Finding Your Best Exercise
Searching for the ultimate workout resembles the search for the perfect car or the optimal food. There is no objectively proven, superior workout effective for everyone. You must explore the available options and decide which one works best for you, which one you find most fulfilling.
As in all things, I recommend balance. Look for workouts that fit in with your lifestyle and nourish your entire being. If you find something you want to do, the chances are much better that you will stick with it. Exercise, like all healthful practices, is a lifelong journey.
Perhaps you saw a yoga class at your gym, or Tai Chi or Qi Gong in a park, and wondered if these practices might work for you. At times, the postures might look a little strange, even intimidating, but don’t let that hold you back. The benefits to both mind and body are astounding.
One reason I favor these three disciplines is they accentuate the calmness that is our true inner nature. Their movements improve core strength, flexibility and concentration. They help us heighten awareness of our breathing — the most essential bodily function and one that allows access to a deeper, calmer state of mind. For many people, these practices provide an essential counterbalance to the stress that pervades our lives.
These exercises are relatively easy to do. You may have seen someone assume a yoga pose that you know is physically impossible for you, but it’s important to remember that these practices are meant to be tailored to each individual’s ability. Postures can be simplified or made more challenging, depending on your fitness level, goals or even your physical state on that particular day.
If the positive effects produced by yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi were limited to physical fitness, that would be plenty. Study after study has shown that these practices produce profound health benefits, supporting our cardiovascular and immune systems; controlling inflammation; and reducing the risk of diabetes and even cancer. But we also know that regular exercise supports our mental and emotional wellness and can even improve cognitive function. An expanding body of published research confirms these wide-ranging benefits.
Two recent studies in particular have explored the brain-boosting power of Tai Chi. One focused on seniors practicing Tai Chi. Researchers found that participants experienced improved cognitive ability and showed that Tai Chi practice actually increased the size of the brain. This is critically important; reduced brain size is associated with dementia and cognitive decline. Chronic stress has also been associated with reduced brain size. Tai Chi, with its calm movements and focus on deep breathing, is known to reduce chronic stress and improve emotional well-being.
In another recent study, investigators found that Tai Chi helped people with Parkinson’s disease, reducing the number of falls and improving their gait.
These are just two additions to a long list of studies demonstrating that these ancient practices support mental and physical health, including cognitive and neurological benefits. You can search the Internet for yoga research (or for research on Tai Chi and Qi Gong) to read about the full impact of these studies.
I encourage you to try one or all of these disciplines. Pick one and do it for a month. No doubt, it will be difficult at first; but repeated practice makes it easier over time.
One way to get started is with a retreat, which provides an opportunity to learn a variety of healing disciplines in a supportive environment. I will be hosting my fall meditation and healing retreat Sept. 22-23 in beautiful Santa Rosa, Calif., and I invite you to join us. In addition to meditation, yoga and Qi Gong, we will be exploring other mind-body practices to calm the mind and promote long-term healing.
Whether you join us at the retreat or simply check the class schedule at your local gym, I strongly encourage you to begin your practice sooner rather than later. You won’t know how you lived without it. For more practical health and wellness information,