The Perfect Way to Wind Down With Exercise
You can use exercise as a tool to relax and relieve any built up tension — physical or emotional. Here’s how.
Exercise works magic on the human body, often in ways we don’t realize. Think back to the time in your life when you first started exercising. You probably thought of exercise as something that would make you healthier, stronger, or improve your appearance. All of those things are simple in nature, but true. It normally isn’t until later on that it becomes apparent that exercise impacts the human body far beyond those initial associations.
Consider this: Some of the strongest, fastest, and talented athletes will admit to finding exercise and gym time therapeutic. Many exercise enthusiasts will even go as far as saying some of the most intense mental work they’ve ever done has been within the walls of a gym. Not only can exercise pump you up and energize you, but it can also calm you down — a lot. If you’re ready to shed some tension and clear your mind next time you work out, here’s a solid plan to follow:
- Mental Check: If you know that you’re ready to focus your next workout session on winding down and clearing your heart and mind, there’s probably something already bothering you. Whether it’s general stress, specific sadness, frustration, or just a build up of little stressors from your daily routine, it’s an important step to claim and identify the source(s) of tension in your life before beginning your workout.
- Therapy Element: Incorporate something into your workout routine that screams, “self care!” Bring a therapy element into your workout, whether that means something as simple as wearing your favorite gym clothes, lighting a candle or incense, dimming the lights, or putting your headphones on and listening to some cathartic music you haven’t heard in a long time. You’ll benefit tremendously by setting the mood for healing and carving out the little extra time to manifest an environment that speaks to you and calms your nerves. Plus, once you get deep into your exercise routine, your therapy element will remind you that this session is a transformative one — beyond the physical — and you’ll be less likely to let your mentality slip.
- Breathe: Practice some rhythmic breathing prior to your workout. Rhythmic breathing has an underestimated, incredible effect on the human body. A simple practice is laying on the floor and breathing in as your belly rises. Then, as you exhale, feel your belly lowering. Repeat this until any feelings of nagging tension are gone — no matter how tedious the breathing may feel at first.
- Stretch: Give a little more time to stretching during this workout. Instead of simply warming up the body to prevent injury during a workout, make an art out of your stretching routine and move beyond your arms and legs. Start with the tips of your toes and stretch the different muscle groups of your body until you reach the crown of your head. Don’t forget about your feet, spine, neck, and wrists during this session.
- Mental Check: Before intensifying your workout routine, focus on the balanced feeling you’ve just created for your body and think back to the problems you identified in your first mental check. Do the issues feel any lighter? If the issues are more trivial, they will likely will feel less significant, and it’s important to focus on those issues becoming even smaller as you enter the next phase of the workout. If you’re dealing with greater emotional stress, you might feel more at peace with the situation after breathing and stretching. Before moving into your cardio session, identify the pain points — the sources of sadness or stress — and then get ready to work through those feelings and recenter yourself during your routine.
- Cardio: Get your blood flowing. The breathing and stretching helped warm up your body, but cardio will take it to the next level. Let your mind be still, or let it wander — but never let go of the intention(s) you set during your mental check before you started raising your heart rate. During your cardio session, you’ll simultaneously release feel-good endorphins, raise your body temperature, decrease anxiety levels, and give your self confidence a boost. Push yourself with cardio until you’ve met your goal. During this workout, it’s important to not give up until your personal goal has been met, so make sure you create a realistic cardio goal for yourself!
- Lower Body: After you’ve completed your cardio, get ready to work out your lower body. Work every muscle group you know how to work, and incorporate resistance bands into your fitness session. Resistance bands will maximize your results, in terms of relieving tension, since incorporating them will work your muscles in a different way, while simultaneously stabilizing them. Ever have a stress ball hanging around at your desk? Think of it like this: Resistance bands are the “stress balls” of exercise! Let that tension go!
- Upper Body: Move on to your upper body exercises, and focus on your abdominals, arms, and upper back. Again, work every muscle group you can and use your resistance bands! An exercise ball is also a powerful tool to use during a stress-relieving workout to help stabilize and balance muscles — this will help work off extra tension.
- Stretch: When you’ve completed your workout, keep your blood flowing by giving yourself a light stretch session, focusing on rhythmic breathing. This time, as you breathe, visualize any remaining points of tension, frustration, or stress leaving your body with each exhale. Continue stretching and breathing in tandem until you feel the clarity that felt so out of reach before you started your wind-down exercise session.
- Mental Check: Check in with your mind again and focus on how much lighter you feel. Mentally shake off any remaining stressors, come to terms with your situation(s), and fix your mind on continuing to show up for life, placing an importance on enjoying each step along the way. You got this!