How To Train Your Body And Your Mind

The latest trend from the fitness industry

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In the last few years being mindful and being fit have become the the most desirable states to be. Gone are the party girl heroes of the 90’s and in are meditation apps, spiralizers and sweaty selfies. Who would have predicted it? Being seen at the latest boutique gym is the new being seen falling out of the hottest nightclub at 4am. So it was only a matter of time until some clever folk combined the two and created a workout to become fit and mindful; can you imagine a more powerful combination?

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The team at Equinox Premium Health Clubs have done just that with their new Headstrong class. The concept is simply about becoming present and stronger physically and mentally. We spoke to the creators Michael Gervais and Kai Karlstrom to find out more and to find out how we can begin to train our body and mind together.

Why should we train the body and the mind as one?

MG: More and more research indicates that physical responses are the best way to train mental function - rather than puzzles and games. Sensation and physical activity are more deeply wired into our brains so it makes sense that movement stimulates the way our brain learns and grows.

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KK: Your brain and body must work in sync to function well.  Over the years, science has shown us how to strengthen that connection through movement (some of the degenerative issues with the brain over time come from lack of movement). 

What are the benefits of integrating the two?

MG: Mindful movement drives optimal brain function. In a way, they really can't be separated. 

KK: The mind helps you improve your form through spacial awareness, it helps you recover after a workout by down-regulating the central nervous system. It can even help reduce body fat by finding ways to mitigate chronic stress. The brain can help self-regulate and reduce injury risk. By training the brain and the body together nearly all training outcomes can be improved.  

What is the concept behind Headstrong? 

MG: Headstrong is about being present both physically and mentally. Studies show that mindfulness makes you less stressed, more focused, and happier in general.  We wanted to offer those benefits in a completely new way, and without having to sacrifice a great workout.

KK: The idea is to take the concepts behind brain training and offer them in a member-friendly format. It lets you get the adaption of meditation without sacrificing a heart-pounding workout.

Do you think this is something that is missing from traditional workout classes?

MG: In the fitness industry, we have become masters of training our hearts, our muscles, and our lungs. Yet the brain is the organ as essential as any of these! Getting people to think about keeping their mental edge as a part of overall physical health is a new frontier, yet I think people are ready for the future. 

KK: Many workout classes are about going as hard as you can, but that misses the other half of training, which is regeneration (both physical and mental). Most people view working out as something for their muscles, aesthetics, or even for internal changes, but all of those can benefit from training in specific ways that utilize the mind. I think this attitude also extends into the rest of many people's lives--lacking mindfulness in their every day life.

How can we become more mindful when we exercise? 

MG: One thing we start with is to have people wiggle their toes in their shoes. This stimulates all the nerve endings of the feet. Throughout your workout, try to maintain an awareness of the feet and the hands. If you forget, just come back to it when you remember. This will help you to concentrate on physical sensation, as well as all the brain-informing nerve endings in the soles of the feet and the hands.

KK: One simple way you can incorporate mindfulness into exercise is as simple as training barefoot. You create more awareness of your foot, which can help improve your hip positioning. Another way is to focus on your breath through your movements (incidentally, proper breathing can help reduce back pain).  

Do you have any techniques or exercises you can share to get us started? 

MG: A simple bodyscan is a great way to bring more awareness to your mind body connection. This is just paying attention to the sensations of different parts of your body, one at a time.  For instance, you can start with the head, and move downward one part at a time.  Its very relaxing, but it also trains the brain to filter information.  We always end class with this, as it is also a great way to cement the work that we have done throughout the class.

KK: One easy one is called "crocodile breathing".  You lay on your stomach and breath into your stomach so your hips rise up and down.  This breath technique is the foundation to low back stability for movement.  Another is to incorporate variety.  Most of us like to do things we are good at doing, but that does not allow us to evolve and change.  Venture out of your comfort zone--that will force you to learn something new or new techniques, which all comes back to positive outcomes for your brain.

Any more tips?

KK: Listen to your body. When you feel pain, do not push through. Think of your body like a roadway. When there is construction, your car is re-routed through a different roadway to get to your destination. If you have pain when you exercise, the brain is VERY smart and will re-route your movement to a less painful pattern, which is a compensation. This can lead to MUCH worse pain in the future.

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