When people talk about their problems with life, they often involve stress, depression or other emotions caused by personal struggles. To this, I often suggest meditation. This advice gets a lot of different responses. A lot of people sum it up to me being deeply spirited and that only people as such can really meditate… others say they just have no idea how to, no time or have tried and failed.
The problem here is the stereotypical idea of what meditating looks like. According to the Psychology Dictionary, meditation is considered an exercise during which the individual enters an extended state of contemplation and reflection over something specific or just in general, sometimes with a view to attain a different state of consciousness.
When I tell people they should try meditating, sitting on the floor with their legs crossed reciting “ohm” is not what I have in mind. Meditation is an exercise, and there are many different ways of acting it out. I tell them they should simply take the time out of their days to be totally at one with themselves, and often times, what better way to silence the mind than to be focused on physical activity? When the mind and body are on the same page, working for the same purpose at the same pace, it is then that they become harmonized. For the time being the mind can be freed of all other concerns.
Americans are workers and thinkers, blessed with freedoms and choices that can ironically in return cause an overload on the brain. Investing in physical exercise on a regular basis can lead to a better mood, higher self-confidence, increased sense of well-being, and most importantly to our health, reduced anxiety and tension.
Be sure to invest well – do what you enjoy. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Whether it is yoga, running, sports or strength training, I think that doing what you love is half the battle. Do something you will be motivated to do day after day. Be sure to breathe deeply and evenly throughout your activity, committed fully to the motions and focused in with your senses towards your goal… THIS is proper meditation.
As a whole, society seems to fall away from honoring the body and mind. We see super fit, attractive people on the television screen yet this past year 62.3 percent of Americans were overweight or obese. Furthermore, America is the leading nation in many categories of mental illness, primarily mood and anxiety disorders. If we are so free to make our own choices, why are we not making the right ones?
Research studies since the 1970’s have shown highly positive correlations between physical exercise and mental health. In 1988, Stephens concluded from his works that there is a definite positive association between good mental health and physical activity, based on four population samples in two countries over a 10-year time span with four different methods of exercise and six different mental health scales (Psychology of Physical Activity and Exercise, 160).
Furthermore, research experiments have provided results that great psychological benefits can be gained from continuous involvement in exercise. Continuous involvement is considered three times a week for 10 weeks. Decreased depression scores were found in the experiment group whereas no differences were recorded in the control group that did not exercise. Documented results from participants of chronic physical activity include enhanced self-esteem, self-efficacy, health, stamina and energy (Exercise Psychology, 350). Also to be gained is a higher coping ability. As you build endurance through exercise, you are expanding your mental capacity to persevere through whatever may come your way (and the emotions that come with it).
Let’s take a more in-depth look at stress. According to one of the most noteworthy stress researchers, Selye (1956), it is not stress itself that may cause problems but the lack of recovery from a stressful experience instead (Psychology of Physical Activity and Exercise, 168). We all experience stress in our daily lives and our bodies respond to the strains of these stresses as well. After facing stress, the body naturally undergoes a recovery period in which the systems of the body return to normal. Stress only becomes an issue when this process is not able to occur. Without recovery time, the body is at a stage of exhaustion (Psychology of Physical Activity and Exercise, 168).
A couple ways this recovery period can be achieved are through relaxation and exercise. If it is that simple to reduce stress, and if we have known based on research since the 70’s that physical activity does wonders for the mental psyche, why are we not exercising? As one of the most stressed-out nations on this planet, why are we hesitant to meditate?
To honor the body is to honor the mind, and this can only be accomplished through the choices we make. If you do not have the time, make the time. If you do not know where to begin, find a place. If you wish to escape exhaustion, your saving grace may be putting your body into motion aimed towards accomplishing a goal, and a clearer mindset is likely to develop from that all on its own. After all, our bodies are built to NATURALLY recover from stress. We just have to allow them to do so through movement.
As there are always doubts with research, better evidence may exist within personal accounts. Truly happy people want to share their secrets. Take a look into the strength training stories of three of the women here at Force and their journeys to strong and sound minds – Strong Bodies but Even Stronger Minds.
May you live light and lift heavy,
Force Barbell Team