Reconnect to YOU via Exercise
Linking Body & Spirit By Moving More
Recently, a client reminded me of an often unspoken but life-changing benefit of exercise: reconnecting to our bodies. Devoted to her walking and strength workouts for quite a while now, she told me she’s just become more in tune with her body, what it’s doing, what it’s capable of doing, and that this makes her feel REALLY GOOD. Sure enough, during our resistance training sessions, I see her tapping right into this awareness as she hears cues and immediately tweaks her form. It always awes me to witness this shift because it seems subtle, but the impact on a life is profound.
Whether you work with a trainer is peripheral. Whether you’re even conscious of the reconnection is beside the point. Anyone who exercises or moves the body regularly—through workouts, dance, sports, even a strenuous job—will experience this mind-body-spirit link. I believe this comes from the fact that we’re MADE to move. We arrived on the planet contained in these “machines” that can do all kinds of amazing things. And when we put them to their ideal uses, it just feels phenomenal.
But as you know, a large number of Americans live very sedentary lives. Our bodies sit in various places—from sofas to cars to desks—while our brains work over time. I once heard an author (and I wish I could recall who—Rick Hanson, perhaps?) describe us as figures wandering around with our heads floating way above us like balloons. We’re not often cemented in our physical existence, and so, not genuinely, fully present. This is why, in the first sentence of this post, I refer to “REconnection” to our bodies.
Most of us know about the widely touted health benefits of exercise, including lower disease risks and improved mental health—and that reaping these requires regular exercise. The same is true for the more nuanced benefits listed below. You have to move often to perceive them. What are the “reconnective” boons that come from a sense of flow between body, brain, and spirit? Consider these...
Proprioception, Coordination, Agility
One reason we feel reconnected comes from LITERAL reconnection. The more we move in particular ways, the more we light up and lock in neural pathways between the brain, the rest of the nervous system, muscles, joints, and organs. Movements become not only more familiar but more fine tuned & effective. This means coordination improves, as does proprioception (basically our sense of where our body is in relation to the space around us), balance (did you know even walking is a balance exercise?), and agility (how nimble we are on our feet). Typically, we notice all this, especially if those qualities suffered before we resumed exercise, and it leaves us with the lovely sense of being one with our bodies.
Blood Flow & Breathing
What’s the first thing you notice when you do anything slightly strenuous? Most of us catch ourselves saying that we’re winded or huffing a bit, that the blood sure is pumping, or that we’re starting to “glow” (in my case, all-out sweat). Because muscles can’t operate without oxygen, breathing & blood flow pick up to deliver it to them asap. This immediately reconnects us to the body, sometimes with a not-so-pleasant-sensation. With time, as the body gets more efficient, we learn to moderate and push these variables to meet our workout goals. It’s very cool when you no longer feel at the mercy of your cardio system, for example, but that you’re working in sync with it to keep it primed.
Mindfulness & Grounding
Back in the day, I never understood why a long run or weightlifting could feel incredibly relaxing. Now I know what’s behind the paradox. As research on mindfulness has expanded over the years, it’s easy to see how exercise promotes reconnection among body, mind, and soul. Often when I ran, I focused only on the next foot driving forward, eventually finding myself deliciously delivered from endless brain chatter. Later I’d learn there’s such a thing as “walking meditation”—I was doing it then, just way more briskly! Along the same lines, if you lift weights, you can slip right into being present, perfecting your form, sensing the systems that work like cogs within you to make your selected movements happen, deepening breathing, and delighting in your body’s strength & power. Mental health experts often suggest “grounding” techniques for relief from a spell of anxiety; at its most basic, this simply means doing an activity that brings you into the present moment—which is perhaps partly why exercise helps to alleviate anxiety.
A Sense of Power (physical & mental)
I’ve hinted at this already. Exercise wakes us up to the physical power we currently possess and to the ebb and flow of that energy. This connection not only serves as a source of pride, but it lets us adjust activity intelligently—taking it easier when energy drops and pushing on the days we feel we’re at full power. Equally important, exercise can mentally re-link us, promoting a sense of peace & even joy (per the mindfulness mentioned above); of discipline, drive and dedication; of accomplishment & success. Yep, all that from just moving our bodies on most days of the week.
Awe & Appreciation
And perhaps best of all, challenging the body—in whatever way is currently appropriate for YOU—may just leave you amazed and grateful. I see this in others and feel it myself all the time. We suddenly face the realization that we’re here TODAY and that our bodies are not only carrying us around but able to take on the challenge we’ve requested of them. Many times, we feel this most keenly once we’ve recovered from an illness or injury that kept us from being active, or even left us alarmingly weaker than we’d been. We can make this awe and appreciation a regular experience. After every workout, simply bask in it for a minute.
So, here’s to reconnecting with our WHOLE selves — physically, mentally & spiritually. May you enjoy that blessing today & always.