You want to be the best you can be? Mind and body is a 2-way street
My regular readers will know that I have a great interest in the link between mind and body. I have always been interested in this topic, but my interest was heightened following the death of my father from Alzheimer’s (please read Dementia, I lost my father, don’t lose yours).
It is common to think that our mind is in control and telling our body what to do. But there is a lot of scientific evidence that shows the chatter between mind and body goes two ways, and the body is an integral part of how we think. I was therefore very interested to read a new book How the Body Knows Its Mind, by Prof. Sian Beilock, who provides the latest scientific evidence about the body’s influence on our psyche, drawing on work from her own laboratory and from colleagues around the world.
On my PilatesEVO© and bodyFUNC© fitness educations, I encourage my students to open their minds to the fact that the body and the mind are to all intents and purposes one and the same. A significant part of my training is about the psychological level, whereas I find that the vast majority of training educations focus only on the physical which is my opinion a big mistake. So I give my student the tools and techniques they can use everyday in their training for themselves and their clients.
I give similar talks to senior management when acting as a consultant to business. Until we accept this fact, it is my contention that we can never be the best teacher we can be, or the best manager we can be. There are still many people who operate in the physical plane only, and there is growing scientific evidence that supports my teachings that to do so is seriously and critically impacting on our ability to achieve the results we want, both physical and psychological.
Beilock, a leading expert on the brain science behind human performance, believes the body-mind connection starts early.
“Movement matters with everyone, but it is especially important for babies and young children,” said Beilock. “Mobile kids hit cognitive milestones faster.” She said that simple steps like allowing babies to run around naked — when appropriate — can help them explore their worlds. Beilock said wearing diapers and using baby walkers can limit a baby’s ability to interact with the world and hinder the process of learning how to walk. The more quickly children learn how to walk and explore, the faster their cognitive development.
Incorporating physical activity into more subjects can help kids learn in school, according to Beilock.
“We can’t just keep students confined to their chairs — we have to get them up, out and moving,” Beilock said. “When the subjects are math or physics, getting students to actually physically experience some of the concepts they’re learning about changes how their brains process the information and can lead to better performance on a test.” Movement also helps explain the connection between music and math. Why do kids tend to excel in both? It’s because the brain areas controlling finger dexterity and number largely overlap. Beilock unpacks the latest research showing that when kids exercise their fingers through regular piano play, their grasp of numbers improves.
An area of particular interest to me that the idea that exercise can aid mental health as well as academic achievement. According to Beilock. “The research shows that getting kids moving is important not only for their physical well-being, but for their mental well-being, too.” She said schools need to emphasize “the “4 Rs” — reading, (w)riting, (a)rithmetic and recess. Boys’ academic achievement may especially benefit from recess, she added.
Exercise is equally important for older adults, as it can promote healthy aging mentally and physically. “There are clear differences in brain health in fit, older adults compared with their more sedentary counterparts,” said Beilock. “And these differences carry consequences for thinking and reasoning as well as for memory.” Beilock stressed that aerobic exercise, which can alter the structure and functioning of the brain, is key for improving mental health. Activities like swimming, running, cycling, walking briskly or even doing household chores at a vigorous pace can benefit the brain, in addition to keeping the body fit.
There are some simple ideas that you can incorporate into your training, or you everyday life:
• Take active breaks from work or vexing problems to give your brain a chance to regroup and reboot. Physically walking away from the problem for a few minutes may help you solve it.
• Your body’s posture and expressions are not just reflections of your mind — they can influence your mood. Stand tall to help give yourself confidence and to send a signal to those around you that you have brought your “A” game to the table. And be mindful of your facial expressions. Your brain uses your expressions as cues to feel emotions. Smiling can actually make you feel happier.
• Practice in the real conditions under which you will have to perform — whether it’s public speaking, a test or an important match. It’s also good to practice in front of others so when all eyes are on you, it’s nothing new.
• Write it out. Journaling can help you deal with the stress of a test or your worries in daily life. Physically downloading worries from your mind (by putting pen to paper) has positive performance outcomes and reducing that stress affects your health in good ways, too.
• Spend time in nature as often as you can, and find time to meditate. New science shows that a walk in the woods rejuvenates our minds and improves our ability to pay attention and focus. Meditation for even a few minutes a day can help alleviate anxiety and chronic pain. It also can help with self-control that may be helpful for working to break bad habits, like smoking.
“Little things we do can have a big effect,” said Beilock.
We do not have to spend hours every day in order to improve our physical and mental health. By applying some simple techniques, we can begin to make a major shift in our life.
Chris Hunt is a Pilates and functional training presenter and educator based in London and Barcelona, Spain. He is the creator of Pilates EVO©, bodyFUNC©, and CEO of Pilates Rehab Limited and Sport Core Strength. He also created Pilates Carnival and Fitness Carnival, conventions where all profits go to local children’s charities. He organises Pilates events, retreats, fitness holidays and sports holidays in Barcelona and Ibiza. For more information about training with Chris in Barcelona, please click on Barcelona Bienestar. To learn more about Chris Hunt, please read Just who is Chris Hunt anyway? You can also subscribe by completing the form on the this BLOG to receive articles and special offers straight to your inbox.
Chris Hunt pays all profits made from this BLOG to his charity partners. More details can be found by clicking on www.chrishuntwellness.com and selecting the “charity partners” tab.