Flexibility and strength are great boons to health. And when you make an activity like yoga one of your playful exercises, research shows you increase natural chemicals in the brain that improve your mood and lessen anxiety.
If you don’t know much about yoga, Pilates, chi gong and their variations, it’s time to widen your exercise horizons. These are invigorating, playful exercises which leave you energized, not fatigued. They employ stretching, strength, meditation and concentration as their foundations.
If you have never actually performed yoga or its meditative cousins, you may be surprised to know how effectively it builds strength and flexibility. You can even expect to work up a sweat. However, yoga is much more than just a physical workout. Yoga practitioners say it can become a way of life.
Historically, the physical movement of yoga was intended to prepare the mind and body for seated meditation. Today’s yoga classes often weave spiritual meditation into the ancient wisdom of its physical practice.
There are a wide variety of yoga practices including the gentle movement of hatha yoga, the vigorous vinyasa flow yoga, the more nourishing restorative yoga, the introspective yin yoga and many others. I recommend you explore the various forms of yoga, attend a few classes, and discover which ones are most appealing.
The amazing thing you’ll discover about yoga is that at all levels, from beginning to advanced, it causes you to feel passion in your playtime activity. It activates your mental concentration in coordination with your breath. It guides you to feel inspiration, connecting you to your spiritual or divine self—which is your inner master teacher.
The five main principles of yoga consist of proper relaxation, proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet and positive thinking along with meditation. Yoga’s focus on relaxation releases muscle tension and puts your whole body at rest. By calming mind and body, you revitalize your nervous system and move toward an inner peace that has a soothing effect on all your other daily interactions.
Furthermore, the physical changes linked to yoga occur from practicing yoga postures. These entail initial relaxation of the eyes, neck, shoulders and whole body; stretching in positions that involve standing, kneeling, sitting and backbends; and poses that enhance your sense of balance. Yoga continually improves your core muscle strength and flexibility when you hold postures for an extended time while simultaneously stilling your mind and controlling your breathing.
Pilates is different and, for some people, more difficult than yoga. Invented 70 years ago by Joseph H. Pilates, this technique is a favorite of professional dancers. Instead of emphasizing stretching, it focuses more on strengthening your core including your abdominal and gluteus muscles. The outcome of Pilates training is a balanced, firm and supple body. You also develop a flat stomach, resilient support in your legs and a strong back.
Chi gong is a Chinese medicine practice that uses breathing, movement and concentration similar to yoga and Pilates. Chinese medical practitioners believe that when you are sick or in pain, circulation of your chi (life force energy) is stagnant or blocked. Chi gong opens the flow of chi and stimulates the circulation of your blood, oxygen and endorphins (your body’s natural morphine-like or “feel-good” chemicals) to all parts of your body.
Since your mind controls the circulation of chi energy, you must focus your mind to make chi gong effective. This is not the exercise for you if you like to distract yourself by reading a book or singing along to music when you work out.
Of course, it doesn’t matter which playful exercise you decide you like as long as you pick one out and keep at it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 30 percent of Americans report that they exercise routinely. At the same time, nearly 70 percent of American adults are overweight. Interestingly, in the CDC study 85 percent of the participants surveyed believed they live a healthy lifestyle. But a healthy lifestyle mustn’t neglect a fun, consistent playtime activity.
As I have discussed previously, events in my personal life have developed my inner strength and flexibility. After my wife Amy and I decided to separate, we had to decide to have the strength to just allow others their opinion of our decision to break up. And soon they, in fact, accepted it. Yet after all that was done, none of what happened socially was really significant. What mattered was our own personal happiness. But I soon realized that being alone is not happiness.
The separation began an important chapter in my personal learning and development: How to survive living alone. Yes, I did visit Amy and the children often. We stayed close and discussed everything. I lived nearby to ensure this would happen.
However, the void of not having a companion taught me new lessons in making my own happiness. And I received all sorts of advice. The one piece of intelligence that kept coming back to me was that I needed the ability to be happy and comfortable while alone before I could be blessed with the perfect new companion.
I realized this didn’t mean being content as a perpetually single man, but rather that I needed to experience solitary inward peacefulness to avoid feeling overly needy for companionship. Yielding to a desperate desire for another would merely attract someone else who was overly needy and would deter anyone desirable.
In fact, my lessons in how to develop ideal, mature relationships and companionship were just beginning. I began reading about interpersonal relationships and discovered what are now some of my favorite books, including The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman; The Mastery of Love, by Don Miguel Ruiz; and The Way of the Superior Man, by David Deida. I not only became deeply interested in marriage and relationship books, but also in people’s experiences and opinions on the topic. I began to see that the ways I had used to demonstrate my feelings as a husband had not drawn my wife to me but had unintentionally increased the distance between us.
I had been oblivious to how my misguided efforts to strengthen my marriage had actually weakened it. But the more time I had to myself to reflect on this process, the better I understood my mistakes. Hopefully, you or a loved one can learn from my blunders and relationship lessons. And I will include more details in upcoming reports.