Mind-Body Training

Most of us crave peace of mind. I experience total immersion playing catch with my six year or hitting tennis balls. But my boy rebukes me when I pretend to be his coach, and my effortless tennis strokes vanish when I'm desperate to serve an ace.

Researchers at the Dallas Aerobic Center have demonstrated there is a combined benefit of stress reduction and cardiovascular fitness when exercising large muscle groups in a relaxed, cadence for twenty minutes. A variety of exercises can provide athletes and couch potatos fun and fitness with as little as 60 minutes of focused, steady-state exertion each week. Walking, jogging, jumping rope, and swimming are a sample of the myriad of activities that open capillaries and stimulate pleasure centers in the brain.

But you don't have to be a marathoner to enhance your mindfulness. Some folks tap their fingers and fidget to ease tension. Others meditate or pray. Herbert Benson, a Harvard trained cardiologist has extolled the advantages of repeating a mono-syllabic phrase to reduce stress and improve well-being. His studies with meditators demonstrated that a few minutes of quiet repetition can manifest tremendous physiological gains. Deep rhythmic breathing is another centering strategy. Breathe from your diaphragm instead of your chest. To accomplish this, lie on your back. Place your left hand on your chest and your right hand on your stomach. Inhale from your nose taking five seconds to expand your lungs. Focus on lowering your diaphragm. Let the air fill your lower, central, and upper chest, in that order. Then take seven seconds to exhale through your mouth by raising your diaphragm. Only your right hand should move as you breathe deeply from your abdomen.

Prime your day with an invigorating stroll or leisurely prayer. If you feel sluggish breathe deeply and attend to your heart rate. Or daydream about the beach while swaying back and forth in a rocker. If you want to walk and relax at the same time Benson suggests a walking mantra. You can meditate or pray while walking, pedaling, swimming, jumping rope, or during any rhythmic activity. Set your alarm thirty minutes early. Whether you jump rope or meditate, pump iron or pray, pick an activity below and carry on for ten minutes. Add two minutes a week until you can persist for twenty minutes.

JUMP ROPE: Turn the rope easily at a relaxed cadence. Relax the muscles in your shoulders and arms. Bounce low, without jolt or impact. Breathe comfortably. If you are panting or wheezing slow down. Look straight ahead. Free your mind and let thoughts travel effortlessly.

INDOOR CYCLING: Adjust the seat so your knees are slightly bent when you extend your leg downward. Relax your upper body and turn the pedals in perfect circles. Spin smooth and steady. If your leg muscles burn, lessen the resistance. Listen to music and let your mind wander. Pedal briskly without overexertion.

PUMP IRON: Combine PowerBlock training with aerobics by circuit training. Do ten repetitions on each machine at a weight you can comfortably perform all ten repetitions.Move from one machine to another as quickly as possible. Exhale on the exertion of each repetition and consciously flex each muscle. Enjoy the pump, without strain.

NON-COMPETITIVE PARTNER ACTIVITIES: Throwing or kicking a ball back and forth, smacking a paddleball, racketball, ping pong ball, or tennis ball are rhythmic if you stroke balls cooperatively. Swat serves on the run. While waiting to return, stay light on your feet. Your opponent is your accomplice. Your ego never assaults the court. Speed-walk to gather balls between rallys.

MIND/BODY BASKETBALL: A basketball pick-up game can be invigorating. Get started and keep going. Dr. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, University of Chicago researcher and author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, said it takes about twenty minutes to get things moving on their own. He calls this period following the warmup "activation energy."

STEP-UPS: Try step-ups on a four inch bench. Watch your feet as you put your right foot up, then your left foot, then your right foot down, and your left foot. Keep your feet close to the bench. Place your entire foot on the bench. Step off on the ball of your foot and then roll to your heel. Feel the muscles in your legs contract and relax. Progress gradually to prevent injury. After a while you won't be bothered about pace. Stepping will come as naturally as walking.

ROWING: If you don't have a canoe, indoor rowing is a low impact total body workout. It exercises your hips, abdominals, arms, trunk, legs, and shoulders. The repetitive motion is as peaceful as swaying back and forth in a rocker.

SLIDING: Sliding or lateral training, is a new fitness fad. You slip booties over your shoes and move side to side on a slideboard. The extra resistance is similar to walking while dragging your feet. Imagine you are skiing through a favorite scenic getaway.

FLEXING AND STRETCHING: Use your SportCord to contract your triceps before you stretch your biceps, which allows your biceps to relax automatically. Then alternate flexing and stretching. Flex and stretch every antagonist muscle group in the body. Pay attention to how your muscles feel.

STRETCHING AND BREATHING: Begin stretching your neck and work through every muscle until you reach your toes. A slow, continuous stretch is desired. Exhale as you move into each position. Hold for twenty seconds. Slowly stretch to the limits of joint motion, until you feel tension in your muscles. Then relax. Go for comfort. Instead of coffee, your twenty minute morning routine is your pick-me-up. Spend the next eighteen hours in control. While others are drinking cokes and scarfing donuts grab a mini-prayer break or take a deep breath. Focus on your heartbeat during a tedious meeting. Stretch and then flex muscles at your desk or calmly walk to a fountain. When your boss catches you napping, tell her you are relieving stress.