Combining Cardio & Contemplative Practices
Cardio and contemplative practices like Yoga and Meditation form a beautiful trilogy that nourishes our mind and body. Allow me to explain.
Whilst embarking on any cardio or aerobic based activity such as distance running, HIIT or Zumba, is an intense act and a great exercise for the body, it’s exact opposite is sitting down peacefully with an erect spine, closed eyes and bringing the mind to focus its awareness on your breathing and the present moment. That’s called Meditation. Mindful Meditation. And then there’s Yoga which is a great way to align both – mind and body.
Cardio and yoga – meditation forms a beautiful yin-yang relationship and complete and complement each other seamlessly. If one is about intensity and movement, the other two are about stillness and mindfulness. If one is about pace and rigor, the other two ground and calm you.
While cardio exercises our body, meditation exercises the mind and it’s a very complex ecosystem. And yoga works on both to create a beautiful union or unison (which is what yoga means!). While cardio helps the body stay fit and clear the plaque that clogs the arteries and blood vessels, meditation aids the mind to stay fit and clear the numerous thoughts that clog its functioning every moment and flushes it out to achieve consequent cognitive clarity.
Together these three simple actions nicely shampoo and condition our body and mind and help us see through the haze and fuzz which was hitherto clouding our judgment and thinking.
Our mind is wired to think, analyze, counter analyze – people, situations, events, things. Our mind conjures all types of thoughts and imagery – positive and negative (but mostly negative!), productive and counterproductive (but mostly counterproductive!), good and rubbish (largely, rubbish!). It assumes and presumes and forms opinions, some based on reality but mostly on hypothesis. That is a lot of work, you will agree! Unfortunately, this means a lot of unnecessary work too for our brain and body!
When we embark on an aerobic activity, amongst other things, the blood flow to the brain increases and this leads to neurogenesis – i.e., new brain cells and neurons are formed in the hippocampus of our brain. This leads to improved memory, learning and slows down the cognitive decline associated with old age. Aerobic activity engages our mind as fully as it engages our body.
When we do yoga and work on an asana, we direct our mind and awareness towards the pose in hand. So whether it is balancing on one leg or stretching our spine straight or holding a posture, all we are doing is simply directing our mind and awareness to the present pose in hand. In other words, we drive awareness to the present moment and train the brain to align forces with the body to achieve the desired results – i.e., perform a pose to perfection.
When we do pranayama which entails controlled or prolonged or yogic breathing, we use the intercellular space that we created in our body via those aerobic exercises or yoga stretches to enable our breath or prana to flow through freely. We, therefore, continue to train our awareness and breath to align with the body. There’s significant research that demonstrates conclusively that by indulging in subtle but powerful practices like pranayama and meditation a little bit on a regular basis can change the way our brain functions, for the better. That’s brain plasticity or neuroplasticity.
So you see how and why indulging in some quality time with cardio and contemplative practices rejuvenate our body as well as our mind. And don’t feel guilty about carving this time out for yourself amidst all the ‘deliverables’ you owe to the world. You owe it to yourself first. Not just because you deserve it but because you are the foundation on which a lot hinges and you don’t want me to get started on the importance of a solid foundation, do you?
Enjoy your workout and don’t forget to Aum!
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About the Author
Namrata Singh is a corporate lawyer by profession based in Delhi and a mother of two footballers aged 9 and 12. She is absolutely fascinated with understanding how stress works on the brain. Namrata runs marathons and practices contemplative practices like yoga and meditation, which she strongly believes has the power of dramatically altering an individual’s entire paradigm with its subtle but significant approach. Namrata can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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