In this week's installment of the Yoga Living Project, Cambio teacher Caleb Hall is here with an artist's perspective on movement and health - physical and otherwise. Give it a read for some new insights - and maybe catch Caleb's classes Sat 1p at Austin Bluffs and Sunday 10:30a at Pikes Peak. If you have your own thoughts to share with our readers, send to
Yoga and Mental Boost In Movement
The University of Arizona once did an experiment testing how quickly they could grow trees. By replicating earth’s conditions, they were immensely successful in germinating these trees at a rapid rate. However, unexpectedly, the trees would collapse before reaching maturity. This troubled the researchers until they addressed the critical part of earth’s environment they were missing: the wind. Trees require the pressure and stress from wind in order to become strong and sturdy. Now, I am not here to tell you about trees, but there is a critical perspective to take from this research about our own bodies and minds.
As a student, I studied Visual and Performing Arts with a performing arts emphasis. My background in arts and yoga does not necessarily frame me as the typical person that you would see in working out in the gym. Despite this, I believe in the intrinsic connection between the body and the mind—a healthy body makes a healthy mind and vice versa. I’ve suffered from lack of inspiration and motivation to create in the dance studio— this can be especially frustrating after a day of sitting at the computer. However, I have found when I just begin to invite movement into the body, choreography and ideas begin to piece together.
Movement directly impacts our mental health. We all know how tired and fatigued we feel after sitting down at a computer for a few hours. We can empathize with the adrenal fatigue felt in the past year and have experienced firsthand how the lack of movement in our lives reflects in our mood. Ever notice that exciting energy after exercising that makes you feel ready to take on the rest of the day? I see this constantly in my yoga classes too. My students will walk in groggy in the morning or in a down mood. By the end of class they are smiling, talking, and ecstatic to move onto the rest of their day. To say that exercise is important to fostering more happiness and joy in our life would be a dramatic understatement. The two ideas depend on each other.
Even the most acute of exercises will improve your mental health. A study performed on adult men with ADHD tested the effects of only 20 minutes of cycling on their mental state. The study concluded that the men had higher motivation to complete tasks, higher energy, and had less feelings of depression, stress, and fatigue. What this shows is even with minimal amounts of exercise, we have the power to improve our dispositions and increase our productivity by simply moving around. Returning to the tree example, the stress (not emotional stress, physical stress) of the wind on the tree allows it to grow stronger. Our bodies and minds work the exact same way. Movement and physical exercise encourage us to grow stronger mentally and physically.
Movement and our mental health also foster mental clarity. By exercising, you generate the control energy in your body and teach yourself how to maintain awareness during exercise. In yoga, we call this, “controlling prana and stilling vrittis,” or, “controlling the energy and stilling the mind.” By exercising, we are developing an acute sense of how our own individual bodies function—which is something you cannot learn from a textbook. Exercise encourages the mind-body connection, therefore allowing you to enter,“Flow state,” which is essentially a meditative state. Practiced athletes enter this flow state all of the time! An example of this is when a runner is running so long, they become unaware of the physical stress of running— they become “detached,” as if their body is just running for them. Another example, is when a basketball player suddenly steals the ball, makes a hoop with seconds on the clock, but afterwards cannot explain what came over them or sometimes cannot fully remember the moment themselves. Exercises develop body awareness, position in space, and focused thoughts.
Beyond physical benefits, how does this impact the body in other areas? Well, in a myriad of ways, but a critical connection is with stress and hormone levels. Dr. Sara Gottfried, a Harvard educated physician turned yoga practitioner, identifies these best. Perhaps you noticed that after you took a yoga class, you feel less inclined to reach for that chocolate bar or burger that you may have been craving before class. The explanation for this stems from a direct impact that yoga has on hormones in the body. Decreasing stress with yoga lowers cortisol levels— leading to fewer cravings for the sugar or carb of the day. Yoga also raises serotonin levels. This is the “happy brain chemical” in the body. Dr. Gottfried identifies that studies have shown, “women have 52 percent less serotonin than men,” and yoga allows for serotonin levels to balance (from Yoga and Body Image by Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelly). So, we see how mindful movement plays significant roles in the chemical body as much as the anatomical body.
There is a saying I love that says everyone should do yoga for 20 minutes a day. Unless you are busy. Then, you should do yoga for an hour. I may be biased, but really any form of exercise can be substitute for yoga in this saying. Movement in our lives is critical to improving our mentality. There is no “correct answer” here, but here are some ideas of ways to get yourself moving:
1. Do some form of exercise after waking up in the morning. Even if it is just light stretching or some exercises lying on the floor, it will get your body moving and your mind awake. While doing this, start conveying positive feedback to yourself. Focus on how strong you feel in the morning, how well you slept, and the people or things you are looking forward to seeing.
2. Take a break from the computer and go outside and walk, run, cycle, etc… Get your blood pumping for even 20 minutes. That stimulation will allow you to feel productive and ready to finish your work.
3. If you absolutely do not have time, try this breath of joy exercise. You will feel silly doing it, but that is the point! This breath facilitates the connection between breath, movement, and the mind in order to immediately improve your mental state.
4. Do exercises before bed that incites meditative movement. I will always advocate for yoga, but any exercise that uses your own body is great for this; like, pilates, Qigong, tai chi, Feldenkrais, etc… Meditative movement allows time to check in with the body, allows you to become more introspective, gives space for reflection on your day, and prepares the body for sleep.
5. Sleep! You burn calories while you are sleeping! In some cases, you could burn 46 calories an hour just getting sleep at night. Your body gets to repair and your mind gets to sort through the new neural connections made from the day.
Build your mind-body connection and feel better by just moving! Take a lesson from the trees, and grow strong mentally and physically through movement!