This past week I had the great fortune of spending time with a group of inspirational, strong young women for a health & wellness retreat in Baja, Mexico, hosted by the legendary outdoor apparel company, Eddie Bauer. For four straight days, led by celebrity fitness trainer, Astrid Swan (while being cheered on by global brand Ambassador and world class, professional extreme skier, Lexi Dupont) we took to land, sea and yoga studio to test our limits and learn about better health and wellness, as part of a campaign to support the new launch of the Eddie Bauer ‘Motion’ line – a ready-to-wear fitness line designed for athletes and generally, active, fitness minded people.
Not only did I leave extremely sore – and inspired – but I had a great realization: obviously exercise is good for the body, and to a lesser extent it’s obvious that it’s good for the mind. However, what struck me most, is that just as each exercise focuses in on different muscles and a different skill set – so to, does it for the mind. That is to say, that of course exercise allows you to ‘reduce your stress’ – virtually all of it does – but it’s the specific way in which each different form of activity can differently improve your mind, and how these benefits can become multiply effective once you actually recognize these differences, that really stood out to me.
So without further ado, here are 4 of my picks to improve both your body & mind:
Seems simple enough: walk up a hill, walk down a hill. If only it were. Standing at the base of Playa Punta Lobos, in Todos Santos (already exhausted from our morning boot camp session) looking up – straight up – at hilly, rocky, steep slope felt very, very daunting.
Physically, hiking lowers your risk of heart disease, boosts bone density, builds strength in your glutes, quads, and lower legs as well as strengthen your core and improves your balance. If there is any sort of a steep climb, this also involved arm and back strength conditioning. All and all a very well rounded endeavor.
What can hiking do for your mind?
First of all, if you’re hiking, you are by definition, out in nature, so just the elements around you play a big role. Firstly, there will be an innate beauty – which if you take the time to process that and really enjoy that – not only is there natural relaxation to the mind, but acknowledging beauty has a profound effect on the mind. There is a buzz, a happiness that begins to percolate. Secondly, nature is wild. Half way upon our ascent, our guide remembered that he had forgotten to tell us what to do if we encountered snakes. Encounter snakes????? It is precisely this type of vigilance and focus that you need to have when out in the wild – that makes for a great brain exercise.
Finally, hiking to the top of even a small hill, allows your mind to frame success: start at the bottom – make it to the top – success. You’ve achieved something. Rarely in life are things this cut and dry – and this fulfilling. Your mind is already subconsciously processing this – but taking the time to consciously acknowledge it, does wonders on the psyche. Similarly, having this ‘top’ goal – allows you to break up your journey into little, palatable milestones along the way. You may think you’re resting, but really you’re making mini-achievements. Recognizing this type of thinking, is very analogous of being successful in general – make a plan (the top), start at the beginning (the bottom), and work your way up by climbing rung after rung (the pit stops along the way).
Being a spinning + yoga type of girl, the concept of cross-fit seemed audaciously difficult (and frankly unnecessary). But with no choice, I jumped into the fitness studio with Astrid. I was proved right – it was insanely difficult – but what I didn’t understand beforehand, was just how effective this type of exercise is.
Cross-fit merges weight lifting, body-weight exercises, sprinting and aerobics, all in a very fast paced, high intensity package. Not only is it a super mega calorie burner, it’s great for cardiovascular conditioning and all of the different types of movement work on dozens of muscles as well as greatly increase joint mobility.
What can Cross-Fit do for your mind?
Even though, there is always a set time for how each session will run, it’s irrelevant, because in the moment you have no clue what time it is or how long you’ve been at it – it feels like forever – and this is a crucial element for your mind. Firstly, not having a clear ‘ending’ point, during very intense activity, forces your mind to dig deep and find both tenacity and durability. These are incredible mind muscles to work that have constant applicability outside of the gym. Secondly, the exercises in cross-fit are short, rapid-fire drills, done on repeat, that force you to quickly switch gears – physically, as well as mentally. This helps you improve your reflexes, co-ordination and gets your mind firing at a higher level, altogether.
Surfing, is singularly one of the greatest activities I’ve ever done. It is a powerful experience on so many levels – but more than that – it is ridiculously fun. Even though you are working extremely hard (and yes, it feels like you are) there is something about floating out in the middle of the ocean and then riding Mother Nature’s roller coaster back to shore, that makes this form of hard work feel very different. (In a nutshell, it’s the opposite of cross-fit!)
Surfing is an incredible. complete body work out – from building upper arm and improving cardiovascular health, shoulder and back strength while paddling out and pushing up, to building core strength while balancing on the board and leg strength from squatting (standing) and driving the board.
What can surfing do for your mind?
When you are surfing (on in the water in general) you are hanging with Mother Nature in a whole different way. You’re in it. Whether you’re paddling furiously to catch an impeding wave about to crash down or finding your balance to get and stay up, there is a major rush of adrenaline and to a certain extent fear, even with smaller waves. Being able to channel that energy into something productive and enjoyable takes an incredible amount of brainpower and focus. At the same time there is a yin-yang thing happening: while you have to have an insane amount of concentration, strength and skill on the one hand, on the other hand – you are no match for Mother Nature and by definition you have to let everything go and trust to a certain extent. To surf well, these two things both, must occur. This is incredibly difficult to achieve – but if mastered, mentally has so many great real life applications.
Finally, even if you’re with an instructor or a group of friends, when it’s time to jump up on that board, it’s just you and the wave – and it is so rare that you find a time when there is literally, nothing else on your mind. This is like a body being in a pool and taking the gravity off. It’s like a massage for the mind – both renewing and relaxing. So take the time to enjoy it.
So meditation kind of flips the script on the other exercises. As everyone probably knows, meditation is considered the ultimate exercise for your mind. It helps with focus, calmness, clarity, a reduction in anxiety and general relaxation. It is touted by experts and gurus all over the world as one of the best things you can do for yourself. But the benefits of meditation don’t stop with the mind.
What can meditation do for your body?
The simple act of breathing is often taken for granted, yet it is literally the key to life. Taking the time to learn how to breathe properly – a fundamental part of meditation – alone can change your physical game. Having the proper flow of oxygen coming in and out of you creates a relaxation in the body that has profound physical effects – not the least of which is an adjustment in your posture, which alone, has tremendous benefits. Beyond that however, meditation has been said to increase immunity, increase fertility, relieves irritable bowl syndrome, helps to lower blood pressure and can act as an anti-inflammatory. Simply put – it’s one the best activities you can do to improve your overall health – and that’s without even touching on the enlightenment part!
So this summer, I hope you get out and #liveyouradventure – I’d love to hear about it!
To read more about Eddie Bauer and the cool initiatives they have going on (like the one I was just a part of!) click here!