We have all come home from a run or the gym and felt the benefits, both physical and mental. Sweating out the problems of the day, we can feel pleased with ourselves and leave the worries and problems of everyday life behind. Something about it invokes a clarity in our mind and hearts. So what is the connection between exercise and stress management? Firstly let us look at situations where things just aren't happening.
It can happen in any situation. I went for a short run the other day and just couldn't get in the zone. There was no flow. I got every single traffic light on the way to the running trail, everything ached and I wanted to walk. My mind kept telling me how torturous this particular run was and the best thing about it was finishing. It happens to us all. When we hit the wall exercising, our bodies have reached tipping point and our minds will chime in with it’s two cents worth. It’s funny though, most of us will keep going. It would be much simpler to quit, easier to catch a bus home and sit on the couch, but we don’t.
Something inside us won’t give up, we keep moving forward, trying to reach the goal. Stress management techniques involve touching on this something to maintain health and general well-being despite being in what could be considered a ‘stressful’ situation. During a run, my heart rate is elevated, I am sweating and tired...just like a tough day at work. The skills we learn to keep going during exercise are the same we can apply in our working environments.
Combining Exercise with Relaxation Techniques
The repetitive movement and regular breathing in running usually helps induce a calm and reflective mind and with it comes a positive power. I have been 2000 kilometres into an ultra and sometimes I felt like I had the strength of ten men coursing through my body. If you have never tried meditation or stress management techniques formally, it is probably not that foreign to you. Everyone has done it sometime or another. Being under a canopy of stars, the simple smile of a child, the vastness of an ocean, the power of a mountain, they stir something inside us and make us feel uplifted. It is the same when exercising. During strenuous physical activity it’s certainly possible to maintain clarity and peace. Nature helps carry you. Your mind and body feel purified. Fitness goals push us to take that extra step, to move forward despite obstacles, to transcend ourselves, to make progress. The further or harder you go, the deeper you have to dig. Exercise is a simple thing. We are forced to be focused and positive. If we don’t it’s very noticeable and you have a tough run, just like I did the other day.
It makes sense to combine meditation and sport on a more formal level. Many great sportsmen talk about moments of absolute conviction before a major victory or event. They feel at peace with the race, game or task ahead. Nothing is forced and as a result, victory or achievement just flows. Watch any professional tennis player about to receive a serve. They are deep in concentration. Nine time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis meditated before his big races. “I would just go quiet and try to listen for the farthest sound away...just having my peace, where it all stops and you’re just aware of where you need to be,” he once commented. “Every record I set, I knew it was a record because it was the easiest race I ran.”
To do well in sport or business (or anything for that matter) you need focus, clarity and concentration; skills that can be increased through formal practice.
A Relaxation Exercise
Do this exercise sitting upright in a chair. It is advisable to practice with your eyes open so you can use it while at work or exercising and you are also less likely to fall asleep. I learnt it from Sri Chinmoy, who promoted running and meditation as a tool to self improvement.
- Chose a quality like peace
- Breathe in this quality into the mind and body, relaxing all your muscles
- Breathe out the opposite, in this case anything that takes away your peace such as stress, restlessness and intruding thoughts
- Try the same thing while exercising and try other positive qualities such as power, joy or strength or anything else you need
Grahak Cunningham is based between Australia and New York and is a motivational speaker and business speaker and four time finisher and 2012 champion of the Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race. www.grahakcunningham.com