Mindless Workouts are what I define as workouts where there is a disconnection between the body and the mind. They are a side effect of our hectic lifestyles. Mindless Workouts are taken in between classes, business meetings or while the kids are at school and are done with a real sense of urgency. They are done with little or no connection between the physical exercise and what the mind is thinking. Watching television while running on a treadmill is a prime example of a Mindless Workout, there is no awareness of what the body is doing. This type of exercise is driven by an undercurrent of stress in life or the mistaken belief that it is not necessary to pay attention to what we are doing. The result of this type of exercise is the Metabolic Spike. The Metabolic Spike is a situation that takes place when a person undertakes a vigorous exercise program which causes an extreme rise in the metabolism, only to suddenly fall, leaving the individual feeling exhausted and incapable of a speedy recovery. This behavior can be instigated by many different triggers, but stress is usually a main factor, not only the usual everyday stresses of life, but also the additional burden of rushing through a workout. The Metabolic Spike can be quite counterproductive to what the person is actually trying to accomplish. The problem comes after the workout, when the mind reconnects and notices that the body is fatigued. The energy of the body has been used up and needs rest in order to recover. Unfortunately, once the Mindless Workout is finished people have to get back to the “rest of their lives” and there is no time for the body to rest and recover. Instead it is off to the next class, meeting or picking up the kids. Sadly, as a substitute for rest, overeating becomes the only available method of recharging the body. Self control is sabotaged because the mind feels good about the accomplishment at the gym and that is used as justification for eating even more. The following day brings more of the same with excess eating or the next phase, guilt about excess eating which sends them off to the gym for another Mindless Workout. This is a downward spiral.
Practices such as Tai Chi and Zen Yoga are primarily concerned with energy flow through the body. And while these traditions may call this energy by different names this is, in fact, the metabolic process. To have this energy flowing through the body properly requires exercises that gradually increase the burn rate and maintain that state for a longer period of time.
So where do we begin? As with most physical activities, the best place to begin is with breathing. The amount of fat that is burned during exercise depends on the ability of the cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to the cells. In order for the metabolism to burn fat it is necessary to supply the cells with sufficient oxygen. This is done through the practice of deep breathing exercises in order to get more oxygen into the body and then ensuring that oxygen is sufficiently distributed throughout the physical structure. Think of starting a car on a cold morning. When the engine is first started it can be sluggish because the oil is not circulating. By warming up the car the oil begins to flow through the engine keeping everything lubricated and functioning. Just as in a car, the energy needs to be flowing through the body in order for it to function correctly when we ask it to do something vigorous.
While there are a many different breathing methods, the simplest and most beneficial to this process is basic abdominal breathing. In basic abdominal breathing the abdominal muscles are expanded on the inhalation (pushing the belly out) and contracted on the exhalation (pulling the belly in). This deep, rhythmic breathing brings balance to the bodily systems and allows the metabolism to rise naturally as more energy is created.
Once the body is breathing effectively, it requires movement in order to distribute the energy throughout the body. The most beneficial movements for this are rotations of the joints and shaking the extremities. Shrugging the shoulders, circling the arms, elbows, knees and hips are all excellent exercises as are shaking out the hands and feet. These types of exercise encourage the smooth flow of energy through the meridians of the body. In this way, the metabolic process enables a flow of movement through the body so that fluids and nutrients get to the cells, allowing the systems of the body to work the way they are supposed to, without additional stress. This energy lubricates the joints and assists in releasing toxins from the body. Be aware that is it important to continue the breathing exercises while doing the movements. Unlike Mindless Workouts, the breath is the connection between the mind and body and allows you to truly feel the process.
Movement is followed by stretching. Deep and long stretching of the body delivers oxygen to the musculature. Rather than build muscle, this practice tones the muscles while lengthening and strengthening the fibrous tissue. There are stretches for every part of the body, and as with movement, it is vital to continue breathing into each stretch. That is the connection between body and mind and will assist maintaining a balanced metabolism. By beginning any exercise routine with breathing, movement and stretching the metabolism is raised off the baseline in a gradual manner and is able to be maintained at the higher rate for a longer period of time.