We read a lot about the importance of reducing stress in our lives to help combat heart disease, lower blood pressure, rejuvenate aging bodies, and reduce inflammation. That is much easier said than done! With electronic devices going off at all times, it can be difficult to de-stress. If I stay in “fight or flight” mode for too long, I am sure to spiral into an autoimmune flare. When I saw this article by Denis Faye posted in a Team Beachbody Newsletter, I felt like it was written for me! And if I need this, I bet others do to! Read on and see how you can help to de-stress your body!
Mind Over Matter: How to Use Meditation to Combat Stress
By Denis Faye
Like many a poor sap trying to make the most of this hectic world, my mind tends to churn like a washing machine filled with ferrets. Even in the most tranquil of moments, dozens of thoughts scrape and bite to get to the top of my consciousness—and most of the time, it’s the big ugly ones that win the race.
Rodents and household appliances aside, you may know this phenomenon simply as “stress.” You have a million things to do and a billion things to worry about. We all do. It’s the curse of the modern age.
Unfortunately, most of us look to pursuits to take the edge off; they may seem to help, but actually compound the problem. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional cocktail, or a little mindless television from time to time, but activities like this don’t solve anything. They just cover up your issues and make your thought process all the more unruly.
If you’re looking for a serious solution, meditation is a far more effective way to cut through the cerebral clutter—and unlike a booze bender or a reality TV marathon, it only takes 5 to 10 minutes a day.
The Benefits of Meditation
People tend to associate meditation with Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, but Judeo-Christian fans may be surprised to learn that there are references to meditation in the Old Testament. And, in Islam, meditation is an important part of Sufism. Although there are certainly connections to religion, meditation, in the modern sense, can be completely secular. No blue deities, no transcending this earthly form, no incense (unless you dig that, then it’s, like, totally cool)—just an opportunity to organize your thoughts and take back your brain from the laundry list of external forces pulling you in a million directions.
The science on the benefits of meditation is super strong, especially when it comes to stress reduction. Research appearing in the Journal of Biomedical Research shows that meditation does this by increasing parasympathetic activity. Your nervous system is divided into two parts—sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system controls your “fight or flight” reactions. It’s the predominant nervous system when you’re under the gun. The parasympathetic nervous system controls your “rest and digest” functions. In other words, when things are mellow, the parasympathetic takes charge—and meditation makes that happen more often.1
But that’s just part of the story. A consistent meditation practice has been scientifically linked to improved cardiovascular health, focus, and information processing.2 In fact, if you pick a malady at random, odds are that there’s a reasonably credible study showing that meditation either improves symptoms or acts as an effective way to manage symptoms. There’s really no reason not to do it.
How to Meditate
Many people mistakenly think the goal of all meditation is to “turn off your brain.” This is one technique (sort of), but in truth the definition of meditation shifts depending on whom you ask. In some circles, it’s a matter of reading a philosophical/religious text and contemplating the key passages (suggestions: the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, or Winnie the Pooh). Tony Horton often refers to yoga as “moving meditation.” When I’m cycling alone, I often focus so intently on my breathing and the cadence of my peddling that it becomes a form of meditation. Some people consider sitting on a favorite park bench and breathing deeply for five minutes to be meditative.
However you do it, the key to any good meditation practice is to quiet the noise in your brain—not drown it out or dope it up, but actively calm it down.
All those options aside, if you’re looking for something more specific, there are a few meditation techniques that have been shown to be especially effective.
First, it’s important to find a quiet place with minimal distractions. Here in Los Angeles, lots of people prefer the beach. Frankly, I find the waves, the birds, and the beauty of it all just too distracting. My favorite place to meditate is the middle of my living room, at about 6 AM before my daughter and my dog wake up demanding waffles and kibble (in that order).
Next, sit comfortably, but up straight. You want to be comfy because, once you master it, you’ll be there for a while. You want to be upright for a couple reasons. Many experts claim it’s necessary because a straight spine allows energy to flow better. Personally, I think sitting up straight is a good way to avoid accidentally falling asleep. If you have back issues, do what you need to do. I elevate my rump by sitting cross-legged on a yoga bolster. I also support my spine by sitting with my back against a wall.
Finally, start with five minutes a day and increase gradually as it becomes easier. Odds are, your thoughts are going to be all over the map the first few times you do it. That’s cool. Even if your practice felt like a complete mess, it benefited you given it took you one step closer to learning how to calm your brain. You’ll get there. Just try again tomorrow.
From here, there are a number of practices to experiment with. You might want to try a variation of Transcendental Meditation (TM), developed by Maharashi Mahesh Yogi, who you might remember as that yogi guy who hung out with the Beatles. In this practice, you pick a mantra to focus on—a word that has meaning to you and feels right, such as “love” or “heal” or “beer.” (It could happen.) Armed with your mantra, sit quietly and repeat it silently to yourself. When your mind wanders—which it will—simply steer it back to your mantra.
Another technique is mindfulness meditation. Like the TM variation above, start with a focal point—typically your breath. That’ll hold your attention for a little while, but soon thoughts or sensations will try to take over. Don’t try steering away from these things. Instead, accept them without judgment and let them pass by, like waves on a beach or clouds in the sky. If it helps, you can also assign “tags” to help you observe thoughts passively. For example, let’s say you’re in the middle of meditating and suddenly you remember how one of your coworkers stole your lunch out of the fridge yesterday. Instead of following that path and letting your anger consume you, assign it a tag that describes how you feel, like “anger.” Now, just repeat “anger” in your head, distancing yourself from both the thought and the emotion. It should soon pass.
I’ve found this technique to be an incredibly powerful tool for managing my emotions. It can also be used for pain management, by isolating and passively accepting pain instead of letting it consume you—which can be a massive benefit when Shaun T’s got your legs searing in the middle of an INSANITY® workout.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth look into mindfulness meditation, I strongly recommend Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield.
The modern world is a stressful place. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about the barrage of stressors that make up daily life. You can, however, change how you—and your body—react to them, so take a deep breath and take back your life.
Wu, S.-D., & Lo, P.-C. (2008). Inward-attention meditation increases parasympathetic activity: a study based on heart rate variability. Biomedical research Tokyo Japan, 29(5), 245-250. J-STAGE. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18997439
4 Scientific Studies on How Meditation Can Affect Your Brain and Creativity
Do you want more energy?
No, NOT this kind!!!
Often when people start a new fitness regime, they complain of fatigue. This causes them to stop their new fitness program before they reach the point of GAINING energy from being more fit. There are several things to keep in mind when starting a new fitness routine. You need to fuel your body for the increased demands you are asking of it. You may also need extra sleep in order to repair and recover from the demands
you are putting on your body. Also, if you’re under a lot of stress and add the physical stress (yes your body can sense your new routine as stress), this may make you feel tired and fatigued as well. I love the following article that Tony Horton, creator of P90X, wrote a few years ago. This applies not only to P90X but to any fitness routine. ENJOY!
Have More Energy by Tony Horton
So you bought P90X off the tube and you’re all pumped up to kick some butt. Do you remember that shift in ENERGY the day you picked up the phone and started dialing? Any number of thoughts could’ve been racing through your mind at the time—fear, doubt, excitement, hope, anticipation—you name it.
Then the DVDs arrived. Some of you ripped the package open, read all the material, and got started that day. Some of you looked at the box as if it were filled with anthrax—keeping it sealed and placed on a shelf for some future investigation. You’re all at different stages of the program: newbies, start-agains, and even round 5-ers. I’d like to reveal four key components for success with P90X, and quite possibly other aspects of your life.
Have you ever noticed that some days just flow? Even on days when you have tons of things to do, you seem to have all the ENERGY in the world to handle anything. Yet other days feel like you live on Saturn. The weight of the world feels 10 times heavier than normal. It comes down to the amount of ENERGY you have on any given day. Your ENERGY always dictates your REALITY. When you’re filled with ENERGY, you’re sharp, ready, enthusiastic, and willing. When you’re pooped . . . forget about it! Organizing a sock drawer feels like climbing Mt. Everest.
So what causes these shifts? The big four are:
1. Food and supplementation
I know, I know. Here I go again. Hold on to your hats! There’s no way on God’s earth you can maintain a consistent level of ENERGY and enthusiasm for any 90-day program by eating the same old crap. You must . . . you have to . . . you need to make “The Change.” Proper ENERGY levels only come from eating the right food the right way at the right time of day. If you don’t know what that means, then you haven’t read the material and you’re doing this program the wrong way.
You are what you eat! If you eat the same old tired food that put you in this mess in the first place, that’s just what you’ll get. Tired and old before your time. You know what to do, so do it! It’s not Atkins® or Slim-Fast® or fast food or soft drinks or fried food or candy bars or doughnuts or liquid diets or any panoply of misleading ways of consuming food. Get your mind right about what goes in your mouth or continue to live in the land of the wannabes!
This probably seems like the most obvious and simple component of the four. But it’s often the most abused. Recent statistics have shown that the leading cause of traffic accidents in this country is NOT alcohol, but sleep deprivation. If we don’t have enough ENERGY to stay awake while driving a car, how will we have enough ENERGY for a 6-day-a-week workout program?
We’re not sleeping enough hours at night, and even when we do, they’re often filled with so much mind chatter that we don’t get the proper rest we need. My new Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “sleep” as follows: “the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored.” In Taoist philosophy, there’s the yin (not ying) and the yang. These are opposing ENERGIES that create balance. P90X is yang ENERGY. Sleep and rest are yin ENERGY. There must be proper balance between vim and vigor (yang) and inward calm (yin). If you don’t get enough sleep and rest, your body will not receive the proper restoration it needs to complete or succeed with this program, or anything else in life, for that matter.
3. Stress management
Do you realize that if you took the fear, worry, and anxiety out of every “stressful” situation in your life, the end result of that situation would still occur? You can panic and freak out all you want, but time will still pass and the end of that moment will still happen, whether you freak out or not. So why not choose something different? When do fear, worry, and anxiety ever really help a situation?
So what is stress? It’s the inability to move through a situation logically, peacefully, positively, productively, and gracefully. To be stressed out takes lots of ENERGY. Being stressed out can severely affect how well you’ll sleep at night. Stress is when you assess blame and don’t take responsibility. (“I’m stressed out because of______, and that’s why I can’t______.”) Don’t let stress be your scapegoat. There’s a story about 10 people in line at a bank when three armed robbers come flying in, screaming and yelling and pointing guns. They terrorize everyone and steal all their money. The moral of the story is that these 10 people will be affected by this experience in 10 different ways. The two extremes range from one having a wild story to tell at work the next day to another being severely traumatized for the rest of his or her life. Where would you fall in that spectrum?
There’s a saying that there are three kinds of business: “God’s business”—things that happen in this world that are out of my control; “their business”—the choices other people make based on their life experiences so far; and “my business”—the choices I make that shape my life. If I focus on what I have to do to make my life the best it can be, and NOT on God’s and everyone else’s business, I will have less stress, which in turn will give me the ENERGY to live the life I’ve always wanted.
Don’t waste your time on gossip, ridicule, envy, self-pity, anger, guilt, arrogance, need, impatience, regret, manipulation, jealousy, fear, worry, and anxiety, because they’ll zap your ENERGY and cause you stress!
Choose understanding, truth, clarity, patience, devotion, gratitude, vulnerability, acceptance, wisdom, hope, forgiveness, empathy, discipline, perseverance, community, and peace. Because if you do, you will gladly kiss stress goodbye and say hello to all the ENERGY you’ll need.
Purpose is the driving force to get you from here to there. If you don’t have purpose, all the best food, supplementation, sleep, and stress-free days won’t help you one bit. You have to have a powerful burning desire to want it. My dictionary tells me that “purpose” is “seeking resolution.” Searching for answers to solve a problem. An intention. This all goes to the core of . . . why? Why do I want to spend the next 90 days turning my life upside down, maybe even for the second or third time, or more?
You’re looking for resolution. You’re searching for answers to help solve this problem. And most importantly, you must be clear about your intention. No one ever does anything just for the heck of it. There’s always some intention behind everything we do. Different kinds of behavior have different levels of intention and purpose. Eating fast food and leaving the DVDs on the shelf is one level. Following the program the way it was designed is another. I know I’ve said this before, but if your intention and purpose are based exclusively on esthetics and bragging rights, you miss the whole point of P90X. If your intention and purpose are based on good health, quality of life, athleticism, flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular endurance, you’re doing P90X for all the right reasons. If your intention and purpose are based on lifestyle, you will have plenty of ENERGY to succeed with and complete P90X. You will also have the ENERGY to be everything you always knew you could be.
May the Energy Revolution begin!
I just started reading the book Spark – the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain by John J. Ratey, MD. I will be posting tidbits from the book over the coming weeks. I was happy to see the following study, One Twin Exercises, the Other Doesn’t, reported in the NYTimes that corroborates what I’m reading in SPARK. In this study, 10 sets of identical twins were studied in which their fitness activities had diverged in the prior 3 years. You had one active twin and one inactive twin. I was shocked by the statement the twins diets were quite similar. I would have thought diet played a larger role.
“It turned out that these genetically identical twins looked surprisingly different beneath the skin and skull. The sedentary twins had lower endurance capacities, higher body fat percentages, and signs of insulin resistance, signaling the onset of metabolic problems. (Interestingly, the twins tended to have very similar diets, whatever their workout routines, so food choices were unlikely to have contributed to health differences.)
The twins’ brains also were unalike. The active twins had significantly more grey matter than the sedentary twins, especially in areas of the brain involved in motor control and coordination.
Presumably, all of these differences in the young men’s bodies and brains had developed during their few, brief years of divergent workouts, underscoring how rapidly and robustly exercising — or not — can affect health, said Dr. Urho Kujala, a professor of sports and exercise medicine at the University of Jyvaskyla who oversaw the study.”
While this is a very small study, it does show that it is never too late to have a huge impact on how your body functions, even your brain.
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Let’s break free of fatigue and pain of Autoimmune disease into the next phase of our lives, stronger and healthier! Please subscribe to my blog for my fitness and nutrition tips and contact me with your questions. In addition, I’ll occasionally blog about my other interests (nature, education, scrapbooking). You can also follow me on Google+.
My balance was first tested in P90X with Yoga X. Standing on one leg was very difficult. My balance has been further tested and improved in P90X2 and Asylum Vol 1 and 2. When Shaun T asks you to stand on one leg and then close your eyes and you feel as if you’re on a rocking boat, Houston there is problem!
Here is a wonderful article by Jane Brody which appeared in the NY Times discussing balance and aging, a simple do-it-yourself test, and how to improve your balance!
Mr. McCredie wonders why balance is not talked about in fitness circles as often as strength training, aerobics and stretching. He learned that the sense of balance begins to degrade in one’s 20s and that it is downhill — literally and figuratively — from there unless steps are taken to preserve or restore this delicate and critically important ability to maintain equilibrium.
But while certain declines with age are unavoidable, physical therapists, physiatrists and fitness experts have repeatedly proved that much of the sense of balance can be preserved and even restored through exercises that require no special equipment or training. These exercises are as simple as standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or walking heel-to-toe with one foot directly in front of the other.
How good is your balance? Do the self-test and find out! That was a difficult test with your eyes closed. I was much more successful barefoot – going over 1:21 on my right leg and 34 seconds no my left. Wearing my cross-training shoes, I did 28secs and 24 secs on my right and left legs, respectively. That puts me in the 20-49yr old category. I’m 46yrs old so I definitely want to maintain this score!
“Remember, balance is a motor skill,” Dr. Moffat, professor of physical therapy at New York University, said in an interview. “To enhance it, you have to train your balance in the same way you would have to train your muscles for strength and your heart for aerobic capacity.”
And what else does Dr. Moffat recommend? Tai Chi! Beachbody has you covered with our program Tai Cheng which, I’m starting today with my 10yr old to help reduce his klutz-factor which he inherited from me!
I found this video on youtube which uses a scale from the RealAge website.
“Start free STANDING on hard surface with eyes open and two barefoot, lift one leg up to 45-degree angle bend in knee, THEN close eyes & HOLD this POSITION for as long as you can without falling, fidgeting, opening eyes or teetering too much. Repeat 3X or more, take average time & check chart.”
Balance Time Balance-Based RealAge
4 seconds 70 years
5 seconds 65 years
7 seconds 60 years
8 seconds 55 years
9 seconds 50 years
12 seconds 45 years
16 seconds 40 years
22 seconds 30-35 years
28 seconds 25-30 years