This week we focus on mindful movement and how it might benefit you.
Any type of movement that you enjoy and that doesn't cause injury or excessive exhaustion is going to benefit you. Our bodies really need to move!
If we think about our ancestors, the human body evolved to walk many miles per day, most days; to run whenever necessary; to carry heavy weights and to climb and swim. We still have the same bodies (and brains) that our ancestors were living with over 300,000 years ago and yet we treat them very differently.
Evolutionary biologists are now asserting that it is a myth that we are healthier than our predecessors - true, we have modern medicines for infections and other illnesses - but in many respects we are now fast becoming more unhealthy than at any time in human history.
And a large contributory factor to this is our sedentary lifestyle coupled with poor food choices and unrelenting stress.
I have enjoyed many forms of physical exercise over the years, most of which I have reluctantly had to forgo one by one as my condition deteriorated, but for the last 8 years I have practiced Qigong and Shibashi, similar to Tai Chi and from the same origins in Chinese medicine. All of these types of movements have been shown to have many health benefits.
Researchers in a 2022 Shanghai study following 60,000 men for five years found that those who practice Tai Chi regularly live significantly longer than those who don't (See BBC Radio 4 - Just One Thing - with Michael Mosley - The surprising health benefits of Tai Chi for more details) and a Harvard paper also published in 2022 ran this headline:
This gentle form of exercise can help maintain strength, flexibility, and balance, and could be the perfect activity for the rest of your life.
Some of the benefits have been found to include:
Management of chronic conditions
Improved heart health
Improved brain function & slower brain aging
Increased attention span
and many more.
So how can learning and practicing a few simple movements achieve all of these benefits, and how hard is it to learn?
Exercise in general helps with cognitive function (see Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits - PMC (nih.gov)) and there are thousands of studies linking exercise with improved mental health. However, there are added benefits to Qigong and Shibashi; some researchers claiming that Shibashi in particular exceeds the benefits found in more complex forms of Tai Chi.
First, the focus on gentle movement aligned with the breath (especially in Qigong & Shibashi forms) helps to increase mindful focus which in turn increases our capacity for attentional control - in other words our attention span improves which expands and extends our thinking ability & keeps the brain healthy, slowing down the effects of aging. As we slow our breathing we calm the central nervous system which improves blood pressure as well as improving a range of heart, lung & liver conditions.
Second, the construction of the moves requires both the hemispheres of the brain to work together improving balance at all levels, and the structure of classes means that you benefit from experiencing both mentally challenging sections and sections where you repeat moves you know well to music, enabling you get into a 'flow state'.
Third, the use of visualisation whilst moving seems to embed the psychological benefits more firmly in our minds, helping us to rewire the brain through utilising neuroplasticity much more quickly than using visualisations or affirmations alone.
And it is easy to learn and practice enough simple movements to start seeing benefits within a few weeks. Many people report better sleep and improved posture after just a week of practice, both of which lead to improvements in other areas.
To find out more either join me for one of my Shibashi classes or workshops or check out Jeff Chand's YouTube channel where you can learn some simple Qigong routines: https://youtu.be/BC9MvsxZrW4
If you already practice yoga or Pilates, try incorporating some more formal breathwork & visualisation into your practice to experience some of these added benefits found in Qigong.
If you prefer to dance, why not try a new dance class where you need to combine movement with focusing on learning new steps? When we combine movement with focused concentration we are doubly benefitting the brain. In a class we also benefit from the social aspect, another key factor in what scientists believe are the primary contributors to longer, happier lives found in 'Blue Zones'.
And if you want to lose weight as well as gain fitness, studies show that the slower exercises burn more fat and grow more lean muscle than the popular high energy classes.
Have a great week and, if you'd like to join my free online mindfulness groups why not sign up to join my mailing list? You will also receive regular updates on what's coming up, and you always hear here first, giving you the opportunity to book classes where space is limited before I advertise elsewhere. I look forward to meeting you! email@example.com