I don’t consider myself an athlete. The word athlete seems to denote some sort of talent. Yet I love to swim, run and to practise yoga. I kind of like cycling too, although that one is lower down my list of likes.
Why is it that I am exercising 4-5 times a week and practising yoga daily? Why is it that I enter races and events, when the likelihood is that I will come in (almost) last? Why do I get grumpy when I am injured and unable to run in the woods?
The reason why, is because all of these things are good for my MIND. They are not only good for my body, but they are good for my mental health. I look after my body to look after my mind. It has always been assumed that Yoga is good for our mental health, but I believe that all forms of exercise can help improve our mental well-being.
Here are some of the reasons why:
- Me time:
I am a mum and I work. When I commit to exercise, I am committing to time for myself. This is time when I don’t have to think about the next meeting, the next patient to see, getting the children to bed or what’s for dinner. This is time where I am just ‘me’.
- The ‘feel good factor’:
Sometimes I don’t feel like going for a run or a swim. I don’t really want to leave the house. Sometimes the run is hard. Yet always, ALWAYS afterwards, I feel good. I feel glad that I pushed through the reluctance and went out. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body. Many studies show that people who exercise regularly benefit with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression.
When I enter races, I almost always finish near the back. However, there is such encouragement and support during events that you always come away feeling like a winner. Ok, there are some deadly serious competitors who can not crack a smile when they lap you, as this might knock a second off their PB. But for every one of those, there are five others who smile, say ‘well done’ and ‘keep going’ and make you feel like part of a community. Then there are the supporters who stand out for hours in the rain and wind and cheer and clap you as you pass. It is like receiving a pat on the back from hundreds of people. As someone recently reminded me, you might come last in an event, but you are ahead of all the people who didn’t enter the event!
This is the second reason I enter events. I love a good medal. It makes me feel proud of myself and reminds me that I CAN do it! Even if you come last, you get a medal. I love this attitude and wish it happened more at school sports days!
People often associate doing Yoga and meditating with being mindful. However, any activity can be done mindfully. Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment, aware of your body, your breathing and your surroundings. Sport is an opportunity to practise mindfulness. When I am running, I focus on my breath, my body and the sounds around me. When I swim, even if it is in the swimming pool, I focus on my body moving through the water and counting the lengths. It is very hard to think about the past or the future while focusing fully on your body during exercise.
The truth is that if I exercise, then I can eat more chocolate. I don’t care what anyone says, chocolate is good for my mental well-being also!