Four Exercises To Build Calm Into Your Workout
Mr Ryan Willms, shot in California
Why breathing and deliberate movement can help you build a different kind of energy in your daily exercise.
It’s easy to overdo it when it comes to exercise and movement. We generally stress ourselves with work, social engagements, diet and lack of sleep, so piling on a rigorous workout has the potential, in some cases, to do more harm than good. I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time doing rather than being, and it’s taken me a while to fully integrate mediation and recovery into my daily exercise practices. Once I took the leap, however, it brought clarity and energy to my life.
Exercise and movement expert Mr Paul Chek has pioneered many concepts in the health and wellness industry, and “working in” is one of these. The basic idea is that by carefully controlling our heart rate and breathing, while moving, we can accumulate energy and build vitality as a counter-balance to the intensive stresses of strength training or running. Much of this working in has been gleaned from qigong and tai chi. “Qi” simply means energy and “gong” means practice. By making an energy practice a part of your routine, it can help with stress, sleep, digestion and recovery, which will bring you closer to holistic harmony, inside and out. There are many working-in practices to choose from, but the four below are among my favourites and I use at least one of them daily.
A note on breathing: working in is based around careful control of your breath, so during these exercises, you should make sure you are breathing properly. When inhaling, the first two-thirds of your breath should be into your belly and the last third goes into your chest. Exhale naturally through your nose. Moving softly and connecting your movements to the in-out rhythm of your breath helps the mind to become engaged with the physical experience so you can find a piece of quiet within. Don’t worry if you can’t empty your mind instantly. Observe your thoughts as they come up and increase your awareness of them without getting attached. It’s a time to flow, let your thoughts and emotions come and go, focus on your breath and let everything else melt away.
01. Zen swing
The Zen swing is one of my favourite working-in movements. It’s hard to do wrong, but there are a few ways in which you can optimise its restorative effects. This movement is designed to move all the joints in your body, move your cerebral spinal fluid and mobilise your fascia, ligaments and tendons throughout. Ideally, you’ll shift about 70 per cent of your body weight onto one leg and then back to the other as your arms swing from side to side. You can close your eyes or keep a gentle gaze on the horizon and, if you can find time, do it at sunrise or sunset to align your mind, heart and gut into a relaxing and calming state.
02. Brain gym
The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body. If the left and right hemispheres don’t talk to one another, it can contribute to anxiety, cloudy cognition and poor memory. This light movement is great to get both sides of the mind working together with your body and with your breath. As you exhale, take your elbow across your body to meet your opposite knee and as you inhale, reach up and expand. Exhale and reach the other elbow across your body to your other knee at the pace of your breath. Aim for 10 to 20 reps.
03. Breathing squat
This is a simple but powerful movement that works the entire body and integrates it with your breath. The squat can be as shallow or deep as you like, the key thing being not to raise your heart rate in the process. As you rise, inhale through the nose for more parasympathetic stimulation and exhale as you go down. You can incorporate your arms or let them hang, but keep your body as relaxed as possible. Make sure you place your tongue to the roof of your mouth as you breathe. The shorter the squat, the easier it will be, but regardless of how deep your squat is, make sure your breath and the movement are aligned.
04. Swinging hands
Another movement that orginates from the qigong tradition, this is used to relax and integrate the whole body. Keeping your knees slightly bent, feet shoulder distance apart, move your body gently from side to side around the axis of the spine. As you move, let your arms and hands softly wrap around your body, lightly tapping your kidneys and your chest. This light physical connection stimulates your qi and activates your parasympathetic nervous system. It’s a great exercise to help release stress or anxiety during the day. Make sure you keep your tongue to the top of your mouth, your heart rate steady and your breathing deep and peaceful.