Connecting the Mind & Body - Featuring Jen Kong
Partner at parallelfitness.ca
On Bell Lets Talk Day, it is very important to be mindful of our mental health and how we can take small steps to self-improve. We spoke with Jen Kong, one of our partner wellness instructors, to get her take on connecting the mind and body and improve our mental wellbeing through exercise.
How do we connect the mind and body through exercise?
When we’re following the movement, we’re using the mind to move your body parts into the choreographed movement or exercise, and we can deepen that connection by playing with bringing your focus, energy, and attention to moving differently. For example, if we’re doing a squat- how are you moving? Are you copying the instructor? Are you engaging your legs? Can you engage more glutes? And you can completely alter the experience of the workout AND your results by becoming using your intentions on purpose. That’s on a physical level.
We can now also bring that mindfulness to notice where your thoughts are as you work out. Are you thinking about dinner? About how you should be doing work instead? Or about how you should be able to do more, push harder or push less? Are you able to stay present in your body? Is that inner critic voice here, judging how you’re moving and putting expectations on your performance? The way we do anything is the way we do everything, so just noticing where your thoughts are can bring more mindfulness not just during your workout but also in your day to day, going to work, playing with the kids/pets, driving; everything. I think a great place to start is during your movement practice. And I use that word on purpose, it’s a practice. Sometimes it can feel like learning a new language, that of your body.
Why is physical exercise so important to mental health? How can exercise help with mental health struggles?
Our bodies are made to move. When we don’t move, we can remain too stagnant. Emotions are energy in motion. So we literally need to move our feelings around if we don’t want to feel tension or pain in our bodies. Start with something you love or used to love doing before life got too busy or circumstances changed. Start with something that feels doable on a consistent basis. Start with something that feels comfortable to YOU. Only you know what’s good for you. So even if your friend has had an amazing experience and great results doing some type of class, do what feels right to you. Plus, there’s a bazillion benefits to moving for health in general. But none of which can be understood. You have to EXPERIENCE it. Sometimes you may have to start with body- just start moving and then comes the motivation or inspiration. Sometimes you may start with mind- you know yourself best, so “trick” yourself into doing it for a reward. I believe that once you remember how moving can feel good and how good your body can feel, you will naturally want to move.
How do we tailor our exercise routine to impact our mental health as well?
As you approach your exercise routine, try taking off your shoes- connecting to the ground is best to both be in the body and to also get the benefit of grounding. As you leave your shoes behind, also leave behind any judgement, any responsibilities. You can pick those up later, after you’re done. Instead, include fun, move with kindness, with compassion. Just like a flavor of the day, what do you want to feel like? Move like you already are. And if none of these are possible, start with just moving your breath. Inhaling into the belly and exhaling longer. Do as many as you need to drop into the body and activating your parasympathetic system to have more energy available for exercise. Remember that less is more when it comes to exercise.
Take my word from someone who works specifically with people suffering from back pain, whether it is from an injury or overuse. Find a trainer or instructor who understands that all bodies are unique. Physically, we have different structures- long legs or long torsos- and that dictates how you should squat- narrow or wide. I truly believe that people who try to follow the rules of the book and it doesn’t feel good, will not like the experience of exercise, and rightfully so. It just doesn’t feel right. So trust yourself more, get in the position you feel right and only move as wide or as deep as you can. Use pain as an indicator. If there is pain, you may need to change your position slightly, or check your intention. Can you move differently, can you squeeze a little more rather than just going through the motion? The smallest change in angles can change the exercise completely. Also, we all have different histories- injuries or experience with exercise that should also be a factor to consider when choosing a routine. So, choose for yourself, trust yourself. And if you don’t know, just try. Only then will you know what’s right or not for you.
What can we do to fit exercise into a busy/stressful schedule?
I like to tell my clients- even if it’s 5 squats or 5 breaths, just start. When I was really busy, I scheduled just 15 mins every day. Put the timer on. If you have low energy because of a stressful schedule, do something more restorative. Show up for yourself and if you feel great and want to continue for more than 15 mins and you have the energy and time for, then you can. But put a minimum time to build consistency. At the end of the day, the intensity and duration matter less than consistency. So, choose the amount of time that you can commit to.
How can exercise help with mental health struggles?
Moving releases your feel-good hormones. When you are just absorbed into your exercises, you can drop out of the head and into the body and find that place of stillness, where everything almost becomes meditative. And the more you practice, the more you can bring that state with you in your life outside of your workouts. Exercise can be that space where you meet you, without your responsibilities, without pressure, just you and you. For you. I hope I’ve convinced you that you CAN do exercise and feel better; One rep at a time. Start small and aim for consistency.
Thanks to Jen for her expertise!
Follow Jen on Instagram:www.instagram.com/trainatparallel