Sometimes the path to feeling better is so simple, it is hard to believe.  But recently science is proving that just looking at a horizon, taking a deep breath, or dancing in your living room is all that is needed to face the day.  This blog and most of my Inner Freedom Therapy practice are based on the construct that our thoughts create our feelings. But by the end of the day, our emotions rule, and we all want to feel better. So today, I want to share with you some enjoyable physical exercises that you can do to instantly settle down your central nervous system and feel better.  

 The connection between movements in our bodies and the so-called Mind-Muscle or muscle-mind connection fascinates my nerdy brain.  

If you have ever played an instrument or learned a sport, you know that your muscles will create a memory once you practice something repeatedly. There is always some tipping point where you no longer need to look at the sheet music or no longer need to think about each step of your golf swing. If you look at neurochemistry, the areas of your brain that control that muscle groups grow in conjunction with your muscles. I find this so super cool. 

Some fun research from Stanford and other universities has connected physical activity with your brain and emotions. Of course, exercise helps alleviate anxiety, but below I will describe other activities you can do while sitting at your desk, walking your dog, or standing in your living room.   

First, I want you to think about how our brains developed evolutionarily. Our stress responses were designed to avoid physical danger. Think of a gazelle running from a tiger. Have you seen videos where the animal, once the animal is safe, has a full-body shivering shake? The gazelle is shaking off her stress/cortisol hormones. Our bodies are not much different, and I am sure you noticed that exercise relieves stress so effectively. But the good news is that you don’t need to sprint on a treadmill to feel better. You can even do a whole body shake for a few seconds and get a similar effect.  

Below are 3 body parts that you can move that will bring you instant joy or at least melt away some physical stress. 

  1. Your Eyes. Look up at the morning sky.   I am obsessed with Andrew Huberman. He is a neuroscientist and an ophthalmologist who eloquently describes how our eyes are not a “window into our brain” but actually are our brain. Incredible to think about, but the eyes are made up of neurons. In fact, the retina is made of 60 different types of neurons. People who lose their vision have been shown to develop depression and delirium. Our exposure to light affects our sleep, energy levels, circadian rhythm, and eye movements affect our mood. One of the fascinating tidbits I learned is that we are not meant to focus on small areas for extended periods. We are drawn to looking at vistas. I wonder if part of our global depression over the pandemic is just basic physiology, that we spend too much time focused on a lighted small screen in our hands. What if we simply needed to look up more. Our brains feel so much better when we look over open fields in the sunlight for a few moments. Just doing this simple act of looking up at the horizon, not focusing, but allowing your peripheral vision to soak light in helps you feel better and sleep better. If you walk outside in the morning, give this a try!  
  2. Your Lungs. Take a deep breath.  It is not groundbreaking news that taking a deep breath helps with anxiety. But I want to point out that taking a deep breath and holding a few moments does some cool physiological things. First, by stretching your diaphragm, you also extend the vagus nerve, which is directly linked to your autonomic nervous system. By stimulating the vagal system, your body will calm that fight or flight response and move it towards your rest and digest (parasympathetic) response. Second, by pulling down your diaphragm, you create more room in your chest for your heart, and with each deep inhalation, Your nervous system will respond by slowing down your heart rate. Third, when you take deep breaths, you recruit alveoli to open up, and decrease the “dead space” in your lungs, thus improving oxygen exchange, and increasing your lungs volume, so that you can take fewer breaths per minute when you take deep breaths. You don’t need to understand all this geek-out science, but you must admit that some scientific evidence that “Just take a deep breath” is excellent advice! One last thing about the lungs and your mood, if you have had a big ugly cry lately, or if you have been around young kids that cry and have the double inhale while crying? It turns out that the double inhale is our body’s response to helping us feel better.    
  3. Your Arms. Wave your arms in the air. When was the last time you danced and moved your arms over your head? Perhaps you swayed with a crowd at a rock concert, went to a Zumba class, or finally stood up and danced at a wedding. These movements make us happy! I love this. You can be in the crappiest mood right now, but I promise you that if you stood up, put on some music, and waved your arms around like you were throwing confetti in the air, you will feel better in seconds. Check out Kelly McGonigal’s Joy Workout. I did this before lunch today and am still smiling after jumping around in my living room for eight minutes.    

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/24/well/move/joy-workout-exercises-happiness.html?referringSource=articleShare

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