Can a mindful approach cure COVID-19 blues?
As COVID-19 spreads anxiety across the globe, more of us are turning to at-home exercise – and not just for physical fitness. Since January, there’s been a 900 percent increase in sign-ups to LES MILLS™ On Demand and 76 percent of users say stress relief is a key motivator, while 72 percent cite the desire to boost their mental health.
Some are punching and kicking their way through empowering BODYCOMBAT™ workouts, others are using LES MILLS GRIT™ to skyrocket their heart-rates, while even more are letting loose during SH’BAM™. It doesn't really matter how they are exercising, research shows their efforts will be helping to send stress packing.
But punching, sweating and grunting out stress isn’t the only way to go.
Every day, thousands of people are taking a more serene approach to stress release, streaming meditations, mindfulness sessions and yoga classes into their lounge or bedroom. Sam B from the UK is one of them. "I am an NHS employee working my ass off in this stressful time of COVID-19 pandemic," she says. "At work, all we discuss is COVID-19, at home, I discuss with my children the importance of handwashing, with my husband I discuss the impact of COVID-19 on his job and our financial circumstances. Thank god for Les Mills Mindfulness. It is my time to switch off and empty my brain for a short time.”
Mindfulness is a meditation practice that helps you focus on the present moment and integrate awareness into your everyday life. One of the underlying goals is to shift your focus from unproductive thoughts. It’s considered a great way to decrease stress, plus it’s shown to increase your exercise performance too.
Neurobiological studies suggest mindfulness practices can have an effect on the plasticity of brain structure and functioning. When this happens, the main neurocognitive mechanisms affected include emotional regulation, self-awareness, and attention control. Research indicates mindfulness meditation encourages our minds to operate less reactively, helping us function more seamlessly when emotions are activated. Interestingly, studies show those who partake in this type of meditation have greater compassion – for others and themselves.
Kylie Gates, Les Mills Creative Director, first discovered mindful meditation through teaching BODYBALANCE™/BODYFLOW® classes, where there’s a short 8-10 minute period of relaxation and meditation at the end. She now tries to meditate every day.
“I love the after-effects, I get a real feeling of clarity and focus.” Some days Kylie follows a Les Mills Mindfulness session, others she does a more lengthy meditation practice, and sometimes she just focuses her mind for a few minutes at her desk. “It's so easy to get comfortable, contact your breath, and focus your mind's attention on the breath.”
She says that if she has a lot on her mind she can find it hard to drift off to sleep.”I start to meditate and before I know it I’m asleep.” Kylie loves how the practice helps release any emotional stress. “It’s my time to check in with myself, to really check in with my heart space. I allow all the emotions to rise up so that they don’t manifest in my body.”
Kylie isn’t the only fan. “I struggle to switch off my mind, it’s always going,” says LES MILLS On Demand subscriber, Bryan Harte. “Les Mills Mindfulness started working for me from the first time I tried it. It’s soothing and I feel like I am actually listening to my body.”
Fellow subscriber, Esme Crutchley agrees, “I love it. I try to do it at least every other day, sometimes every day. It’s so soothing and comforting.”
Les Mills Mindfulness guided meditations are simple in essence and scientific in nature, which makes them a great option for beginners.
If you’re new to mindfulness, follow Kylie’s advice. “Take small steps at the beginning – and remember anything is better than nothing.” With time and practice, you will begin to slow the steady stream of thoughts that cause much of our stress and anxiety, and drop into the experience of being; a state characterized by stillness, spaciousness, and greater clarity.
Read more about the amazing link between mindfulness and physical activity and discover all you need to know about how to combat stress and anxiety with exercise.