Monday, June 16, 2014

The Exercise Mind-Body Connection


As an avid runner, I've definitely reaped the physical benefits of regular exercise and eating a healthier diet: I lost a LOT of weight, I improved my overall health immensely, and I just feel so much better physically at age 34 than I have in a long time. If you'd like to read about my weight loss and fitness journey, you can check out previous posts HERE. I won't rehash it all in this post because what I want to write about now is something that I've learned over the course of the last few years. As you can guess from the title, it has to do with the connection between the body and the mind as it relates to exercise.

You see, there are some cases where I'm out on one of my runs and my mind wanders so much thinking about different things that it's almost like I'm on autopilot. I would say more often than not, this is what happens when I go out for my long runs, and I enjoy this aspect of it. For me, it's the best kind of mental therapy because it's time that I'm alone and clear-headed enough that I can really get some good thinking done. There are also the (rarer) occasions when I am mentally not into it, whether it's because I'm tired or having a bad day or for another reason, and I just switch off my brain; during these times, the run is a purely physical exercise and nothing more. However, when I'm able to strike the perfect balance between the physical movement of my body and the thoughts in my head, I'm able to reach another level that is really special.

At the risk of sounding too "New Agey," it almost feels like I've achieved a state of hyper-awareness between my body and my surroundings. I prefer to run without music playing for safety reasons: I like to be able to hear what's going on around me, whether it's a car coming, people in their yards or approaching me from behind, and so on. But another reason for this is that I like to be able to focus on the sights, sounds, and smells of my surroundings...nature is very beautiful and given the number of wild animals I've encountered on my runs over the years, from wild turkeys to deer, skunks, possums, foxes, coyotes, rabbits, and turtles...not to mention dogs and cats, it's best to know what's going on around me at all times! Taking it even one step further, I love listening to the sound of my footfalls and the rhythm of my breathing because when I enter this state of balance, I can really feel that I have complete understanding and control of my entire body.  When I really pay attention and strike this balance, I can focus on improving my running performance, which leads to definitely noticeable improvements each successive time I head out onto the road.  I also find that the adrenaline allows my senses to feel almost enhanced...certainly my senses of sight, smell, and hearing feel more wide-open, acute, and sensitive when I'm in the middle of a run than they do during my everyday life. Biologically, this makes sense with the increased oxygen intake and blood flow, as well as the opening of my airways, but I also think that the fact that I'm really in tune to how my body is feeling and my focus on what I'm doing give me more of an understanding and more control over those senses.

Additionally, reaching this state of equilibrium when I'm running allows me to really think about things with a clear head and open mind. I'm sure it's a combination of being truly alone and singularly focused on one task, as well as the endorphins that are released during sustained physical activity, but I always find that, by far, I do my best thinking when I'm out on these long runs. This can range from thinking about things going on in my life at the moment, whether they're stressful, exciting, confusing, upsetting, happy...the entire emotional spectrum. I also find that some of my best creative ideas, whether they're song lyrics, ideas for the novel I'm (still) working on, ideas for blog posts, song melodies, and anything else that pops into my mind all come to me at these times. I've found these moments during my runs to be the best form of psychotherapy I could possibly have...a chance to clear my head, burn off all of the energy and stress and anxiety I may have, and a time to really think clearly and resolve issues in my head. The resulting runner's high after the run ends is a fantastic feeling, the only downside being that sometimes I have such a hard time coming down off of all of the adrenaline that it makes it hard for me to go to sleep, even hours later!

I know I'm not unique in noticing, harnessing, and reaping the benefits of this phenomenon during regular exercise sessions, and I'd love to hear from anyone else who notices something similar during their workouts, whether you run like I do or engage in some different form of exercise. How do you feel during it? Do you take advantage of the enhanced connection between your mind and body? Have you found that it ends up feeling relaxing to workout? Please comment below and let's discuss this!


2 comments:

  1. Drew-Thanks for your insightful comments about your hyper-awareness in body and surrounding environment connection.

    My question is off topic. I am giving a TEDx talk titled Quiet Power and I talk quite a bit about mind-body disconnect and connection. I would love to use the graphic at the beginning of this blog. If it's yours, can I have permission to use it? If not could you tell me where you got it from so I can proceed with my inquiry?

    Thanks,

    Kate
    kwebster@breakingthrubarriers.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kate, thanks for stopping by and for the kind words on the post.

      Regarding the pic, gosh I don't remember...I had done a web search over a year ago and found it on some random site and the fellow who had it said I could use it but that was a while ago when I was working on this post. I wasn't sure if he was indeed the actual owner or if he had just cross-posted it from somewhere else but I took his word. So I can't give you permission to use it in good conscience...in fact I'm going to temporarily remove it until I can track down whether that fellow was even the right person to even give me permission. I'll let you know what I find, if anything.

      Delete