time one uses the body. Visualizing the map and using the physical body as the vehicle to reach the final destination. If you want lasting changes in your stress level, exercise and meditation make perfect partners.
Practicing meditation and adding a daily fitness activity is the answer to destressifying and manifesting your best life. I have been a Personal Trainer for over 30 years and have taught and practiced meditation daily for 10 of those years, working for and with some of the most amazing and interesting people in the United States. Creating beautiful bodies and teaching healthy eating has been my thing! I have seen the power of individualizing diet and exercise however, the most lasting and transformative changes that I have witnessed with my clients have happened over the last eight years when I started adding a meditation practice to their usual personal Training sessions!
Here is one such story:
Jeff was a 48-year-old CEO of a large engineering firm. When he first came to see me he weighed 230lbs, which on his 5’7 stocky frame made him over weight, self conscious and very uncomfortable. He worked 12-hour days and scheduled his three to four mile daily runs around meetings and work activities. He was in the process of separating from his wife of 30 years and his stress level was off the charts.
He felt better after his daily runs but the pain in his heart and the stress of his high-powered job was wearing him out emotionally, he felt sad all the time and his knees were starting to hurt him. Jeff was a conservative person who had never dreamed that his perfect life could fall apart. His pain and sorrow was evident in both his body language and his general demeanor. My first approach with Jeff was the traditional fitness approach, which included a health history, fitness evaluation, and posture analysis.
Together, we began to design his one on one workout. Each day I taught him specific exercises designed to recondition his body and mind. We used all the bells and whistles a weight room can offer as well as easy yoga and balance training. Jeff learned how to eat healthier and then I began sneaking in 60 seconds of bliss (based on the 16seconds technique) and a 10-minute mindfulness meditation.
Jeff started making better eating choices and running pain free he started to notice his stress level subsiding. I eased him into mantra meditation at the end of our sessions and Jeff started practicing twice a day for 20 minutes. Emotionally he was able to move through a challenging divorce. Within three months he lost 60lbs and started training for a marathon. Six months later Jeff ran his first marathon, finished with flying colors, and met the love of his life!
Today he still works out with me and practices mantra meditation twice a day. The once high-strung stress eater and drinker is now laid back, jovial, and happy. He is stronger, and he and his beautiful fiancée are manifesting new miracles every day. Jeff was able to take his company to a higher level and gift his employees with daily “mindfulness breaks.” Jeff reports; “The sky’s the limit! My meditation practice has put spirit back into my life! Meditation helped me to reach athletic and emotional heights I had never dreamed of.”
Meditation is the portal to witnessing and feeling every aspect of the human body. Exercise is the natural usage of each and every physical component of this beautiful machine. When a person who meditates exercises, both attention and intention begin to do a transformational dance. The body and the mind become one and you experience pure natural joy. Moving your body is so natural and with the practice of meditation, the witness and the participant become one. Stress virtually becomes nonexistent.
You can change your diet and exercise until the cows come home and still drop dead of a coronary heart attack. The mind is a powerful creature. Meditation is the added ingredient that clearly makes a difference!