Get Up and Move

Your Brain and Well-Being May Depend on It

The brain is the CEO of the body, the chief organ, the director. It initiates and sends the signals that allow us to accomplish tasks. Making and drinking that cup of espresso. Reaching out to reassure a loved one through a gentle touch. The brain also governs organ function. It monitors and creates neurotransmitters and hormones, complex and dynamic interactions in the body we still know very little about.

Besides sending signals for movement, action, reaction and creating homeostasis within your body, your brain receives and interprets information coming to you from the environment outside you, as well as the environment inside — your body, mind and emotions. Are you hot/cold? Is it light/dark? Are you afraid or calm? Are you sleepy or rested? Happy or sad? Is it safe out there? What does it feel like in here?

We tend to think of the emotions as originating in the brain, in our minds. Buddhists and many psychologists believe that emotions are caused by our thoughts. Become aware of the faulty thought, identify it as such, and the painful emotion will change, switch or even disappear. Becoming aware of the emotion may mean learning to feel where the tension of that emotion is felt in your body. At this level of tension or bodily discomfort, it’s not hard (or is it) to convince many people that we store mental and emotional tension or sadness or depression in our bodies. That the signal of pain or stiffness or tiredness may not be solely physical in origin. That our fatigue, sleeplessness, stiffness and pain may because of a combination of physical, mental and emotional triggers.

Indeed, Yoga, meditation, tai chi and other approaches offer us a method to become aware of our bodies, minds and emotions. Besides awareness, these practices may also offer us a way to work with our minds and emotions in a calm, sane way. Through the combination of mental and physical practices, they offer us a way to counter the deleterious effects of stress and pain stored in the body. On a simple, concrete level, the physical practices of Yoga, tai chi, chi gong get the blood flowing. They enhance breathing (which alters blood flow). They can help us to decrease pain, increase balance and provide an overall sense of well-being.

At the same time, in Western scientific medicine, emotional imbalances or disorders particularly depression and anxiety, are thought to be because of biochemical imbalances, imbalances in the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, etc. and are then treated with pharmacology in an attempt to restore balance to the body’s (and the mind’s) chemistry.

The good news is that a bevy of studies suggest that the cheapest, easiest and perhaps the most effective way to alter mood, perception or even cognitive function is to get moving. Open the newspaper, go online, and you will find continuously new studies that document the positive effects of exercise on depression and anxiety. Cognition too. Get the blood flowing and you just might feel better (maybe because of an alteration in biochemical processes).

What kinds of exercise can accomplish this? Does it have to be running or yoga or meditation? Stepping not too far out on a limb, I would say that any form of exercise will accomplish this, from yoga, to playing basketball, weight lifting, biking, running, elliptical training, walking, swimming, tennis, tai chi, any form of dance — you name it.

Get moving and you will feel better, look better and improve your health and longevity. It’s a win-win proposition.