How meditation can bring out the best in exercise
My guest blogger Holly Ashby reckons that meditation is the key to greater exercise benefits and enhanced sporting performance. She explains.
We all know that exercise and an active lifestyle are good for us. Apart from getting fit, exercise such as walking hills, cycling fast or scaling crags also boosts our feel-good hormones, known as endorphins.
So there’s a double-sided bonus to exercising hard: That pleasant physical feeling of aching muscles and the exhilaration of achievement.
And it turns out that our cave-dwelling ancestors only really ran with any intensity when they were being mown down by an angry mammal, or on a hunt, when it was important to be pumped up for “continuing to live” reasons.
However, on a biological level these lovely endorphins that lift you up are released at the same time as other hormones, which have less of a positive effect.
Glucocorticoid, a steroid hormone, can build up in excess when this stress-response is triggered frequently, and this is believed to put people at risk of developing osteoporosis. This is not a pleasing thought for those who enjoy feeling strong, fit and athletic, but recent studies have suggested that meditation used to complement our sporting activities may be a way to counterbalance this effect.
The deep rest you achieve through meditation, which is much more profound than switching on the TV and slobbing out for an hour or two, has been found to reduce the stress hormones cortisol and glucocorticoid.
Another great aid of meditation is the calming effects it induces. While sports people want to remain competitive and drive hard towards the finish line or scoring a goal, it does help if you can calm your nerves pre-event.
Meditation has the useful result of relaxing people and inspiring a quiet confidence that can be more effective when competing than placing yourself in an iron maiden of worry.
This calming aspect of meditation can understandably make people concerned that it will render them sloppy and off their game, however a surprising study found that focus is in fact sharpened in meditators.
Then we can add to this the improvements in sleep that comes through meditation and which will make you more energised whether you are competing for glory or simply want to walk cross-country in wellies.
There are also claimed physical benefits of meditation, including speedier recovery times. What has been found is that oxygen flow to the affected area is increased and your body can heal itself faster and more efficiently.
What’s more, studies have found that people who meditate can cope better with pain, which could help whether you are heaving yourself through a marathon or pushing hard on your bike up a hill.
Perhaps you should give meditation a try, whether you are keenly competitive or simply keen to improve the benefits of general exercise.
* Holly Ashby is a writer and illustrator who works at London meditation centre, Will Williams Meditation. Their aim is to help people live the happiest, healthiest lives they can through the practice of Vedic meditation.