Alternative medicine and mind-body exercises are fast becoming very popular choices for people looking to live a healthier lifestyle. In fact, research from the UT Southwestern Medical Center found that a third of people with cancer now use alternative medicine, as more and more oncologists are already recommending activities like yoga and tai chi. These exercises were found to help significantly reduce side effects caused by traditional therapies, as well as improve sleep and overall mental health — all of which are important for sustainable recovery. Maryville University points out that holistic mental healthcare for patients of all ages is important, and mind-body exercises are some of the best ways to get it. Alternative methods can also help patients feel fit and energetic during treatment. That said, here’s how yoga, tai chi, and other mind-body exercises help you ensure long-term health:
Yoga and meditation
Like much of the practices under the umbrella of complementary and alternative medicine, yoga is also about giving as much importance to mental health as anyone would to physical health. One of its known benefits includes how it helps build a sense of self. In this regard, NDTV notes that yoga can help you become more confident and less judgmental. Regular yoga practice allows you to stay in the present moment with yourself, helping you develop a healthy and balanced ego.
Since yoga also includes meditation and breathing exercises, it can help you become better at calming yourself down during moments of stress. It can also make you more accepting of situations and you start to be aware of yourself more in a less egotistical manner. Our ‘Seniors And Yoga: How To Reap The Benefits At Any Age’ post explores this in detail — when you combine yoga and meditation, you reduce negative feelings like stress and anxiety.
One way to maintain your practice is through meditation apps like Insight Timer and Headspace. In addition, you can start making it a habit of taking five minutes to count your breaths before you begin your practice. Preparing yourself before your practice clears your head and makes a lot of difference in your overall wellbeing during and after your practice.
Tai chi is a non-competitive martial art known for its self-defense techniques and an array of health benefits. Medical News Today explains that it combines gentle movements and mindfulness. Some of its most well-known benefits include how it helps improve balance, control, and flexibility, ultimately limiting the number of falls in older adults.
It’s also known to have a significant impact on chronic pain, especially for people with osteoarthritis of the knee and fibromyalgia. And since tai chi is a tranquil and fluid martial art, it has always been associated with mindfulness and psychological well-being.
Life Goals Magazine describes Pilates as a strength-based workout that uses body weight and springs for resistance. It’s designed to balance the body and leave no muscle untouched, leaving you feeling stronger after every workout. Pilates works by taking advantage of a type of muscle contraction called an eccentric contraction. It’s a great way to build strength without ending up with huge muscles. Apart from that, Pilates also increases flexibility, improves posture, and increases energy. That said, its main difference from yoga is how it requires constant movement. The main challenge is staying connected to your body while you’re moving around a lot.
To start your practice, you will need a mat that is thicker than a yoga mat and at some two-pound weights and a Theraband. You can do mat classes at home through online web sessions or join an actual Pilates class. Make sure to wear the appropriate clothing. If you’re wearing anything too loose, your teacher will not be able to see if you’re doing the right moves. On the other hand, if you wear something too tight it could well impede your movement.
Loosely translating to “accomplishment” or “practice,” Qigong mostly involves becoming aware of your breathing and sensing the energy within you while following a series of slow, coordinated movements. A good qigong session includes movement, meditation, and controlled breathing. Doing it successfully requires you to pretend that you are empty. You have to empty your mind, try not to think of anything, and focus only on your breathing. You need to relax all your strength and mind, just like how you would when you meditate.
Indeed, Qigong emphasizes the philosophy and importance of letting go and letting things be — a lesson that you can take with you throughout your life. Not only that, but there’s also evidence that qigong can help with motor function and depression among individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Last but not least, it can also help patients cope with chronic fatigue syndrome and mental functioning.
If you’re looking for something more rigorous than yoga and Pilates, you can look to try barre. This mind-body exercise combines elements from the two, along with some ballet. It is named after the primary piece of equipment that you’re going to use: a bar. You can also use a mat, free weights, exercise bands, and exercise balls. Barre classes can help target multiple areas of your body, including your arms, legs, core, and glutes, and the classes are often at a slow pace to help you build strength and flexibility.
Before setting out to start your barre practice, make sure you get a pair of socks with good grips on. Barre studio floors are often wooden, so if you try to do the exercises barefoot or with regular socks, you will end up slipping and sliding. You need to wear snug clothing as loose clothes can restrict your movement and prevent your barre instructor from seeing your form. Your first time doing barre can be a little confusing, but keep an open mind and focus on what your instructor is saying. It’s important to stay mentally engaged while you’re doing the exercises so you can maximize both the mental and physical benefits of barre. Moreover, barre is designed to work your muscles more than they’re used to.
All in all, alternative medicine and mind-body exercises are starting to go mainstream. Of course, there’s no harm in trying them out as long as you consult your doctor first, and ask if the exercises and alternative medicine that you’re trying will help improve your personal health.