It’s widely accepted that the mind, body and soul are intricately connected on a deeply psychological level.
That connection has a lot to do with how our thoughts and feelings affect our physical wellbeing and how our physical wellbeing impacts our thought processes.
The 1970s heralded a rise in new age philosophies and practices in an attempt to nurture and expand self-awareness, to think beyond the confines of what we understand and look for ways to connect the mind, body and soul.
Many complementary and alternative practices such as meditation, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy and aromatherapy that gained popularity during this period of enlightenment now operate alongside more traditional, scientific practices to improve the individual.
Different actions and practices can achieve the same health and wellbeing benefits, it’s just a matter of looking around and finding something enjoyable that you think might work for you.
Often referred to as moving meditation, the ancient art of tai chi is a series of gentle physical exercises practised in silence to assist in quietening the mind. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that the body is in constant motion.
But don’t let the graceful ease of its pace fool you – tai chi is bona fide exercise which can improve balance, flexibility and wellbeing.
Peter Cook, senior instructor from the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Australia, says learning their particular form, a set of 108 movements, is the first step in that absorbing meditative process.
“Once you get into a few weeks and months you start piecing all the movements together,” he says. “When I first started, I would watch very experienced people doing it, and it was so smooth and flowing I would feel relaxed just watching it.
“I learned over the years that it’s really a deep process inside the body and the mind – a gradual expansion and contraction of the body in every move. We have all manner of different stories about how this has helped our members with real physical problems or with mental issues or crises.”
Peter places a strong focus on helping beginners to let go and just enjoy the sessions rather than worry they might not remember all the movements.
“A lot of people say they have very busy minds,” he says. “When they do put time into the class, by the end of it, their mind has slowed right down. An hour or two later they feel refreshed.”
Dee began attending Peter’s classes four years ago. Some years earlier she had contracted a flesh-eating bacterium that destroyed the cartilage in one hip.
As she was under 50 at the time, she was considered too young for a hip replacement.
By the time her hip was replaced she’d lost considerable muscle fitness. She’d tried tai chi years earlier and thought it would be a gentle form of exercise to ease her back into better strength and stability.
“Not being pushed by the instructor and being allowed to go at my own pace suited me after such a big operation,” Dee says, not fully aware of how tai chi was impacting her body.
“Tai chi is quite sneaky. You think you’re doing these mild movements but actually you’re doing these internal movements that enable you to be more flexible.
“Before you know it, you’re in love with it. Your body and mind are connecting again.”
HeartFIT fitness instructor Bruce Collins found as a teenager that his mind functioned more clearly when he was physically active and training for sport. When he became a personal trainer, he vowed never to be an instructor who barked at his class, “go harder, or go home”.
“I always had this picture of holistic health about the person needing or wanting to improve themselves physically, but the rule change is in the mind of becoming stronger mentally,” Bruce says.
“I talk about that in my 7am sessions. When you make a commitment and get out of bed, it takes a bit of mental drive or a decision. It’s our human nature to choose to be lazy, but the benefits just don’t come. You can’t go beyond Nike’s motivational quote ‘Just Do It’.”
HeartFIT regulars Gary and Debra put time aside to work out two mornings a week. They say the sessions leave them feeling satisfied, knowing they have pushed themselves to achieve a better level of fitness.
“Although there can be some muscle soreness and moderate fatigue after some sessions, the feeling of satisfaction, which you might describe as a positive mental benefit, overrides any discomfort,” Gary says.
Bruce says it’s been proven there are major benefits to getting your heart rate up and, from what he’s read, the mental and physical stimulation together is good for the body and brain.
He says exercise brings clarity of mind, and enhances creativity and there’s plenty of research that shows it’s never too late to build and strengthen muscle.
Geared to the mature-age demographic, HeartFIT sessions run Tabata style – a form of training that is clearly defined intervals of push-to-the-limit exercise followed by rest.
Meditation is an evidence-based way to reduce stress and there’s more than one way to meditate. Practised primarily in the Eastern traditions, meditation has spread into Western society.
Underlying each of the different meditation techniques is a simple coming to awareness of the present moment. Useful techniques in different forms of meditation include mindfulness of breathing.
Balancing international travel and working with different cultures is a constant for Charles, a fly-in, fly-out consultant, so too, is his habit of meditating early in the morning before his busy day begins.
“If I miss meditating, I feel as though I haven’t had a shower it’s so deeply part of my routine,” he says.
Charles’s interest in Buddhist meditation was ignited 30 years ago after a business collapse and relationship difficulties.
What followed was a dark period in his life. He knew he needed to take another direction and calm his fiery disposition to protect his relationships.
During a meditation he focuses on his breath, slows everything down and tries to get his mind as blank as possible and live in the moment.
“It’s remarkable from a work or a life perspective how many good ideas emerge,” he says.
“It gives you insight. It certainly makes you a better person, and if you equate soul with person – I don’t mean in that you become saintly – it just means as a human being.”
A bath doesn’t have to be a mundane hygiene exercise. It can be a means of detaching and unwinding from the distractions of the day, with the added benefit of bringing the luxury of a spa into your home.
Geeta Sharma from Salt and Lye, a Brisbane-based online shop specialising in handmade body and bath products, recommends 20 to 30 minutes soaking in a tub to teach your body to have a break.
One of the best sellers, the muscle soak bath salts, come infused with a combination of essential oils to help ease muscle tension, promote relaxation and leave a fresh fragrance on the skin.
“At the moment, people don’t get the time to spoil themselves and enjoy these sorts of luxuries … it’s really relaxing, and particularly good for those who have trouble switching off,” Geeta says.
Combine a deep soak with some mild stretching, deep breathing or your favourite music. Add candles or oil burners for another layer of relaxation to your me time.
No bath, difficulties getting in and out of a bath, or simply no spare time? No problem.
Shop around for shower steamers that come in tablet form and are placed on a plate in the shower recess away from the shower head but where a little bit of water can release the fragrance of the steamer.
For those on the run, purse-sized essential oil rollers are a convenient way to slow down a little and experience the benefits of aromatherapy everywhere you go.
Simply apply to the wrists, temples, chest or abdomen and enjoy the therapeutic benefits.
Nurturing, relaxing or balancing the whole self involves paying attention to your needs and desires.
Before you find a practice that’s right for you, consider yourself worthy of a little self-care.
Your soul will thank you for it.
Choose to soothe
- Spend time with a trusted friend
- Dance for the joy of movement
- Improve diet for better mental health
- Walk to unwind your mind
- Take a break from screen time
- Practise yoga to ease stress and improve fitness
- Learn a foreign language
- Join a community theatre
- Take a break from your to-do list
- Join a book club