ReShaping Your Mind-Body Connection
The fact that you’ve joined the ReShape program, and that you’re reading this article right now, probably means that somewhere inside you is a voice, either whispering or shouting that you’re ready to make a deep and lasting change in your life. It’s my goal – and my life’s mission – to help you get there.
The greatest benefits of fitness and healthy living have little to do with thinner thighs and tighter tummies. Those are just the bonuses. The true gifts that come from a healthy lifestyle are much more profound, and the list is long. Exercise and eating right can improve mental and emotional health, mood, vitality, energy, happiness, and lifespan. It’s about embracing the moment, and discovering the inner strength and sense of empowerment that allow us to life to the fullest, on our own terms. It’s a lifelong journey, but it begins right here, right now, by learning to be present, in this moment.
We begin this journey for so many reasons. We want to lose weight so that we can lower blood pressure, or play with our grandkids, or enjoy a favorite sport well into retirement. The possibility of looking great while we do it is, again, a mere side effect. What truly drives us to change our lives is so much bigger, and so much more powerful. The biggest surprise of all, of course, is that this elusive power isn’t “out there.” It can’t be found in a magic pill, a diet craze or a gimmicky new exercise machine; it’s within each and every one of us. All we have to do is find a way to tap into it.
How It Happened For Me
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a long and exciting career in health and fitness. But when I started teaching aerobics classes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it wasn’t because I was passionate about helping people sculpt their glutes. It was because I had experienced firsthand the absolute healing power of movement, and I wanted to share this knowledge with others.
It began, like so many transformative experiences do, with tragedy. When I was 17 and just days from high school graduation in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, I lost my father to a heart attack. Two short years later, my mother and father were killed in a plane crash. So as a 19-year-old college student at the University of Hawaii, I felt alone, orphaned, and desperate to find some meaning. This was in the 1960s, an era of sex, drugs and rock & roll, when so many of my peers also seemed to be lost and wandering.
Luckily I had a boyfriend at the time – a football player named Rocky – and there were days that I felt he was my only friend in the world. I remember going to the campus track with him many times to watch him jog. I wasn’t interested in exercise – I just didn’t want to be alone. But eventually I decided to join him on a jog. Again, I was no athlete (far from it). But something kept me coming back for more. As I built endurance and was eventually able to add lap after lap to my runs, I started to notice something: I felt like the weight on my shoulders began to dissipate more and more after each run. My head was a little clearer. The clouds seemed to part just a bit. And for the first time in many months, I felt some sense of hope – because I was finally learning to live in the present moment.
And so began my love affair with cardio, and all things exercise. I was fascinated by the intense power of the mind-body connection. Running had literally saved my life, and it also helped me discover my passion: I wanted to share this experience with others.
But there’s something universal about my journey: For all of us, as we discover the power of movement in its many wonderful forms, we find different ways to not only change our bodies, but to change our entire experience of life. Whether it’s running a marathon or taking a Zumba class, cardio does so much more than burn calories. It can help us shake off our worries, pump feel-good endorphins (like dopamine and serotonin) through our system, improving mood and our overall sense of well-being. According to WebMD, regular exercise is an “effective but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression.” That includes resistance training, which not only boosts metabolism, sculpts muscles and wards off a host of chronic illnesses, but leaves us feeling stronger and more empowered.
Then, of course, there’s mediation and yoga, the ultimate form of mind-body connection. By now we all know that yoga is a cornerstone of good health – but many of us overlook the fact that it all begins with the power of breath. We’ve all got what I call the “itty bitty sh*tty committee”: A chorus of negative self-talk that lives in our minds, telling us why we can’t achieve our goals, or why we’re not good enough in so many areas of life. This committee might be the very thing holding you back from your own potential, whether it’s about losing weight or changing your career.
Quieting those voices all starts with a simple breath.
I call it my Breathing Listening Technique (or “BLT”): Next time your committee is in full session, stop, close your eyes, and take a breath. Take a deep inhale on a count of six. Then try holding your breath for a count of six, and as you do that, listen to the sounds around you, and try to identify each one specifically: The cars barreling down the street, the birds chirping near your window, or the hum of your home heater. Now slowly exhale on a count of six. Repeat this cycle six times, and you’ll be amazed at the results. Suddenly the committee seems to have adjourned. You’ll feel more calm, more centered, and more prepared to address the task at hand with a newfound relaxed and positive approach. That’s because this little technique helps us do something that’s so simple, yet so vital: It brings us back to the present moment. And it’s only in the present moment that we can truly see all of life’s amazing possibilities.