Updated: Sep 16, 2021
Exercising our bodies is hugely important especially as we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, our greatest defence against Covid19 is to maintain our health, giving ourselves the best possible chance of fighting the virus should we catch it. However, we humans in today's world are living as if we are captive animals, such is the deprivation of movement in our modern lives. We have outsourced so many of our ancestors hunter gather ways to innovative machines that almost every physical task in life has been reduced to the pressing of a button or the flicking of a switch. Washing machines, cars, food processors, lawn mowers, on-line deliveries, remote controls and mobile phones are just some of the inventions which have all, arguably added huge benefits to our lives, but have equally reduced our need to move significantly.
We are also bombarded by a sensory overload in our supposedly developed world, so whilst our physical bodies are deprived of movements our eyes and ears especially are constantly hit by tidal waves of information. Our continuous scrolling of screens (deliberately lacking of any stopping cues), digital advertisements on public transport, huge bill boards everywhere, and many hours working at computer screens all saturate our eyes with lights and sights. Whilst the constant traffic, building works and even the air conditioning units in our homes all contribute to the endless sounds of the city, a constant hum our ears sense. So, again like caged animals with the jeering of onlookers and the tapping of glass cages by inquisitive observers our lives have developed a constant backdrop of noise. We can be hard pressed in a big metropolis like Bangkok to find a place of quiet solace to allow our senses a rest.
But all is not doom and gloom because we really can make significant impact on our health and well being simply by making a few mindful choices. For example, opting to switch off notifications on our phone or programming the nighttime routine to shut out any messages when we want to be winding down and heading to bed. Each choice helping to remove the temptation to instantaneously respond, blocking the slippery slope to endless digital stimuli. Creating your own stopping cues can be really effective. If this feels like inflicting a lot of rules on yourself, how about reframing it to be about making promises to yourself, to protect both your mind and health.
Of course going to the gym, taking up a new sport or attending exercise classes is one way to increase your movement but a bit like New Years Resolutions such great gestures can quickly get side lined (still maintaining any you made a month ago?). Instead I would argue that it can be so much simpler that that. Simply think about how you can add some more movement into your daily routine, can you walk to the shops instead of taking the car, or can you take that item upstairs straight away instead of forming in a pile at the bottom of the stairs, or can you test your balance by standing on one leg as you clean your teeth? Any extra little bit of movement or stretching is of benefit to your body, even for those who already have an establish exercise regime, how much more could you sneak in today? Think of movement as nourishing your body just like food nourishes us. We also need a variety of movements to maintain our health just like we need to eat a varied diet.
Many physical activities can benefit the mind as much as the body. The feel good hormones triggered through movement and deeper breaths lift our mood, but additionally the repetitive action of any repeated movement can become a version of a moving meditation. This can be particularly helpful if you have that 'monkey mind' which quickly jumps from thought to thought, that can be challenging to calm with more traditional styles of meditation. Finding an activity that moves your body, but also forces you to focus and zone out from the business of modern life can be hugely beneficial. Pilates is famous for this and why it is known for its mind-body connection.
Many may be put off Pilates, thinking it is not for them because they are not flexible or they don't really know what Pilates is, and for those starting out it can feel full of jargon with the nuances of an imprinted or neutral spine, pointed of flexed toes, retracted or protracted shoulder blades. However at it's core Pilates is really just about moving your body in a controlled way, it is about regaining control of all your muscles, even the smallest ones so that you are able to control your body, rather than your body's aches, pains, weaknesses and imbalances controlling you. That control comes by focusing your mind on the exercises you are doing, thus strengthening and rewriting your proprioceptor pathways between your brain and parts of your body.
The thing about Pilates is that like many things, once we break them down, it's actually quite simple, and honestly the more you do it and the more you practise the better you will get at it. What once may have seemed almost impossible really does start to become possible and you will most likely find that you do actually enjoy it because it not only makes you feel better during the class but more importantly as you go about your day or week after a class. (However, I would hesitate to say the more you do it the easier it gets because you will just get better at refining your moves and thus increasing your work and benefits of the continued practise.)
Every mindful action you take to protect or promote your health adds up, five minutes to take the stairs rather than the elevator, 10 minutes extra walking, 20 mins less scrolling, it will all add up. It is like putting money in the bank, slowly it builds and over time you will see the benefit. Of course you can always do more but how about lowering the bar so low that you cannot fail to take that first step over it, and then over time you can raise that bar. But first and foremost just move more and remember no effort is ever wasted!
"The journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step" Lao Tzu