Last Tuesday I started a new six week programme at Strathroy Community Centre called ‘Healthy Body, Healthy Mind’. The idea is to get people to enjoy moving and taking time to exercise their mind as well as their body.
We’ll start with exercise first. We are very fortunate in Tyrone to have many great gyms and brilliant trainers, but if you don’t like going to the gym, it’s not the only option.
Find something you enjoy doing or try and find something new which you will eventually enjoy.
What I’ve done with this class is step away from counting reps and sets and made it as fun as I possibly could. We play games, interact with each other, have fun, laugh and take part in whatever activity you can.
The best part about all of this, is that participants don’t even realise how hard they have worked. The games include strength based and multi directional movements, aerobic and anaerobic activities.
To be honest we just play and have fun. That’s the secret – we just play. We bring it back to our childhood when we ran, jumped, threw, caught, rolled and crawled.
Think about when you were at your fittest, most mobile, energetic and loved movement. It was more than likely when you were a kid. Unfortunately, because we have stopped playing and moving, we are less able to do certain movements and enjoy doing the things we once loved. It’s true what they say: ‘Use it or lose it’.
The next part of the programme is all about mindfulness. I teach simple techniques you can use every day to work on your own mental health.
Mindfulness can be defined as a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
This may sound very deep and ‘hippie’ like but it’s really not. Being present in the moment may be sitting quietly without any distractions. Even if it’s only for ten seconds, it’s still mindfulness.
I approach my own mindfulness practices like I would my own physical training sessions. You have to work on it consistently before you start to see any benefit.
Think of mindfulness as a way of training the brain and becoming more aware of your emotions and feelings just the same way you would train your muscles and become more aware of each movement you are performing. The first thing I teach people is how to breathe and focus on the breath through diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing.
Here’s how I teach belly breathing. Lay flat or sit up tall, place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Next, breathe in through your nose expanding the belly so your hand moves outwards and exhale through your mouth as the hand comes in again. Repeat this pattern until you are comfortable. On the next out breath close your eyes and repeat.
The reason you keep your hand on your chest is because we don’t want it to move. Normally when we tell people to take a deep breath in they usually take a shallow breath from their chest. In this case the hand on your chest will rise up towards your head.
This is also the type of breath we take when we are shocked, surprised and sense fear. This brings on extra stress to the body which we don’t want. Belly breathing on the other hand helps you into a state of relaxation, reduces stress, helps lower your heart rate and many other benefits.
Once you are comfortable with this technique you can then focus on the breath. Start by focusing on the rising and falling of each breath and then start to count each breath. In through the nose is one and out through the mouth is two. Continue to count this way until you reach the number six, then start again.
You may lose track of your count as thoughts pop into your head but this is normal. Don’t get frustrated. Just go back to the start or pick up on the last number you remember. The beauty about this breathing exercise is that you can do it anywhere and at any time. In fact stop reading and practice it now, then come back to the rest of the article of course.
How did that feel? Do you feel more relaxed and in a state of mindfulness?
If it worked for you then add this breathing technique into your daily routine at home, work or anytime.
Other techniques we will explore during the program include daily gratitude, journalising, empathy, the value of sleep on your body.
If you feel this is something you can benefit from please come along and join us this Tuesday from 6-7pm at Strathroy Community Centre.